In my old age I am forced to confront the fact that I’m basically Ben from Parks and Rec. Not only do I non-ironically think Cones on Dunshire might be really fun, but I am definitely definitely having a mid-90s themed party when I turn forty. And it was probably hubristic of me but I honestly never thought I’d get to the point where the cultural artefacts of my childhood and teenage years exerted the near mystical power over me that I’ve observed, say, The Kinks or The Beatles exerting over the previous generation. Truly, does time make fools of us all.
So this Halloween, I thought I would indulge my inner 90s kid by watching two atrocious but brilliant but atrocious but brilliant but atrocious but I will fight you if you don’t say they’re brilliant spooky movies from the mid to late 1990s. And I would love to say this was because they happened to be on Netflix but the truth is I own both on DVD. For my younger readers, a DVD is a storage medium that’s like a record but smaller and more convenient but with much less hipster chic. Basically, it’s as soul-less as an MP3 but you can’t send it via the internet.
Anyway, the two films I chose for my 1994-1996 highly specific spooky movie fest were 1994’s Interview With The Vampire (and, also, if you want to catch someone out in a pub quiz or pub quiz like situation ask them the name of the Anne Rice novel that was made into a movie with Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise in the mid 90s and featured the characters of Lestat and Louis because I guarantee they’ll call it Interview With A Vampire, and then you’ll get to be all Stephen Fry at them). And 1996’s The Craft, which is the best movie ever made and shut up shut up shut up.
Interview With The (not a) Vampire
This was actually a lot better than I remembered it being. Brad Pitt can’t really act in it but since Louis doesn’t really do express any emotions except anger and confusion it sort of balances out. In that regard, it’s a lot like Keanu Reeves in The Matrix, Bill & Ted and, well, any movie Keanu Reeves didn’t suck in. Tom Cruise is surprisingly charismatic and watchable as Lestat, although along the same lines as the Huge Riker game that we play while watching Star Trek: TNG I now can’t really watch a Tom Cruise movie without being fascinated by the ways they shoot around the fact he’s 5’7. Basically, in Interview With The (not a) Vampire he spends a lot of time standing behind coffins and pianos.
The dialogue is basically abysmal, I think partially because the whole framing device is that it’s an interview so a lot of it really is just Brad Pitt expositing in a monotone. And even when characters are actually talking to each other it’s still mostly them expositing their feelings on the situation. But there’s something weirdly compelling about the whole thing. I mean, it’s basically a movie about a cadre of beautiful, jaded, panromantic asexuals who are so desperate for validation, redemption and meaning that they invest disproportionately in whatever drippy plantation owner first catches their eye. And, for some reason, I can sort of relate to that. I think it’s partly because I’m very much a child of the 21st century. Only today I realised that I was ordering my dinner from a website and selecting my food based not on what I wanted to eat but on what my sense of humour led me to belief would be the most amusing thing to order. We are the fucking dancers at the end of fucking time.
Where was I? Oh yes. Falling for a drippy plantation owner. I’ve got to admit that something I didn’t quite pick up on when I first watched this film about twenty years ago is that Louis is, um, an actual plantation owner. Like he had slaves and this is a thing. Although, when I say it’s a thing, I very much mean it’s a thing “we are worried about you, Master Louis” way not in the “at all engaging with the notion of slavery on any kind of critical level” way. I’ve got to admit that this does sort of make Louis’s role as the eternally suffering, struggling soul and conscience of vampiredom just a little bit a problematic. I mean, basically the whole “no, no, I refuse to drink human blood” shtick comes a lot across a lot better if you aren’t implicitly following it up with “but I am okay with actually owning actual human beings.” And, yes, he frees all his slaves eventually but only because he feels that having become a vampire he’s no longer qualified to be a good slave owner. Which is, um, better than nothing, I suppose? Very slightly better than nothing.
And, also, when I say he frees his slaves what I actually mean is that he tells his slaves they’re free, then immediately sets his house on fire and, presumably, disappears from New Orleans society. And while I admit I’m not a historian of the colonial south I’m pretty sure if a bunch of slaves just rocked up in town and said “yeah, our master just set us all free, then burned his plantation down and disappeared mysteriously” the colonial authorities would not have responded by say “oh, fair enough, please go about your lives.”
The other point I find jarring about Louis and Lestat’s grand New Orleans adventure and I confess that this is a slightly pissy point is the sheer body count they allegedly rack up. Louis’s monotone narration informs us that Lestat liked to kill two or three a night (incidentally, and this is a fiddly vampire nerd thing, the film is unclear on the extent to which vampires can feed without killing). Now this makes for some exciting and dramatic scenes with Lestat standing over the artfully distressed bodies of dead courtesans (with his legs behind a coffin so we can’t see what a tiny, tiny man Tom Cruise is) but it does make no sense at all when you think about the numbers for a second. Two to three victims a night is nine hundred victims a year. Lestat turns Louis in 1791 and is definitely still in New Orleans in the early 19th century. By which calculation he must have killed somewhere in the region of thirteen thousand people. According to an 1805 census the population of New Orleans was eight thousand five hundred. Which means Lestat de-populated the city one and a half times between 1791 and 1805. It’s especially bizarre because Louis explicitly informs us that he prefers to feed from the aristocracy which would obviously have been an even smaller proportion of the population.
