It’s hard not to get excited when you hear the premise for 1994’s Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles, based on the Anne Rice gothic novel series of the same name. With a script also from Rice’s pen, the film explores the life of immortal vampire, Louis de Pointe du Lac (Brad Pitt), who recounts 200 years of his life to modern-day reporter Daniel Molloy (Christian Slater) from within the confines of an innocuous hotel room in San Francisco. Immediately, the confessional setup and narration smacks of other 90s classics such as Goodfellas and The Usual Suspects, and when combined with the mythos, grandeur and spectacle that characterises everyone’s favourite blood-suckers, there is scope for a really refreshing twist on the vampire film.
Interview with the Vampire opens strongly, wasting no time in introducing us to the fabulous Lestat de Lioncourt (Tom Cruise) a brash, defiant and controlling vampire who is responsible for turning (or, to use Rice’s syntax, “making”) Louis. Their initial relationship dynamic is that of a master and pupil, with Lestat leading Louis in the art of satisfying their thirst for blood through a series of increasingly depraved, debauched and animalistic ways. There is some great direction and cinematography at play here which makes the opening act an aesthetic feast — the bourgeois production design is exquisite, costumes are detailed and blood reds are used to great, significant effect throughout. As is often the case with vampire lore, there is a high degree of interplay between the violent and the sensual which director Neil Jordan (The Crying Game, The Butcher Boy) does not shy away from in the slightest.
Unfortunately, though, Interview shows its hand early on. Soon after the great opening scenes Louis falls down a morality rabbit hole, struggling to cope with the human-munching part of becoming a vampire. His gross short-sightedness aside, this morality play ends up being the focal point by which the rest of the narrative follows and we are left with a very different representation of the vampire. Now, I’m not one for bashing a little innovation — there is certainly something to be gained by twisting the representation of vampires away from the “I want to suck your blood” variety — but it is executed in such a painfully slow, brooding manner with very little narrative to justify the egregious amount of moping Louis partakes in across the two hour run time. It’s enough to make even the sparkliest of vampires blush.
Punctuating the moping are some terrible attempts at humour which seem completely at odds with Interview‘s earnest nature — usually instigated by a tiny Kirsten Dunst. Her character (Claudia, an immortal 12 year old) is milked for all the “cute kid killing people” jokes Rice could cram in, which quickly escalates to Adams Family heights of awful as though unnecessarily pandering to a demographic far beneath the BBFC’s 18 classification. And when she’s not cracking wise? She’s moping. Sometimes murdering. But mostly moping.
That said, there are a couple of truly memorable scenes to be found for those who bear with it. Louis and Claudia’s attempts to break free from Lestat through use of poison, crocodiles and fire, are all pretty enthralling due to Cruise’s menacing, manipulative performance. Furthermore, new life is breathed through the piece any time the characters set aside their unrelatable lofty elitism and unbearable melancholy for a few minutes, which happens less frequently than it aught to. A personal favourite scene of mine was when (pretty major spoiler territory ahead) an enraged, scythe-wielding Louis exacts revenge on Claudia’s killers, lopping off limbs and heads to a backdrop of gothic architecture and pyrotechnics. It is a superbly-handled sequence which is over all too quickly, but came as a relief to me not necessarily because I wanted to see blood and guts flying (although I wouldn’t have objected to an extra vampire or two to hack through), rather that Louis finally acted in a way in which I could relate to.
It’s easy to see the influence that Interview with the Vampire has had on future representations of vampires. Abandoning the often-parodied stereotypes that have existed in Hollywood for decades is admirable and without it we may have never seen atypical characters such as Buffy‘s Angel grace screens just a few years later. But it’s hard not to feel like it could have done with a far more savage hand in the editing room — the 123 minute run time had me checking the clock frequently from about the half way point onwards as any energy generated from the opening was drained like the life from Louis’ mopey face. I’m going to give you the choice I never had — you may want to sit this one out.