The Test of Time: Interview with the Vampire (1994)

We all have movies we love. Movies we respect without question because of either tradition, childhood love, or because they’ve always been classics. However, as time keeps ticking, do those classics still hold up? So…the point of this here column is whether of not a film stands the test of time. I’m not gonna question whether it’s still a good flick, but if the thing holds up for a modern audience.

Director: Neil Jordan
Starring: Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, and Christian Slater

Ok, ok, so we’re all sick of vampires, and most of us blame the teen market for killing it (though 99% of the blame falls on Hollywood for its relentless push of the material). It’s too bad, too because for the 100 or so years before Twilight sashayed into our lives, the vampire was a bad ass thing, something to keep the kiddies awake at night and make lesser intelligent people (or paranoid folks) poop their pants at their very mention. Ah, that was the day. And while I think it’s time old fang tooth return to the coffin for a decade or so, perhaps with Tom Cruise returning to theaters its time to examine one of last big budget vampire films and see if it holds up today.

Under the examination: Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles.

Two fancy looking lads ready to suck people dead.

THE STORY: A dude named Louis (Brad Pitt) from 1700s Louisiana loses everything he loves and gives up on life. But just before a random, evil pimp takes him out, a dashing vampire named Lestat, who happens to look like Tom Cruise sporting a blonde wig, bites him and gives him a choice to live or die. From there, they engage in many light-hearted bloody romps until they add a young girl to their vampire family. One day, a nasty family feud erupts and Louis and the girl split from Lestat. The depart for Europe to search the globe for the existence of other vampires. Oh, and that lengthy story is framed around Louis giving in interview in present day to reporter Christian Slater, who famously replaced River Phoenix after he passed.

WHAT STILL HOLDS UP: First and foremost, I think the performances hold up more than anything. Despite the horrendous hair in the film (do all vampires need to look like former 80’s hair band wash-ups wearing 1770s gear?), everyone brings their A game. And they should have. Shot on a massive budget of $60 mil (back in 94, remember), this was quite a gamble. Released two years after Bram Stoker’s Dracula, this was a big budget film that didn’t have a thing to do with the classic Dracula story. It was directed by an art house director hot off “The Crying Game,” and it was scripted by Interview novelist Ann Rice (who had never produced a screenplay before or after). Oh, and there were strong homosexual undertones involving two Hollywood star A-listers (back in 94, remember). Regardless, the gamble paid off and everything is done on a higher level, from sets, to costumes, to the story. The result is a truly epic film, spanning centuries, continents, and characters. It’s one of the few films I’ve ever seen that managed to combine beauty, elegance, and blood. That’s a tough combo to pull off when selling it to the masses.

Oh, back to the performances. I’ve often though of Pitt as a stiff actor, but much like fellow wooden statue Keanu Reeves, if dude finds the right role, his style works. As Louis, Pitt plays the straight main, artfully finding the balance between maintaining humanity and avoiding his new found animal instincts. He even managed to put some pain in his eyes. On the flip side, there’s Thomas Cruise, who usually plays Thomas Cruise by looking fierce and doing a lots and lots of running. But again, give put him an interesting role and offer him a challenge, he’ll make that film his bitch. Here, as the immortal Lestat, he chews scenes like mint gum. Despite the goofy wig, Cruise is, dare I say, morbidly fun. Take one scene for example. After Louis bites the neck of Spiderman’s girlfriend (Kristen Dunst in her first role), thinks her dead, and falls apart, in walks Lestat to lighten the mood by picking up Dunst’s dead mother and treating her to a final dance: “There still life in the old lady yet!”

Cruise has looked better...

WHAT BLOWS NOW: The film feels dated. For something set mostly 100+ years ago, it feels strictly mid-1990s. Perhaps it’s the fact Christian Slater is in it and he reminds Brad Pitt that he has plenty of tape for his interview, but more so, I never liked the narration Pitt gives over the movie. The narration is not as bad as say the original cut of Blade Runner (where Ford reads the narration as if he was three whiskeys in and had a dinner date in 30 minutes), but I wonder if the film would have felt bigger if Jordan allowed the viewer to share “the vampire eye” and judge for themselves. Or maybe it would be just a boring ass movie, which it times, it is. Then again, Louis scams us anyway. While Slater’s reporter interviews, he asks what Louis saw through his “vampire eye.” His reply: “No words can describe it. Might as well ask heaven what it sees. No human can know.” Scam I tell you. For a movie with a narrative throughout the film to ensure viewers understand the vampire point of view, Louis skips on perhaps the most interesting part, and the narration ends up sounding forced and too convenient at times. Rice’s screenplay attempts to pack in too much material from her novel, leaving a movie that’s too often slow, especially when compared to modern, “hipper” horror flicks. They don’t make them like this anymore (says all old people).

Pitt demonstrates his slicing skills.

THE VERDICT: There’s been a lot of vampire movies, so much so that the genre is nearly dead. However, Interview with the Vampire stands as one of the most beautifully violent and artful vampire features ever released by a major studio. The movie isn’t so dated that it ruins the film, but it still ends up feeling old and more of date than it should feel. For the modern audience, it still works as the thing has got more love and humanity than five Twilight films could muster up. Then again, Interview has a serious shortage of jean shorts. And that’s a loss that Lestat and Louis will never forget.




Even Lestat looks surprised that the movie turned out well.



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