To be fair, to the film and the book on which it’s based, it’s possible when Louis said that Lestat liked to kill two to three people a night, he meant liked to kill two to three people on those nights on which he killed people. And maybe he only did that once or twice a year as a special treat although even then two or three dead peers every year gets noticed way faster than Team Double L apparently did. I mean, if you think about it, in London in 1888 (a city of four million people) the (admittedly grisly) deaths of five prostitutes shocked the nation and led to a city-wide manhunt. But apparently Lestat can just off Countesses and their young lovers at swanky society parties and nobody gives a crap.
Sorry, I went on about that for a really long time.
Because vampirism in Interview With The (not a) Vampire basically has “this is a metaphor” written all over it in shiny gold letters I can actually overlook the corpse piles more than I’m pretending I can. And that very metaphorical nature of vampirism also has some really interesting implications for the relationships between the characters. Lestat is clearly romantically in love with Louis, albeit in a messed up, possessive, controlling way and, because, as far as I can tell, Ricean vampires’ penises don’t work, not in a sexual way. And Louis and Lestat’s relationship with Claudia walks this very strange line between the paternal and the romantic, which is varying sorts of creepy depending on how you interpret things.
After all, by the time she makes her first attempt to do in Lestat (spoiler, for a twenty year old movie based on a forty year old book) Claudia is actually thirty but, of course, she still has the body of a child so being romantically interested in her is fine (because she’s thirty) or skeevy as fuck (because she’s five) or fine (because vampires don’t actually have sex anyway so even if they were romantically interested in her there wouldn’t be a sexual element to the relationship) or skeevy as fuck (because all the blood, killing , murder stuff is clearly a metaphor for sex and she’s five) or fine (because, when you think about it, once you’ve put mass murder on the table it seems a bit weird to then be skeeved out by a non-physically romantic relationship with a thirty-year-old woman with the body of a five-year-old girl) or skeevy as fuck (because she’s fucking five).
If you can unpick all of that or, at least, find a way to make yourself comfortable with not having unpicked it, it actually becomes an interesting exploration of the nature of love. One of the things that I personally have a bee in my bonnet about is that I think we (as a culture) make a mistake when we treat love as if it’s a morally positive virtue, rather than as a morally neutral one. The whole of Interview With The (not a) Vampire is essentially about these three characters looking for (and I can’t quite believe I’m using this phrase but it’s the only one that really works) love in all the wrong places. The wrong place in question almost always being Louis.
The final thing that struck me as odd about Interview With The (not a) Vampire was the slightly random Louis Is The Spirit Of The Age thing that you get from Armand towards the end. To which my only real response is, hang on a second, which fucking age is that? Was there an age drippy fops with one facial expression that I somehow missed out on? In particular, surely if anyone is the spirit of any age, it’s Lestat who—as a French nobleman trapped by his own decadence, abandoned by the Ancien Regime and spiralling towards a destruction brought partially upon himself and partially instigated by his cruel treatment of his subordinates—really does sum up the 17th and 18th centuries rather well. In fact, strangely the age that Louis seems to embody might be one that he wasn’t actually born in. As an essentially moral man (for certain definitions thereof) from a plantation owning background you can make a reasonable case that what Louis embodies is the lost honour of the antebellum South. A man born and raised with very clear, quite socially conservative ideas about right and wrong and duty gradually finding that everything he values (his wife, his child, his mortality, his, um, capacity to be an effective slave owner, his spooky vampire lover, his creepy vampire kid) is taken away from him.
Or maybe I’m just projecting because I naturally assume that anything vaguely historical set south of Delaware is about the lost honour of the antebellum South.
Also Louis’ hair is super shiny. In the bits at the end of the film where he’s having his tense confrontation scenes with Armand I kept being really distracted by how shiny all the hair was. So in my head they were just going “Come to me Louis, and I will teach you to make your hair as shiny as my hair” while Louis is saying “No, after all that you have done, my hair could never be shiny enough to compensate for the pain of all that I have lost.”
My final final comment on this film is that even though I hadn’t seen in ages and remembered basically nothing about it I did have an extremely strong recollection of the ending sequence. Because Lestat going on the Golden Gate Bridge to Sympathy For the Devil is as brilliant as it is unsubtle. Which is to say, very very brilliant.
And, actually, this has got far too long. So I’ll do The Craft another time.