Interview with the Vampire, directed by Neil Jordan (The Company of Wolves, The Crying Game), is the best vampire film ever made, hands down. This is poetry on film, a stylish work of pure genius from a master film maker. From the amazing cinematography to the Oscar worthy performances of it’s three leads; from the amazing musical score by Elliot Goldenthal to the masterfully subtle special effects of the late Stan Winston, this is an amazing film that I feel is sorely under rated.
The film opens in a room occupied by two men. One is Louis, a vampire, and the other is an interviewer named Malloy. Louis starts telling Malloy his tale, starting in 1794, as he searched for death after the deaths of his wife and child. A vampire answers his call and the vampire Lestat turns Louis into a creature of the night. The film follows their lives through the years and Louis’s connection with his human soul. Eventually Louis and Claudia, a child Lestat turns into a vampire, work their way to Paris where they meet other vampires including Armand (Antonio Banderas) and Santiago (Stephen Rea).
Written by Anne Rice and based off her novel of the same name, Interview with the Vampire is truly a glorious achievement by all involved. The dialogue in the film is almost poetry in cinema. As a bigger budget film in 1994, it is amazing what they got away with and accomplished. From the not-so subtle homo-erotic undertones to the woman in a child’s body living with two grown men, this film pushes the limits and I highly doubt it would or could be made today. While there is never anything gratuitous in the film, other than a bit of gore near the end, it is still a bit shocking what is implied even though it is never explicitly explained.
Brad Pitt gives a stunning performance as Louis. Clearly at odds with himself, fighting to stay human in the body of an immortal killing machine, he is constantly depressed and fighting the urging of Lestat and eventually Claudia to succumb to his baser nature. He is a tortured soul who is repulsed by the vampires of his ‘family’, though he is one himself. His grief is palpable. He is damaged, he is tortured, he is regretful for his actions. He is our window into the world of the vampire, a human who got more than he bargained for when he made his deal with his devil. His human morality that he refuses to give up is the driving force behind the character of Louis, and you feel that it is true and believable; it is a remarkable achievement for Brad Pitt and one that put him on the map.
When it was announced that Tom Cruise would be playing Lestat, I was less than enthused. I had been no fan of his previous works. This film and his Oscar worthy performance made me a Tom Cruise convert and I have been a fan ever since. At the time this was filmed and released, he was the biggest name in the film. Brad Pitt was coming into his own but not a household name. Tom Cruise proves here that he is first and foremost an actor and not just a pretty face. He transforms himself into the darkly seductive and evil Lestat. His backstory is never given in the film so he is always something of a mystery, making offhand comments that suggest he has a deeper past than just being a vampire. He acts like a spoiled child with a new toy in Louis. When Louis becomes tiresome, Lestat makes Claudia to keep his ‘family’ together and keep Louis from leaving him. Tom Cruise plays the character with such reckless abandon that you cannot help but be fascinated by his performance. He is evil, but he also has a deep seeded longing to be a part of something, to be a part of Louis. He is an abandoned child who dreams of a family, dysfunctional as they may be, so he can be a part of a whole and not just an individual.
The biggest surprise in this film comes in the form of a 10 year old little girl named Kirsten Dunst. No matter what you think of her work since, you cannot help but be held in an awful trance at her darkly adult portrayal of Claudia. In a plague ravaged part of New Orleans, Louis finds the child clinging to the lifeless corpse of her mother. Not able to take feeding on animals anymore and, I feel, trying to spare the child the misery of the plague and loss of her mother, Louis feeds on her. Lestat finds him in the middle of feeding; Louis comes to his senses and flees. Lestat then turns Claudia into a vampire. Volumes could be written about Kirsten Dunst’s performance. She begins as a child but, as the years pass, she never grows up. She is forever an immortal trapped in a 10 year old girls body. The subtle changes in her performance force you to see the true horror of this character and what Lestat has done. She conveys an age much greater than her physical appearance and you believe that she is a 30 year old woman trapped in this never changing body. She is more damned than Louis or Lestat in that she is never able to be on her own or take care of herself; she is an immortal child who wants nothing more than to grow up and be a woman.
After searching for years, Louis and Claudia eventually end up in Paris, France, where they discover a coven of vampires living in the catacombs beneath the ‘Theatre des Vampyres’, a front for the coven in which they pretend to be humans pretending to be vampires. It is an ideal cover. This coven is led by Armand, portrayed by Antonio Banderas. Banderas gives a striking performance as a man who has lived much too long. He is bored. He is out of touch with the world. He wants Louis to be his window into the new, changing world that he is not equipped to deal with on his own or with his coven. He has great knowledge that he uses to seduce Louis into a false sense of security. His goals are clearly selfish, but he offers Louis the knowledge he so desperately seeks in an attempt to control Louis. His inaction to stop a horrific event led by Santiago results in him losing his prize is Louis forever.
Interview with the Vampire is a fantastic film that is truly under rated. Over the years it has done nothing but get better. It has held up surprisingly well over the almost 20 years since it’s original release. It is challenging material hidden behind a guise of mega movie stars and the production values of a big budget blockbuster. It is poetry on film. Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, and especially Kirsten Dunst all deserved Academy Award nominations, and Dunst clearly deserved a win. Alas, it was not meant to be.
Neil Jordan has directed one of the best vampire films ever put to celluloid. It deserves to be rewatched if you haven’t seen it in some time. It deserves to be seen if you have never seen it. It is a masterpiece, a darkly subtle film that, while never truly scary, terrifies you with some of the ideas presented. The simple character of Claudia, when you think about her after the film, is a terrifying creation. I cannot recommend this film more highly.
**** out of ****
*NOTE* I originally saw this film in the theater. The first time I saw it, I was not impressed. I had been a fan of the novel and the changes between the book and film I didn’t necessarily approve of. The first night I saw it though, a hot girl at the concession stand flirted with me. So, of course, I rushed to the theater again the next night to get the concession girls number. She didn’t work that night, but I saw the film again anyway. After the second viewing, I was hooked. I saw what I had missed the first night. I have loved this film ever since. I can’t remember what the concession girl looked like or her name, but the film will always be with me.
*NOTE 2* If you come across the Blu-Ray, read the back. It is the most horrible description of a film ever. It is actually a humorous misrepresentation of the film while telling you absolutely nothing about the product. I found it funny and a little disheartening that someone was paid cash money to write that. It is worth a read just to see how terrible some people are at writing and still manage to get paid for it.
*NOTE 3* River Phoenix was originally attached to play the role of Malloy. He died from a drug overdose shortly before filming began. Christian Slater filled in for him and donated all of his salary to Phoenix’s favorite charity. The film is dedicated to River Phoenix.
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