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

The Test of Time series looks back at the 1994 adaptation of Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire, starring Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise

We don’t get a ton of Gothic or romanticized horror anymore, at least not in the sense of the old days. The old days had a bit of a stretch too as I’m talking about the Universal classics and Val Lewton all the way through at least the early run of Hammer Films. To that end, what creature is more romantic or at least romanticized than Dracula and any of his vampire off shoots? While many of the vampiric screen adaptations have that feel to them from Frank Langella to Gary Oldman and David Bowie sandwiched in between, there are few vampires who embody that ideology more than those found in the writings of Anne Rice. While her novel Interview with the Vampire came out all the way back in 1976, it would take nearly 20 years for the adaptation to hit theaters with the movie of the same name coming out in November of 1994. While this could have been a look at how the adaptation fared between the two, with it being the 30th anniversary of the movie I thought we could look at just the film and decide if Lestat, Louis, and the rest fared in the daylight and still stood the Test of Time

Plot

The movie rights to Interview with the Vampire were actually purchased by Paramount just before the novel was published. Yes, that’s with a “the” not an “A” even though this movie is one of the most mispronounced titles ever. She wrote the script for the movie and had French actor Alan Deleon in mind for the part but of course the movie would end up in development hell for nearly two decades. It would eventually pass to Warner Brothers who wanted director Neil Jordan to take the project after his massive success with The Crying Game, a movie that netted him an Oscar for best original screenplay. While he was intrigued by the script when he read it, it wasn’t until he tore through the novel that he fully agreed. His agreement included the fact that he would be able to re-do the script to his liking. Warner Brothers was fine with this even though he didn’t get any kind of credit for it.

The cast was made up of what we now see as ultra heavy hitters, including Oscar winners and nominees. Tom Cruise, who Rice vehemently disagreed with at first, actually won her over with his portrayal of Lestat. Brad Pitt plays Louis, Antonio Bandera plays Armand, Kirsten Dunst who steals the show might I add, plays Claudia, and Christian Slater plays the reporter Daniel. Slater was a late addition though as River Phoenix was supposed to play the part but sadly died a few weeks before principal shooting. Slater donated his part of the money to Phoenix’s services and the movie has a dedication as well. Even the smaller parts have great talent with Thandie Newton briefly showing up and the great Stephen Rea plays an out of his mind vampire in the service of Armand. For other horror output by Jordan, look no further than fellow drama horror hybrid The Company of Wolves and In Dreams starring Annette Bening and Robert Downey Jr.

Interview with the Vampire Test of Time

The cast all have horror or horror adjacent titles to their names with Brad Pitt having stuff as early as an episode of Freddy’s Nightmares and the underseen slasher Cutting Class. Slater has Tales from the Darkside and Alone in the Dark among others, Banderas has The 13th Warrior, Cruise has Legend and The Mummy, and Dunst has Melancholia. Not all horror for sure but they all have a little something from the genre under their belt. Rice doesn’t have much even if some of her other works were turned into TV or movies like Queen of the Damned or the more recent Interview with the Vampire TV series.

The movie follows a reporter named Daniel who meets a man claiming to be a vampire named Louis who wants to tell his story. He begins with his wife and child dying in childbirth and his wanting to join them in death after. When he is about to be killed, he is rescued by a vampire named Lestat who gives him the choice of death or living in undeath as a vampire. Louis decides to become a vampire and then continues the story of how Lestat was cruel and loved killing humans for his food even though animals would suffice. Louis struggles with what he has become even as time marches on. They turn a young girl named Claudia whose mother has died of plague and will probably die herself anyway. The three move around as the years pass but Claudia gets upset that she ages emotionally but stays in her child’s body.

She tricks and kills Lestat, or so she thinks, until he comes back in a weakened state. He is still older and stronger than both of them but is lit on fire and they think he is finally gone. They search many places across the globe for vampires like them but find nothing until Armand finds them and introduces them to his coven of creatures like them. They find out that Claudia and Louis killed Lestat and that vampires killing other vampires is a crime punishable by death. The group puts Claudia and her new mother, a human who can’t get past her daughter dying and agrees to become a vampire to be with Claudia, into a cell that has sunlight come down and burn them to death. Louis is put in a coffin and is to remain until he wastes away but is rescued by Armand. Louis kills the entire coven except Armand whom he leaves as he could never be with someone who allowed the death of Claudia.

Louis walks the world alone until he returns to New Orleans in the late 80s where he finds Lestat still alive and feeding off rats. He leaves him and concludes his story with Daniel who wants to be a vampire himself. He soon gets the option when a reinvigorated Lestat attacks him and gives him the same choice he offered Louis a couple hundred years prior. The movie was a smash hit that earned 2 Oscar nominations and 223 million on its 60-million-dollar budget.

