Queen of the Damned

I suppose it would become tedious to live forever. You couldn’t help but feel the urge to kick up some sand, or stir up unimaginable evil, every once in a while, and what better way to upset the forces of ungood (and your mother) than to unveil your vampirism and start a goth-rock band.

Enter Lestat, an 18th century French vampire who’s grown tired of eternity and decides to discontinue his sleep when he hears the rumbles of rock ’n’ roll in the 20th century. His undead anarchism is the propelling bad seed of Queen of the Damned, the latest film based on the writings of popular horror concoctor Anne Rice. But for those fans of Interview with a Vampire, a film that stands true to the atmosphere and intent of the novel, don’t get too excited. Queen of the Damned isn’t so much a sequel as a troubled animal unto itself.

The primary cast is exotic, international, rock-star-skinny and good-looking, featuring Irishman Stuart Townsend (About Adam) as Lestat, French actor Vincent Perez (The Crow: City of Angels), Marguerite Moreau (Wet Hot American Summer, Mighty Ducks), Academy Award nominee Lena Olin and the late vocalist Aaliyah as Akasha, the Queen of the Damned (as well as the intoxicating highlight of the movie).

Aaliyah died in a tragic plane crash last August, just before completing her role as Akasha — her older brother Rashad Haughton’s voice was used to finish her lines. Her untimely death pierced the heart of Detroit, the city where she was raised and cultivated her R&B vocal talents. She doesn’t sing in the film, but when she slithers on screen there’s a music in her movement.

Her character, Akasha, is the mother of all vampires, and although how this came about isn’t clear, her insatiable appetite is (if she had much more screen time there wouldn’t have been anyone left alive for us to watch). Only 22 years old, Aaliyah makes you believe she’s devoured centuries of human blood. She’s deliberate and drinks in each moment with the intensity and wonder of a child who’s just woken up in a fantastic world — only this kid can rip your heart out and suck your veins dry. It’s as if Aaliyah knew this was her last chance to steal the show, which she does. But there isn’t much to steal.

The biggest problem is that, despite being titled after the third book in The Vampire Chronicles, this film tries to cram in information and ideas from two of Rice’s novels, The Vampire Lestat and Queen of the Damned. It’s a rush job that permeates the dialogue, undermines the acting and proves to be far too much for the writers and director Michael Rymer to handle. Rice took her time exploring the psychology behind why a vampire would take to rock ’n’ roll and use it as a means to enrage others of his kind — not so in Queen of the Damned. Lestat’s mental processes get lost in an MTV, silver-eyed, blue-skinned new-goth-fashion frenzy that only makes you want to see The Hunger again.

If you’ve seen Interview, you’ll hear familiar dialogue and voiceovers, however this time spoken melodramatically, like a bad vampire soap opera (no offense, “Dark Shadows”), due to actors continually reading their lines before reaching them emotionally. Later on, when the information glut slows down, you will see some well-acted moments — you can’t help it with Lena Olin and the talents of Townsend and Perez. And occasionally there’ll be a beautiful shot with a Renaissance-painting vividness that’s erotic and timeless, but they’re unfortunately intermingled with horrifying rock ’n’ roll nightmares you might see if you stayed out too late on Sunset Boulevard.

Too many inconsistencies plague the film, whether it’s pacing, character development or makeup (the cheaper and cheesier made-up vampires seem to die quicker than the high-quality ones), giving additional meaning to Lestat’s vampiric lament: “I was meant for more than this.”

It all finishes with an ironic epitaph, “In Memory of Aaliyah, 1979-2001,” tagged onto the end of a vampire film that has outlived her, yet will help to keep her image and memory alive for years to come. Aaliyah should be satisfied to know that she was the best part.

Anita Schmaltz writes about the arts for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].

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