It has literally been 25 years since I last watched Interview With The Vampire. I only watched it once and, honestly, I was suitably underwhelmed at the time. I was 15, an emerging goth so I was really, really! into Vampire films, so why not this one? Two words: Tom Cruise. Let’s just say I have never been a fan—too clean-cut and with an ego too big for my liking. I really didn’t want Anne Rice’s brilliant story ruined by a pretty boy jock. He just wasn’t my Lestat.
Of course, I was a total hypocrite as was absolutely fine about the even prettier boy Brad Pitt being cast as Louis. I was a precocious teenager though; don’t forget and Pitt had just firmly landed himself in the arena of Very Cool Actors by absolutely knocking it out of the park in his role as the intimidating and grotesque serial killer, Early Grayce, in Kalifornia and, to a lesser extent, Floyd the stoner flatmate of Dick in True Romance. Cruise though, up to that point, had mostly played the good guy, the hero, the guy who was always going to win. Basically, roles that didn’t interest me in the slightest, and still don’t.
So I kinda hate-watched Interview With The Vampire, got annoyed about it becoming so popular and mainstream because bratty, gothy teenagers hate that kind of stuff. “Don’t taint my Vampires with your popular culture!” etc. I didn’t really give it a chance. My mind was set before I got anywhere near pressing play.
Now that I am a “grown-up” I thought I should give the film a less blinkered viewing. Has it stood the test of time? What didn’t I see the first time around? Well yes to the first question, and pretty much everything to the second.
Period dramas do have the upper hand when it comes to mortality. They already look old so there’s no worry about costume, hair, and technology within the story time stamping the year it was made onto every scene. Of course, being a supernatural-themed film, there was going to be camera trickery, special effects and some gory scenes that needed to stand the test of time. And, on the whole, they really have. Other than one clearly superimposed scene of Louis and Claudia sailing away from a burning town, everything else looks brilliant. I will talk more about this later.
But let’s get to the story first. I forgot how there really is no messing about, Louis de Point du Lac (Brad Pitt) meets Daniel Molloy (Christian Slater), a reporter in modern-day San Francisco and relays the story of his life as a vampire to him. The purpose of this is never explicitly explained. We can only assume that Louis wants the world to know that being a vampire is not all it’s cracked up to be.
We travel back to the start of Louis’ story, in French Louisiana, 1791, where he was a wealthy plantation owner. Yet, he was heartbroken. Childbirth had just taken the lives of his wife and baby. Louis was despondent and so far beyond giving a shit about anything that he would intentionally get into fights with men much scarier and brutish than him, hoping they’d take his life. They didn’t. But lurking in the shadows, stalking his next victim, was the vampire Lestat de Lioncourt (Tom Cruise).
It is hard to say whether Lestat totally misread Louis’ situation or was exceptionally cruel in this instance, but he approaches and attacks a drunken Louis wandering the waterfront of New Orleans, drains him of enough blood to bring him to the brink of death, then offers him eternal life. Now, it was pretty clear that Louis didn’t want to live at all, nevermind forever, but he was at his most vulnerable; drunk and grieving, this opportunity seemed unmissable, so Louis agreed and Lestat wasted no time at all in turning this beautiful young man into a beautiful monster.
And here’s where I, 25 years later, eat my hat. The vampire Lestat, the most commanding and teasingly malicious of Ann Rice’s creations, played by Cruise, the most clean-cut of American movie stars, decked out in ruffles and long blonde wig, is surprisingly perfect for this role. Lestat brings out in Cruise a fiery, mature sexual magnetism he had not previously displayed on screen. He would later dabble with darker roles in Magnolia and Eyes Wide Shut of course, but Lestat was the first time we ever saw this side to Cruise, and I must admit, the guy can act.
What’s more, to say that this movie has some homoerotic undertones would be a gross understatement. While Lestat and Louis never get it on explicitly, from the moment Lestat turns Louis—which climaxes with the pair flying up into the starry sky in a passionate embrace/fight—they are entered into a marriage of sorts. Lestat wanted a companion, and he chose a beautiful and somewhat feminine (in both looks and nature) man for his partner. Why does Lestat choose Louis? A simple answer might be his desire to share Louis’ wealth, but it is more complicated than that. The gay question enters here. He could have chosen a woman to be his consort. Lestat is clearly attracted to Louis and his attack is an obvious seduction. It is a credit to both actors that they did not shirk away from this aspect to their characters. If Lestat loves beauty, it seems perfectly natural for his prey to include men as well as women.
