Fright Fest 2018 : Interview With The Vampire (1994)
For me, part of what makes Interview With The Vampire interesting is in considering the movie that we almost got. This was an example of a film plagued by pre-production difficulties, one of which was the outspoken criticism of author Anne Rice of the decision to cast Tom Cruise in the enigmatic role of Lestat. Now, as I write this review in 2018, Scientology and other eccentricities aside, Cruise has become a household name and not just for being an action star. I think he has well established himself as an actor with chops. This was not so much the case in the early to mid-nineties, however, and it led to Rice’s decision to disassociate with the film. And it would only be years later when she would recant her position.
But more than that, even, was the role of the boy who conducts the interview during this story. In the beginning, this role was given to young, up-and-coming actor River Phoenix. And it would be only days before filming that he would pass away tragically from a drug overdose. The producers had to scramble at the last minute to find a replacement and as a result we ended up with Christian Slater, who does a perfectly fine job, but I still can’t help but wonder what kind of a turn Phoenix would have taken with the role.
The movie was not an easy experience for the cast. When production shifted to London, it was in the dead of winter and work was conducted inside a studio with little or no windows so after toiling away in darkness of that place, the cast would emerge into the outside world, dark as well. Kind of an appropriate statement on the content of the story but understandably difficult to endure.
The point is that the film had an interesting gestational process and I have to think that if some aspects of it been different, we would have ended up with a dramatically different film, for better or worse, who’s to say?
My feelings on Anne Rice are a bit complicated and conflicted. On one hand, growing up with her writing was immensely influential for me. It was my first exposure to the possibility that horror(ish) fiction could also be beautifully written and intelligent. The first four books of the vampire chronicles were read multiple times as I made my way from junior high through college.
As I got older, however, I kind of drifted away from her writing and I have never really returned. I could never really put a finger on it until I recently when I thought I would try reading the entire chronicles and started fresh with Interview and found that I couldn’t get myself past the fourth book. I still loved Interview and I even enjoyed The Vampire Lestat. I still think those two books serve as a perfect example of the importance of point of view and how you can never really trust your narrator.
But as for the rest, Queen Of The Damned and Tale Of The Body Thief, I just felt like the writing was overwrought with unnecessary verbiage and backstory and slowing down the plot to drag out personal histories for characters that I didn’t really care about. And as a result, with the heart of the story so difficult to access, I decided to leave it all behind. It just doesn’t click with who I am as a reader anymore.
I know, what’s the point of all this, right?
I found that it gave me a new appreciation for the film adaptation of Interview With The Vampire because I think it managed to capture the beauty of Rice’s prose while at the same time keeping things grounded in a fairly solidly plotted screenplay. It also helps that as Rice devotes a lot of time in creating complex characters, the performances across the board were phenomenal.
There was some to-do made on the casting of then unknown Kirsten Dunst in the role of Claudia. Because while Dunst was youn, the character in the book was even younger. And while I can see the point that the film departed from the text somewhat, ultimately you have to lean towards the abilities of the actor and there was no way any actor of the age the book calls for would be able to pull off such a difficult role.
And for as huge as they are now, imagine trying to pull off a film with both Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt. One or both of those guys would have to take a serious pay cut in order for that to happen. And this is a time when I think both of them were really at the top of their game. Tom Cruise had been a star for some time, but more for his work as an action star than anything else. Coming out around the same time as movies like A Few Good Men and Jerry MacGuire, Cruise seemed to be branching out more, into more serious roles that he might have otherwise not been associated with. And Pitt was just starting to put in some of the more notable early performances that would make him a household name. In all, great performances from the both of them.
Add to this some great supporting performances from the likes of Stephen Rhea and then also emerging Antonio Banderas. Even Christian Slater, (who I occasionally poke at a little for being what I consider Jack Nicholon Lite) put in some solid work, despite basically being dropped into production.
Interview is a beautifully filmed and constructed movie, so much so that I almost feel like it was made as if Anne Rice’s narrative sensibilities were surgically grafted onto the director. The music is fantastic, and the set work is top notch. I feel like I’m in these places and I can distinctively feel the vibe and the history of all of them.
On the flip side of things, I also have to acknowledge the other possible influence that Anne Rice and this movie have had on the current landscape. I have not been a huge fan of where vampire lore has gone to this point, with Twilight and the likes dominating the genre to such an extent. And I think an argument could be made that books and movies like Interview With The Vampire and subsequent books were taking the first steps towards that point. Not that Anne Rice could have ever conceived of this taking place, but I find myself forced to consider it as I contemplate my feelings on the film.
Interview With The Vampire is not horror as I would define it. Not really, anyway. I think it’s a fairly literary story that happens to feature characters of supernatural origin. Regardless of how you categorize it, though, I think Interview stands as a fresh and original fictional take on the notion of vampirism. This isn’t just about fangs and coffins and victims screaming as they are devoured. This is a human story told through the lens of monsters and it’s the only time I can think of where I have seen vampires actually struggling with their own morality and where they stand in the world. It’s a well thought out and executed story, one that I would recommend checking out, either by seeing the movie, reading the novel or both.