Last year. the movies gave us one exceptional horror film, The Others; one extremely good horror film, From Hell; and one near-miss, Jeepers Creepers (let’s just leave such things as Soul Survivors and Bones out of this). And this year … well, our first such entry, Queen of the Damned, is nearer the level of Jeepers Creepers, only a lot less frustrating. Where Jeepers Creepers started out beautifully and then faltered around the midway point, Queen of the Damned is on a more even keel. Unfortunately, that even keel is about on a par with Jeepers Creepers after it falters. What we have here is a goofy, fun horror flick — and if you take it on that level, it’s not bad. It’s not in the same league as Neil Jordan’s film of Interview with the Vampire — not in the least because Warner Brothers wasn’t about to lavish that kind of care or expense on this sequel to Interview — but it has its moments, a certain visual panache, a nice look and, in Stuart Townsend, a Lestat that’s probably a lot closer to Anne Rice’s literary concept than Tom Cruise ever was. The film is nicely conceived to make a familiarity with the first film completely inessential — providing all the backstory necessary for the Vampire Lestat and even fleshing it out a bit. The idea — partly cobbled from the second novel, The Vampire Lestat, and ignoring aspects of Interview — has Lestat rising from a self-imposed century of sleep and joining the new “and better” world of modern times, setting himself as a self-proclaimed vampire rock star. In a slightly too-complicated plot, it turns out that he’s deliberately trying to provoke Marius (Vincent Perez) –the vampire who made him — out of hiding so that he can be reunited with Akasha (the late Aalliyah), the mother of all vampires, whom he briefly awakened a couple of centuries earlier. What he doesn’t reckon on is that his rock music will awaken Akasha — nor is he prepared for the massively destructive, cruel horror that is Akasha. Within this framework, Queen of the Damned has several things going for it, not the least of which is a sense of the movie being horror-film savvy. This is immediately apparent when the opening credits are played over “clips” from one of Lestat’s rock videos, which presents the vampire in the character of Cesare from the silent German classic, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. But here is also where a problem arises: Just how seriously are we meant to take this film? If you take the movie as a serious vampire film, then it’s pretty much a shambles. However, if the film is viewed as a horror movie deliberately echoing other horror movies, then it becomes a pretty clever pastiche. Take the rock-concert sequence, where the other vampires attack Lestat and are summarily dispatched by Lestat and Marius, before Akasha arrives on the scene to more spectacularly handle the attackers. The audience takes the carnage in its stride, assuming it all to be a part of the show, lustily cheering the bloody events taking place in front of them. Brian De Palma explored this exact same territory 27 years ago in Phantom of the Paradise. Then too, there’s Vincent Perez’s Marius — an extremely fey blood-drinker, who resembles nothing so much as Udo Kier’s Dracula in Paul Morrissey’s Blood for Dracula. Aaliyah, on the other hand, adopts the vocal mannerisms of Patricia Quinn’s Magenta from The Rocky Horror Picture Show (in fact, late in the film, when she sarcastically remarks, “How sweet,” the aural illusion is complete). If this is all intended as a good-natured homage to these 1970s films (interestingly, they’re all from the same era), then Queen of the Damned is a much better film than if we take it as a straight-faced horror movie. The only problem is that director Michael Rymer doesn’t let us in on exactly what he intended, so this reading becomes nothing more than an educated, charitable guess. But even if this isn’t the case, Queen of the Damned is still a good bit of fun.