vampiresAaliyahPaul McGannClaudia Black
Queen of the Damned
Medium: film
Year: 2002
Director: Michael Rymer
Writer: Anne Rice
Keywords: horror, vampires
Country: USA, Australia
Actor: Aaliyah, Stuart Townsend, Marguerite Moreau, Vincent Perez, Paul McGann, Lena Olin, Christian Manon, Claudia Black, Bruce Spence, Matthew Newton
Format: 101 minutes
Series: Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles
Website category: Horror modern
Review date: 27 April 2008
About twenty years ago, I read lots of Anne Rice novels. They were good. She herself seems to be a bit of a nutcase, but her books are based on a deceptively clever premise. It feels a bit obvious once you've seen it, but there's actually more to it than that. When we watch a horror movie, the star is generally the bad guy. That's who we're really interested in. Everyone else is just a victim-to-be. Thus why not make the monster your protagonist? Literature is of course replete with antiheroes, but personally I think there are two main directions one could take this: (a) take it seriously and really creep your readers the hell out, or (b) just go for it, no holds barred, and push it so far that it becomes funny. There's a Doctor Who example of this: the Daleks. They've had quite a few solo outings, most notably David Whitaker's TV21 Dalek comic strips. For me, these are basically type (b). He doesn't apologise for the pepperpots or try to backpedal their villainy. On the contrary, he merrily plays up the fact that they're malevolent heartless bastards who want to kill everyone and everything, to the point where it's almost hilarious. The 1970s Dalek annuals on the other hand are chilling.
Anne Rice however finds a third way... adolescent power fantasy. Yes, for the space of a few hours, you too can unleash your inner goth and wank yourself into insensibility about the anguish of being an Immortal Wanderer of the Night with superpowers! No, I'm sorry. That was rude. It's cheap to sneer at Anne Rice for the crime of being wildly successful, while in fact she's good at what she does and in particular puts thought into the characterisation and background of her monsters. I love the historical perspectives in her Vampire Chronicles, for instance.
However I haven't yet seen all that in a film. Anne Rice's vampires are brooding, lonely, romantic, all-powerful and so on. These movie versions, not so much. You can see them. You're forced to look at what they do. What's more, your view of them isn't being filtered through Anne Rice's "I'm in love with my vampires" prose, but instead you can see them from a more objective viewpoint. Thus Louis came across as a whiny loser in Interview with the Vampire (1994) and the characters in Queen of the Damned are a bunch of tossers. Strip away the supernatural trappings and you're left with a race of self-obsessed fashion victims barely capable of thinking further ahead than their next meal. What do they want? I think hardly any of them could even answer that question themselves.
And crucially, unlike Anne Rice's vampires, you wouldn't want to become one. In the case of Interview with the Vampire, that's because their existence is horrible and Louis is always whining about it. In the case of Queen of the Damned, it's because in every way they need to get a life.
Just look at the vampire rules as laid down by Marius to Lestat. You must have no friends. You must always be alone. You will suck... okay, no, he doesn't actually say that last one.
Leaving aside all comparisons with the books, though, how does Queen of the Damned (2002) work as a film? Well, it's a good music video! I like the way it looks. It's more consciously riffing off the horror genre than its predecessor, so we get traditional vampire fangs instead of a mouth full of pointies. There's a cool thing going on with their eyes sometimes showing up just as points of light. It's also heavily plugged into goth culture, which admittedly reinforces that whole "loser" thing but is hideously plausible. However on the downside we have no characters worth a damn, a flop of an ending and a 7000-year-old deity being played by a 22-year-old R&B singer. She looks amazing. Great bikini. However the moment she opened her mouth, did I believe in her for a second? You must be joking. The most powerful thing about this film is the knowledge that Aaliyah famously died in a plane crash several months before the film's release. Apparently the producers brought in her brother to do some overdubbing for her scenes.
Other actors include Paul McGann and Claudia Black for Doctor Who and Farscape fans. You won't remember either of them, although one could easily regard this film as a side-adventure for the 8th Doctor during the Stuck on Earth arc. (The supernatural side of things is already covered in Vampire Science, so that's okay.) The only other performer worth mentioning is Stuart Townsend as Lestat, who's deliberately making choices indistinguishable from terrible acting. He has two modes: "Talking To Other Vampires" and "Grandstanding". Just look at what he's doing at the beginning in his scene with the band. It's unbelievable. I can see where he's coming from, since Lestat is after all a self-indulgent show-off, but even so it's like a distillation of all the wankiest performances in vampire cinema ever. He's the tosser of tossers. Then there's his bizarre shifting accent during the opening voice-over, which in a moment of charity I decided might also be deliberate. Lestat loves play-acting and taking on roles, after all. However even being generous and assuming all that it's still not a great performance, failing to convey the sheer enormity of Lestat's ego and personality. Tom Cruise did far better last time.
This film was cobbled together from bits of The Vampire Lestat as well as Queen of the Damned, after Warner Bros gave up on trying to adapt just the second book in the series. It was always going to be hard to pull one movie-sized story out of Anne Rice's sprawling multi-generational vampire epic, but even so one might have hoped for its plot to make more sense. It's not as if the producers were frightened of making changes from the original! For instance if Lestat's peers object so much to him going public as a vampire, you'd think they'd try to assassinate him more discreetly than on-stage in the middle of his live concert to thousands of screaming fans. Meanwhile the movie's big baddie is Akasha, Queen of the Damned. What's she doing? Killing all the vampires. Hmm. Am I supposed to object to this? You go, girl!
However one thing I liked was the whole "Lestat as rock star" angle, which I felt was an improvement on the book. There it felt like a detail. However here we're immersed in that rock world, with the fans, the music, the screaming and the rather pleasant-looking manager whose job it is to get girls for Lestat. I'm sure he'd done that before for other rock stars, but this is different. It's also a laugh to see Lestat doing the whole "hiding in plain sight" thing, with all the journalists solemnly asking questions about vampire lore just as other celebrities get asked about their movie roles or girlfriends. One never quite knows whether they believe it, or whether they're just playing along with yet another theatrical rock star. I'm sure lots of people hated all this stuff, but personally I thought it was the best part of the film. It's certainly different and it brings its own kind of creepiness.
This movie isn't very good, really. As someone who vaguely remembered the books and the previous film, I enjoyed it. However it's a bit messy and its story is fundamentally ill-conceived. It doesn't feel as if it's going anywhere. You won't really care what happens. It's just that it's all done with enough energy and visual flair that you won't feel the need to go off and have a rant afterwards either. I was surprised by the risibly inappropriate rock soundtrack, though. Apparently Anne Rice has since decided that a TV series format would be more appropriate for adaptations of her books and I'd agree with that, although I also think a film/TV adaptation that captured the adolescent fantasy factor of her novels would be creepy beyond measure. I can actually imagine watching this again, but I don't think I'd be giving it my full attention.