I love vampires, and they've been on my mind a lot lately, invading my thoughts in the form of inspiration for a future sequel to Vengeance For My Valentine. The call to revisit that world is irresistible, much like the title character of today's movie.
You might remember that last year I reviewed the movie Interview with the Vampire, based on the novel of the same name by Anne Rice. Despite Anne Rice's initial reluctance to accept the film, she later came around, and the movie was a hit. A sequel was inevitable, and eight long years later, we got it... but it wasn't exactly what Rice fans and fans of the original movie expected. Instead of adapting Interview's follow up, The Vampire Lestat, Hollywood decided to skip straight to the third installment and muck about with Vampire Chronicles canon to give us 2002's Queen of the Damned.
As the film opens, we see our hero, the vampire Lestat (played by Stuart Townsend this time around) as he rises from his century-long slumber, roused by the sound of music coming from his old house. He encounters a rock band practicing in the house and invites himself to join them, propelling them to super stardom by exploiting his vampiric abilities and charm. When lyrics in one of Lestat's songs leads a paranormal investigator named Jesse to a vampire bar in old London, she becomes obsessed with Lestat and begins to study one of his early journals, where she learns of how he became a vampire and his chance encounter with the oldest of his kind in the basement of his maker's home.
Jesse bites off more than she can chew when she visits the Admiral's Arms, the vampire coven hinted at in Lestat's music. When she's cornered and assaulted by several younger vampires, Lestat rescues her. After a heated exchange, Lestat leaves her, determined to finish his mission to revive the ancients and bring vampires in to the light. Despite warnings from both Lestat and her mentor David, Jesse continues to pursue Lestat, drawn to his world for reasons even she cannot explain.
There's a sentiment among book lovers everywhere that Hollywood needs to employ "book slappers" whenever a book is adapted to film. If you're not familiar with the term, a book slapper is a hypothetical position occupied by someone deeply familiar with the source material. Any time the writers or director stray off course, the book slapper will sock them with a (preferably hardcover) copy of the book as hard as they can. It's a true shame that Anne Rice wasn't able to exercise more creative control over this film, because it's an insulting mess to anyone who's ever read even a single entry of The Vampire Chronicles. From the opening monologue delivered in Townsend's horrible accent to the combining of characters and backstories to save running time, the movie got everything wrong. Well... almost everything. There are two redeeming qualities to this film.
The first positive about the movie is probably the most controversial. Many fans were shocked when recording artist Aaliyah was cast as the eponymous Queen of the Damned, Akasha. For some silly reason, many white folks were under the impression that ancient Egyptians looked like them, and they were therefore outraged that a person of color was cast. But casting that ridiculousness aside, Aaliyah's performance is by far the best in the film. Her presence conveys the character's regal position and attitudes, and her snakelike movements are often as hypnotic as they are sensual. Sadly, Aaliyah was killed in a plane crash before the film's release.
Then there's probably the most memorable piece of Queen of the Damned's legacy... the soundtrack album. You know, it's really not too often that a film's soundtrack outperforms the film itself, but that's certainly the case here. While Lestat's singing voice in the film was dubbed by Korn's Jonathan Davis, the vampire's songs were re-recorded by other popular contemporary rock artists for the album, and I remember those songs rocking the airwaves for months after the film retreated from theaters back into the shadows. In a time where dial-up Internet was still the norm for many, I remember there being a website devoted entirely to this album prior to its retail release where one could stream it in its entirety. And I did. Over and over and over again.
From beginning to end, Queen of the Damned is disappointing. The acting is bad, hindered by horrible writing. The makeup is awful. Why they decided to give every vampire those weird fishscale-green spots in the corners of their eyes, I'll never know, but every vamp in the film looks like they just came from a Saturday night Vampire: The Masquerade LARP session and are on their way to Denny's for some Moons Over My Hammy. And don't even get me started on that stupid blurring effect employed whenever a vampire runs or flies. But even without the cheap special effects, the story drags the source material through the mud and insults the viewers' intelligence with its maddening and unnecessary changes. The movie changes just enough to make it unrecognizable as an Anne Rice story, but not enough to make it in any way original.
If you want my recommendation, just skip the movie and head on over to Amazon or your favorite brick and mortar store and pick up The Vampire Lestat to put together all the pieces this steaming pile left out, and then finish up with the real Queen of the Damned. Put on the movie's score and soundtrack for added atmosphere.