QUEEN OF THE DAMNED
The first of Rices Vampire Chronicles was filmed as Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles (1994), which drew vehement protests from Rice herself prior to its release for the casting of Tom Cruise as her favourite bad boy Lestat, something that she then suddenly retracted after seeing the finished film. Queen of the Damned (1988) is the third of Rices Vampire Chronicles. (The film series seems to be sidestepping the second novel in the series, The Vampire Lestat (1985), the rights of which are tied up in limbo somewhere still as a potential sequel for Tom Cruise).
For all the controversy and dislike that was heaped upon Interview with the Vampire, it still remains the most faithful and literate of the films adapted from Rices work. Among the other adaptations of her work, Exit to Eden (1994) turned Rices S&M romance into a giggly, self-conscious comedy, while the tv mini-series Feast of All Saints (2001) was no more than a torrid soap opera set among the slaves. It may well just be that Rices often melodramatically overwrought and wordy prose just does not translate well to film. Certainly, the film here emasculates the book. The Talamasca order, which feature prominently in several of Rices other series, emerge with thorough ordinariness and the books central character of Maharet and her sisterhood make a belated appearance near the end of the film with little impact.
In fact, the film reduces Rices languidly romanticised vampires to no more than a feature-length Goth music video. Queen of the Damned has almost no substance beyond Goth posturing. It rarely engages as a plot, all director Mark Rymer seems interested in is Goth poses Stuart Townsend walking out of a graveyard in slow motion draping a violin in one hand; lying in a pure white marble coffin with his feet up listening to a Walkman; appearing draped across a set of speakers; to the horde of body-pierced, black leather and vinyl clad, ambi-sexual Goth extras that leer in the background with decadent menace. The wall-climbing trick from Dracula (1897) is employed at one point but now it is no more than a party trick being used by Lestat to show off before pouncing on two willing victims. It adds up to a pose that is surface affect and little else. Furthermore, for all its appeal to a decadent perversity, the film coyly shuts its eyes whenever it comes to blood and eroticism it is a surprisingly tame and chaste film for its R-rating. Where the film is at its most successful is the amusing idea of a postmodern vampire who hides his vampirism behind Goth music and the pretence of being a cliche vampire. The opening credits are interestingly placed against one of Lestats music videos that recreates the sets of The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1919).
The most pretentious and laughable aspect of all the posturing is Stuart Townsends performance as Lestat. Townsend does not so much give a performance as a series of lascivious, cod bad boy poses, prancing through the film with bared chest or open shirts, vinyl pants and a wicked smile. He is like a teenager who most earnestly wants us to notice how wicked and decadent he is play-acting at being. The worst part though is the films indecision in regard to the character of Lestat. The first half of the film sets him up as a playful decadent, toying with victims, play-acting at being a vampire, taunting other vampires to come out and play and consumed with a desire to write his ego across the world. Yet the second half gets a case of moral cold feet and backtracks, showing him as nothing more than a clueless little boy who is really innocent at heart, just wants to feel mortal love and lacks the stomach for killing people. Where the first half of the film was all posturing, the second half has reduced its sexy bad boy to a wimp.
Amid the posturing, the one person that does stand out is Aaliyah. Aaliyah attained fame as a hit R&B artist while still only in her mid-teens before making her acting debut in the action film Romeo Must Die (2000) which, despite her bland performance, had her pegged for other acting roles. Her (second) performance here suggests she may well have had some potential as an actress. With blue contacts, exotic accent and weirdly prowling gait, not to mention a mind-boggling array of costume changes, she succeeds in projecting an unearthly exoticism that recalls something of Grace Joness performance in Vamp (1986).
There is a certain ghoulishness that hangs over the film. It was originally not even intended as a cinematic release but to go straight to video. However, Aaliyah died in a plane crash in August 2001, aged only twenty-two. In an effort to exploit this, the film was bumped up for a full cinematic release. Certainly, in viewing it, the sets and effects which include a nifty CGI-styled revisiting of Christopher Lees meltdown to dust in Dracula/The Horror of Dracula (1958) appear to have been lavishly designed for widescreen photography rather than the small screen.
Australian director Michael Rymer next went on within genre material to make the surprisingly good tv mini-series revival of Battlestar Galactica (2003) and to produce/direct various episodes of the subsequent series, as well as to produce/direct on the tv series Hannibal (2013-5).