Interview with the Vampire (United States, 1994)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Francis Ford Coppola's Dracula. Mike Nicols' Wolf. Kenneth Branagh's Frankenstein. Suddenly, horror of the old genre (as opposed to the '80s slasher flicks) is back with a vengeance. The latest, and arguably the most ambitious, to enter this potentially-lucrative market is a cinematic version of Anne Rice's Interview with the Vampire.

As was true with Cronos earlier this year, Interview with the Vampire makes some modifications to common vampire mythology (as made popular in Dracula and perpetuated in countless horror books and films). The fangs are still present, as are the insatiable bloodlust and fear of daylight, but no longer will religious trappings hold the undead at bay, and a stake through the heart has lost its effectiveness.

The film begins and ends in present-day San Francisco, with Louis (Brad Pitt), a two-century old vampire, telling his story to a fascinated interviewer (Christian Slater). His tale opens in 1791 Louisiana, just south of New Orleans, where Louis falls victim to the vampire Lestat (Tom Cruise). Given a choice between death and eternal life as one of the undead, Louis chooses the latter, a decision he will forever regret.

Louis cannot kill with the impunity of Lestat, but, to sate his hunger, he must feed, and the blood of animals is not enough. Eventually, he pierces the neck of a grief-stricken young girl named Claudia (Kirsten Dunst), whom Lestat then curses with his unholy form of resurrection so that she can be a surrogate daughter to both himself and Louis. For a while, they are one "big, happy family." But all things end, and Claudia's growing resentment of Lestat fuels a bloody confrontation.

When Interview with the Vampire works, it's as compelling and engrossing a piece of entertainment as is available on film today. When it falters, the weaknesses seem magnified. Fortunately, under the care of director Neil Jordan (The Crying Game), instances of the former are more frequent that those of the latter, although the film noticeably stumbles during two key sequences (a needlessly drawn-out exploration of life as a vampire in Paris and the illogical, dumb conclusion). Despite the ups and downs of the second half, however, the first hour is classic horror at its most grotesque. In the best tradition of the Grand Guignol, Interview with the Vampire revels in its graphic and horrifying bloodiness.

Tom Cruise's Lestat is not a consistent villain, nor does he come across as particularly multi-dimensional, but there are times when his screen presence commands attention. More effective is Brad Pitt's Louis, who captures the audience's sympathy by fighting against losing his conscience (although his constant wallowing in self-pity becomes tiresome). Most arresting of all is young Kirsten Dunst, whose charisma is such that she continually steals scenes from her older and more experienced co-stars. Also featured are Antonio Bandaras (as the ancient vampire Armand), Stephen Rea (in what is little more than a cameo), and Christian Slater.

As is true of many vampire stories, there is an erotic undercurrent to Interview. Here, explicitness is replaced by innuendo. While sex is rarely in the background, it's never on screen, either. Homoeroticism, the Electra Complex, and pedophilia are all hinted at.

As horror films go, Interview with the Vampire has the right look. Atmosphere may not be everything, but its importance cannot be understated. With its gothic settings, superlative makeup (by Stan Winston), and sterling miniatures work, this film can claim visuals nearly on par with those of Kenneth Branagh's stylish Frankenstein. There are other parallels between these films, not the least of which is their equally erratic pacing. However, Interview's plot is probably more coherent and its characters somewhat better realized. There are flaws to be found here -- even for those not specifically looking -- but for the simple horrific pleasure offered, they can be set aside, if not entirely ignored.

Interview with the Vampire (United States, 1994)

Director: Neil Jordan
Cast: Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, Kirsten Dunst, Antonio Bandaras, Christian Slater, Stephen Rea
Screenplay: Anne Rice based on her novel
Cinematography: Philippe Rousselot
Music: Elliot Goldenthal
U.S. Distributor: Warner Brothers
Run Time: 2:02
U.S. Release Date: 1994-11-11
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence, Sexual Situations, Nudity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1