Louis realises quickly that being immortal, and being a vampire, is not as fun or sexy as it looks. As a human he was kind and that didn’t change when he was turned, so having to be a serial killer was never going to be his chosen profession. Much to Lestat’s frustration, Louis resists killing people and prefers to drink the blood of rats and other animals, though it’s nowhere near as tasty or replenishing. Louis is not turning out to be the perfect protegé he expected.
After years of prowling the streets of plague-stricken New Orleans, Louis finally gives in to the thirst and drinks the blood of a human. In pretty much every instance leading up to this moment, Lestat’s prey have been beautiful women, mostly ladies of the night who sadly won’t be missed too much. The act of guzzling their blood is erotically charged; they are enraptured by him, willfully allow him to sink his teeth into their necks and breasts, not realising just how far he is going. Louis always watched from the sidelines, tortured by his empathy for the women as their lives drain away, and disgusted by the pleasure Lestat takes in killing them. Which makes Louis’ moment of submission quite curious.
He notices a young girl, crying at the feet of her mother’s corpse. She has been dead awhile but the girl won’t leave her side and begs her to wake up. Louis cradles her in his arms, then sinks his teeth into her neck, much to the hilarity of Lestat. Did Louis want to release the girl from her pain by gifting her with death? She would almost certainly have succumbed to plague anyway. But he didn’t give her a chance to survive—a child with her life ahead of her. Did the scene remind him of his own lost wife and child? Did he feel that mother and daughter should be together in death?
It presents Lestat with the perfect opportunity to rebuild his struggling relationship with Louis. He takes the child and turns her into a vampire, creating a family for Louis. Kirsten Dunst plays Claudia, the precocious little girl. This was her first major role, and I think it’s fair to say she steals the show, which—when you are up against Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt—is no mean feat. She has such maturity in the part that truly belies her young age and you have no problem believing that she really is a grown woman in the body of a child. Claudia, while a killer, is the true victim of the three.
Louis becomes very fond of Claudia, taking on a parent role, whereas Lestat treats her as a murderess apprentice, the protegé Louis was supposed to be. Claudia is the film’s most unnerving character. She learns the art of flirting from Lestat, cuddles with Louis in his coffin and murders indiscriminately. “I want some more,” says Claudia after her first taste of blood. It’s a twist on Oliver that Dickens never imagined. But as the decades pass she begins to realise that she is never going to grow up, she will never get to enjoy having a woman’s body, have a romantic relationship, or children of her own. She discovers that it was Lestat and Louis that put her in this position. She understands and forgives Louis, but Lestat she knows is a monster and one she wants to stop.
She plots to kill Lestat and run away with Louis, and it almost goes to plan. Lestat is tricked into drinking the blood of twin boys, dead by laudanum. He quickly begins to perish, as vampires absolutely cannot drink the blood of the dead. The effects of Lestat rapidly ageing and decaying are truly gruesome and brilliantly done, and hold up just as well today.
Lestat does not die of course, but Claudia and Louis flee nevertheless, and after travelling the Mediterranean searching for any other vampires (and failing) they eventually settle in Paris. Here, by accident, they do discover more of their kind living beneath a Paris theatre. Louis meets Armand (Antonio Banderas) the world’s oldest living vampire, who is bored with the old world ways of his companions. He is drawn to Louis because he worships his youth and sees him as a “bridge” to the next century. They share the film’s most erotic moment when they almost kiss.
I have to say at this stage of the film I am ready for it to end now. As a film that exists only in darkness—because of course vampires can only come out at night—it does make for taxing viewing after a while. With Lestat out of the picture for the majority of the latter half of the film, much of the magic is lost.
Claudia is murdered in a terribly cruel fashion by the Théâtre des Vampires, who lock her in a sun tower with her new-found and recently turned mother. They are kept there until the sun rises. When Louis finds her she is just ash. Louis refuses to remain with Armand after he did not save Claudia—an act which made him realise that Armand has no humanity left in him. He travels alone for the next few centuries, which leads us back to the present day.
Daniel Molloy totally misses the entire point of Louis’ story and begs him to make him a vampire. Of course, Louis refuses and angrily speeds off, but there is always Lestat lurking around the corner. Cue ‘Sympathy for the Devil’.
This story of vampires teaches us more about humanity and care than most standard love films. Anne Rice wrote the novel beginning in 1972. She had just lost her daughter Michelle to Leukaemia and she was overwhelmed with grief. She became an alcoholic and over the span of four years wrote Interview With the Vampire. Her loss for her young child clearly spilt out onto the pages and onto our screens. The film stays closer to the novel’s storyline than most other books-to-big-screen adaptations, in spite of its vast scope of locations, preternatural flavour, and aesthetic content. In accomplishing this, the film cements its place as an immortal masterpiece that will never grow old and will never die.