Cold Light of (Mon)day: Queen of the Damned (2002)

This movie was essentially in trouble from minute one. As soon as Anne Rice didn’t write the script, as soon as they thought it was a good idea to jam two mammoth books into one 90 minute film, as soon as they moved filming from New Orleans to Melbourne and surrounds, it was only ever going to end in one way: that is with die-hard fans spewing.

Interview with the Vampire, the first chapter in Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles, was and still is, a visually stunning film that is as much of a love story about vampire mythology as it is a love story about New Orleans. I love that movie and have done since I first saw it. Visually, it is breathtaking and I love the way it presents the French Quarter to the audience, painting it in all of its historical, provocative glory. I would say that it was that film that first got me interested in New Orleans and that’s a love affair that continues in my life until this day… much like my love of vampires and vampire lore. Interview with the Vampire is also one of the few films that I can stomach Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt in – but that’s a personal preference thing rather than a shortcoming on the part of the actors. A great deal of the impact of Interview with the Vampire though was that Rice wrote the screenplay and there was a far larger budget for the production. I am not sure what went wrong when Queen of the Damned got green-lit. Possibly it was that age old mistake of waiting too long to line up a sequel and as a result had to recast with relatively unknown actors. There was no change that Tom Cruise was going to return to the role and Anne Rice wasn’t too happy with the way it all came together in the end and I think both factors contributed unfairly to the films reception. In some aspects, I can see where Rice was coming from, the dialogue for one, has nothing on its predecessor, which was far richer and more intricate, creating truly three dimensional characters that stuck with you. Comparatively, Queen of the Damned plays less like the sweeping Vampire drama and more like a prolonged MTV video clip. But hey, the times they were a changin’ and sometimes we vampire movie purists just need to get over ourselves.

Ultimately, we could sit here all day and night and talk about all the ways the movie version of Queen of the Damned departs from the book, but that would make for one mighty long post, so I am just going to say that the differences are numerous, but not all negative. Personally, I liked the romance element between Lestat and Jesse which is evident in the film and absent in the novels. I think leaving that out would have made the film a bit of a bore. Jesse is played by Marguerite Moreau, who is not super well-known, but I like her in this because she isn’t like your typical leading lady. She is naturally pretty and not super thin and prissy. She plays well next to Stuart Townsend, I liked the fact that she seems strong enough to withstand the brutal truth of being vampire – which is that you have to kill folk and drink their blood and isn’t bogged down trying to be some kind of ethereal beauty – you know, one of these ladies that capture the eye of the vampire simply because they’re all looks and no substance. Jesse is some kind of parapsychologist/supernatural investigator and she can read Lestat’s old timey French Journal too, so she must be pretty bright. She also rocks the Goth look like a champ, so she’s okay in my book. Outside of Jesse being a book-toting history babe, there’s a real tenderness in the later scenes between her and Lestat and he needs that to be more balanced. All things considered she brings a personal element to his character, which is kind of the point of the whole film.

Lestat and Jesse
(For what do I yearn? For a bit of romance in your life, apparently. Jesse and her amazing top knots have it covered.)

I also loved Vincent Perez as Marius, who in the film is Lestat’s creator and just an all-round mysterious guy, with amazing dress sense and a distinct artistic streak. Vincent Perez is a bit underrated as an actor. I appreciated him in The Crow: City of Angels and loved him in Swept from the Sea (also known as Amy Foster), which was a weird kind of romance film.As Marius he manages to walk a fine line between loving father and straight up bastard, which is difficult to do, but he does it with a sense of humor. I totally see him as an ancient vampire, daily grappling with a world which is outgrowing him. All things considered, I could think of worse candidates to bring you the gift of living death. I’d be happy to help Marius understand the modern world any time he fancies.

Giving out life lessons
(Marius provides Lestat with some tough life lessons… for his life after death)

Akasha, the Queen for whom the film is named, is played by the late Aaliyah, who I remember more fondly from her previous film Romeo Must Die and the accompanying theme song Try Again than for her turn in this role. Despite the fact that Rice’s vampires are not capable of having sex, there are some mighty sexy scenes between Lestat and Akasha and, unlike the first film, as a viewer you get a better idea of the sexual element which makes vampires so enduring and appealing in popular culture. So, snaps to Aaliyah for that.

sexy times
(the blood sharing in the bathtub – oddly sexy – that’s what being a vampire is actually about though)

At the end of the day, I love revisiting films that I was super passionate about when I was a teenager or in my early twenties, it’s like a trip back in time, sometimes good and sometimes bad. Today it was a good trip back in time. There are certainly moments in the film where I have to LoL at the ridiculousness of it all, but hey, it’s awkward in a way that reminds me of youth being awkward and that’s cool. Recognising a lot of the Australian extras also probably contributes to the LoL factor for purely Australian reasons, which is something that our international friends miss out on, but that’s okay. Johnathon Davis (of KORN fame) was bought on to do the soundtrack for this film, which gives it a lot of its dark, dirty, dangerous edge. I think it holds up well, maybe better than any other element… and I’m not even a KORN fan, although A.D.I.D.A.S was pretty unforgettable and Freak on a Leash still has a time and place, oh shit, and Got the Life.

Personally, despite the roasting it got, I didn’t hate this film when it came out and it’s still something that I count as a ‘go to’ when I am super bored and at home on the long weekend (as I was this weekend – thank you, Queen Mother) and the weather prohibits me from venturing out too far…not that I’m inclined to venture out very far at the best of times. Maybe I should have been a vampire, maybe in another life I was, which is why I am always drawn to these types of movies. Who can say?

I’ve heard whispers lately that a new Vampire Chronicles film is in the works. I don’t know how I feel about it. It will be difficult to beat the initial film but probably easy to beat this one. That said, for all its flaws, Queen of the Damned is a pretty fun outing in vampire land. If you’re a bit of a vampire buff, as I am, I’d recommend giving it a watch.

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