Interview With the Vampire, Anne Rice’s 1976 foray into the bloody, sexy world of the undead, is an undisputed classic. The 1994 movie, which features Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, Kirsten Dunst, and freaking Antonio Banderas, is a different story.
My memory of what actually happens in Interview With the Vampire is dim, but prior to my inaugural and likely only viewing of the 1994 film adaptation, this is what I came up with: there’s a vampire named Louis and another, Lestat. One of these men is talking to a reporter (Christian Slater) for reasons unbeknownst. New Orleans features prominently as a location because everyone knows that’s where vampires come from. There’s a lot of sex because vampires are horny for blood, and also, the bulk of the activity takes place in the past. Upon viewing the film for the first and only time, I’m pleased to report that my memory was largely correct, but the overall experience of viewing the movie was disappointing, in part because the movie itself is really, really bad.
In the movie, Louis (Brad Pitt) is telling his story to a man who I think is a reporter (Christian Bale), in a hotel room in San Francisco. There is Claudia, a baby vampire turned by Lestat (Tom Cruise), a nasty, sensual, and purportedly attractive little thing, who spends most of the film attempting to nail the elusive combo of both sexy and evil. While he does not succeed at the former, he manages to prove the latter by turning Claudia (Kirsten Dunst) and keeping her around as a companion for Louis, who is bored with being a vampire and wishes no part of Lestat’s evil bullshit. The vampire Lestat is a real shithead and survives every attempt on his undead, eternal life, emerging from a swamp near a plantation in Louisiana after Louis and Claudia set him on fire and leave him for dead.
As a vampire consumed by many centuries’ worth of sadness, Brad Pitt looks the part—pillowy lips, undead, ice blue eyes—but is, unfortunately, not very good. Cruise, on the other hand, is absolutely terrible, swanning about New Orleans and then Paris in a truly abysmal blonde wig. The man vampires all have long nails, which look like French manicures. I’m not sure what else to say about this movie, so I turned to the sages of the past. To be clear, this is not Tom Cruise’s finest work—that honor goes to whatever role he played in Valkyrie in 2008, as well as his big ole Dr. Miami ass. Because of this fact, I’m confused and concerned as to why Janet Maslin wrote this in her original review of the film in the New York Times:
Talk about risky business: here is the most clean-cut of American movie stars, decked out in ruffles and long blond wig, gliding insinuatingly through a tale in which he spiritually seduces another foppish, pretty young man. And here is the surprise: Mr. Cruise is flabbergastingly right for this role. The vampire Lestat, the most commanding and teasingly malicious of Ms. Rice’s creations, brings out in Mr. Cruise a fiery, mature sexual magnetism he has not previously displayed on screen.
The “fiery, mature sexual magnetism” of which she speaks was not present for me, but I understand that 1994 was a different time and that maybe America wasn’t ready for the unbridled homoeroticism of the source material. Really, though, it’s not worth talking about the men of this movie (though Stephen Rea and Antonio Banderas both deserve a moment of your attention, but no more), because the real star of Interview With the Vampire is Kirsten Dunst, whose electrifying performance as Claudia deserved not only the Golden Globe that she won, but an Oscar, too. As Claudia, Dunst toes the line between innocence and cunning. Learning how to be a vampire at Lestat’s knee, she becomes a ruthless killer, deceiving her victims by dint of her form, which is that of an innocent child, and then baring her pearly fangs and killing them for sport and sustenance.
She and Louis move through the world like an old married couple, which is unfortunate because even though she looks like she’s 12 on the outside, she matures emotionally and intellectually. God bless the director of this nightmare movie for not injecting a frisson of sexual tension between the two, and god bless Dunst for toeing the line between sophisticated adult and perpetual child with grace. “Your evil is that you cannot be evil!” she shrieks at Louis at one point, after his good, undead heart prevents him from doing something nefarious. “I will suffer from it no longer!” The infernal loneliness of being a vampire must really suck, but if I had to pick a companion for the eternal rest of my undead existence, it’d be Claudia.