Interview with the Vampire

Signs of the Time

This is a period piece but also an adaptation. Yes. Neither of those were wholly new inventions for the mid 90s but boy, were both of them coming back in vogue. Jurassic Park had blown the doors off of novels being adapted the year before and it would be crazy to think that that had nothing to do with this movie suddenly climbing its way out of development hell. Period pieces, especially in the horror realm, had also been popular with both Coppola’s Dracula coming a couple years prior and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein releasing the same month as Interview. What do those have in common? The return of Gothic horror was also a sign of the times as all of these titles tried to capture that same Hammer magic that was around from the late 50s to the late 60s.

Another surprising sign of the times, at least for successful movies, was the deft usage of CGI. While CGI has always and will always be imperfect, it’s about how and when you use it and who is in charge. Stan Winston handled the practical effects which of course look amazing but what little cgi is used here looks good and not out of place at all. The final sign of the times is Brad Pitt. The dude feels like he has been around forever, but this is when he was making movies in droves. He had 3 movies in 1990, 2 in 91, 3 in 92, 3 in 93, and 3 in 94. You really couldn’t go to the theaters or see advertisements without that good-looking fella being somewhere.

What holds up?

The movie just looks all around great. It’s directed well, written well, shot well, scored well, and has great makeup and effects. The cast is an epic collection of talent that mostly puts it together in every scene and this group would be hard pressed to be able to show up together again with how busy they all would become. The score by Elliot Goldenthal is appropriately epic and the fx by Stan Winston holds up really well. One of the things I really like is how it subverts your expectations not only about the vampire mythos but also what you would look for in a horror movie. Yes, there is a lot of blood but there are also scenes that don’t use or require it like when they explain that Claudia and Lestat killed an entire family and we don’t see it happen, only the coffins being taken out of the house. Speaking of coffins, they change how vampires work here and its good stuff. Louis jokes about how he likes looking at crosses and that stakes are a silly notion. Coffins and avoiding sunlight are a necessity however as we see with the deaths of some of the characters.

As good as most of the cast is, Dunst stands out. This wasn’t her first role as she had done some TV at this point and was in mega bomb The Bonfire of the Vanities, but this was a big deal and a huge contrast to her other 1994 role in Little Women. Her anger and emotions as a woman trapped in a child’s body are great and you can really see her evolve when she is more taken care of by Louis than Lestat. Lestat makes he into a serial killer while Louis tends to ground her and help her find what she needs, not what she wants. She even uses this malice that Lestat imbues upon her when she decides that his death is the only way she can be free. Theres a coldness to it that is matched by her genuine fear when she is about to die. It’s a fear that is both childlike and the type of bargaining and denial that an adult might go through.

Interview with the Vampire the test of time

What Doesn’t Hold Up

We discussed how good much of the movie is in terms of its production design, score, FX, and everything else but there are flaws to be sure. The acting is mostly very good with the exception of these very American actors attempting to say French words, particularly Cherie. I’m not looking for Gambit from the X-Men cartoon levels of good, but it just stands out against the ears. Christian Slater is also mostly good, but this was still during his early career where he had a sort of stigma that he was a “We have Jack Nicholson at home” type of actor. As good as most of the choices here are, the fire effect, while perhaps looking fine in 1994, looks awful 30 years later. It’s a shame as all of the other minor CG looks good and the practical are great. Apparently, they had the actors hang upside down so they could see what veins would pop up and traced those to use in the makeup chair. That’s commitment.

Another choice that really could have ended the movie on a high note was the song. They use sympathy for the devil, which is great, right? RIGHT?! Well, it’s not the stones and while the budget for this movie was pretty big, they could have shelled out just a little more for the rights to the OG version. Look what it did for Denzel and Fallen. Made a good movie even better! Finally, and as you can see, I really like the movie, it can be a tad slow at times. I don’t have a problem with this, hell, Italian Horror is one of my favorite genres, but I can see this as being a roadblock for younger generations to get into it.

Verdict

While Anne Rice probably should have been much bigger on the big and small screen, particularly during her lifetime, there is no doubt about the validity and legacy of this film. Interview with the Vampire is a unique film with a stellar collection of talent in front of and behind the camera that has been able to last and maybe even get better with age. If it’s been a while or you are looking for something a little different from the blood sucker genre, check out this Neil Jordan classic. Just like its eternal vamps, it stands The Test of Time.

A couple of the previous episodes of The Test of Time can be seen below. To see more, click over to the JoBlo Horror Originals YouTube channel – and subscribe while you’re there!

Source: Arrow in the Head

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