Anne Rice's classic debut novel Interview With The Vampire is a book it's difficult to feel indifferent about. An overripe miasma of blood-drenched homoeroticism, sensual, exotic violence, and throbbing, threatening sadomasochism, it is a book both audacious and intelligent, able to mix an almost unbearably callous torture scene with a discussion of morals and religion. Filled with extreme scenes, it provokes extreme reactions, but those who respond to it, love it passionately, obsessively. So, it is tragic that Neil Jordan's film of the book is so full of compromises that what remains is merely indifferent: in its script, in its acting, and in its direction.
Book and film share a common storyline: in 1700's New Orleans, Louis, a young plantation owner, is trans-formed into a vampire by Lestat, an undead blood drinker whose dashing good looks mask an evil being ages old. While Louis has to be persuaded to kill, suffering it as a necessity, Lestat loves it. They discover Claudia, a little girl orphaned by the Black Death, and make her into a child vampire, eternally unable to grow up. Travelling to Paris, Claudia and Louis meet a coven on undead actors, whose Grand Guignol performances feature death scenes that are all too convincing. The look of the picture is sumptuous, as rich and gaudy an equivalent for Rice's words as could be hoped for, but beneath this splendid surface, there is little of substance. Superficially faithful to its literary source, the film feels obliged to include very major scene from Rice's book, only to dilute them with fey jokes, bad acting, and a cowardly shying away from any image or idea liable to frighten or repel a mainstream audience.
Instead of terror, there is designer gore, calculated to inspire applause for its computer-imaged carnage. Tom Cruise is underwhelming as Lestat, although, like Jack Nicholson's Joker in Batman, he makes the film more amusing. Popping up to deliver unfunny gag lines he repeatedly kills any tension, but at least there is a certain amount of fun to be had watching him. The same cannot be said of Brad Pitt's Louis whose perfor-mance is the equivalent of a blank sheet of paper, while Antinio Banderas manages the almost impossible: he makes Pitt seem good, his big speech an impossibly tedious endurance test. Outshining them all, Kirsten Dunst is superb, conveying the dignity and eerily queasy quality of Claudia perfectly, proving the notion of a merciless child is still too volatile to be subsumed into comedy. Another problem for the film is that Rice's lair has already been plundered by the movie makers, and with much greater success: The Crow delivers similar Gothic styling with far more panache, while Kathryn Bigelow's excellent Near Dark appropriates Rice's iconography and moves it to a western setting. The Lost Boys plundered the vampire rocker idea, and for vampire comedy, Fright Night is far superior. As for Interview, well, it keeps all its sequel options open. Now that really IS scary...
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