When it came out in 1994, Neil Jordan’s film of Anne Rice’s novel Interview with the Vampire was a pretty big deal. It was the 11th biggest domestic moneymaker of the year, had the year’s largest weekend opening, and was the ninth biggest moneymaker worldwide. But it was also a film that was marked by a lot of kvetching — mostly from fans of the novel and mostly for the casting of Tom Cruise as Lestat. I can’t say that Cruise would have been my first choice, but I am not a fan of Cruise — and I wasn’t back then. Looked at with the benefit of hindsight — and after the relatively low-rent 2002 sequel Queen of the Damned — both Cruise and the film are looking a lot better. Whatever may be said about Cruise being physically wrong (and he ain’t right) for Lestat, there’s no denying that he offers a lively and even fearless performance — an especially fearless one for a guy who starts calling up his legal team whenever it’s suggested that he’s gay because he plays Lestat in baldly gay terms. (He and the film really brought Richatd Corliss’ homophobia to the forefront in his Time magazine review.)
Cruise plays Lestat very strictly as the screenplay presents him — as a vampire who is determined to have Louis (Brad Pitt) for his own at any cost over a period of a couple of centuries. Indeed, for all its supernatural trappings, the film is almost a soap opera about Lestat being in love with Louis, who is both attracted to and repelled by his pursuer. (In fact, one of the film’s last lines makes Lestat come across as a world-weary old queen who’s both drawn to and fed-up with Louis’ hidebound resistance — the Clifton Webb of the vampire world, if you like.) It’s an interesting take on something that is generally left as subtext — and more often than not in lesbian undertones. It’s inherent in Bram Stoker’s Dracula and finds its way very slightly into the Tod Browning Lugosi film (though carefully excised from the Spanish version that was made at the same time). Here it’s front and center.
As a vampire picture — pure and simple — it’s in a class by itself in both scope and stylishness. It dwarfs Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) — and is a whole lot less silly in the bargain — and it clearly makes those Twilight things look anemic. Jordan is never afraid to play the film’s horror content — and there’s a lot of it — as horror content. And he does so on a grand scale. The problem may be that it’s all on just too grand a scale, making it break into a series of big moment set-pieces. Still, taken on its own terms, it looks better every year. And I doubt we’ll ever see anything like it again.
The Thursday Horror Picture Show will screen Interview with the Vampire Thursday, Oct. 18 at 8 p.m. in the Cinema Lounge of The Carolina Asheville and will be hosted by Xpress movie critics Ken Hanke and Justin Souther.