These days, high-profile horror movies with big-name stars and giant budgets are fairly commonplace. A market that was at one time dominated by entirely unknown casts and inexpensive special effects has been, thanks in no small part to the success of SCREAM, transformed into a genre of recognizable faces and big-budget, state-of-the-art computer effects. But back before the wave of success started by SCREAM and its offspring and imitators, the thought of a major Hollywood star (or, even more outlandish, TWO stars) taking a part in a brutal and bloody horror movie was unheard of.
Furthermore, the notion of an ‘adult’ horror film had all but vanished into thin air by the time the early s arrived. Horror was meant for teenagers, and that was it. The definition of horror at the time consisted of little more than a masked killer stalking and slicing young kids. Studios were convinced that adults just weren’t interested. One film changed all of that. That film was INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE.
A true modern masterpiece, INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE chronicles the exploits of Louis, who accepts the ‘dark gift’ of the vampire Lestat late one night in the s, only to spend the next two-hundred years forever tormented by his decision to become a monster. The film was based on the legendary novel by Anne Rice (who also wrote the superb script), and revolutionized the way audiences looked at vampires. Instead of portraying the children of the night as simple, bloodthirsty villains, INTERVIEW turns the vampire character into the protagonist, showcasing the creature’s torments and turmoil, both inside and out. The vampires in INTERVIEW are not the mindless, menacing creatures we’ve seen a hundred times in vampire films, but well-defined, thoughtful souls, lost in their own struggles with the things they have become.
Portraying these powerful beings is the most star-driven cast ever to accompany a vampire movie. Brad Pitt plays Louis, showing a side of his varied acting abilities that had never been seen before, and really hasn’t been seen since. Young Kirsten Dunst, just -years-old at the time, portrays the orphan girl Claudia, who is taken from her plagued home by Lestat and turned into a vampire child who will never age. Dunst shows amazing prowess, truly making viewers believe that she is a grown woman trapped in the body of a child. Christian Slater appears as the young journalist interviewing Louis, playing a role intended for River Phoenix, who died just prior to filming (all of Slater’s profits were donated to Phoenix’s favorite charities). Supporting stars Antonio Banderas and Stephen Rea also do an excellent job. But the true star of INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE, and the most controversial casting choice in the film, is Tom Cruise as the decadent Lestat.
An icon of underground circles, Lestat is the real central figure in the Vampire Chronicles, the series of novels of which INTERVIEW is the first installment. Author Anne Rice and the legions of fans of her work had already had a strong sense of who the character of Lestat was by the time this film adaption was created. With the casting of Hollywood hunk Tom Cruise in the pivotal role came an onslaught of negative criticism, not the least of which from Rice herself, who lambasted the decision in the press. Once she saw the film, however, Rice admitted that she was quite impressed with Cruise’s portrayal, as was the public at large, and retracted her comments in a full-page variety ad. Indeed, Cruise is not just playing Lestat in INTERVIEW; he IS Lestat. So faithful is his Lestat that Cruise himself seems like an entirely separate person.
What is so impressive about the film, however, is not its ability to present rather mature themes or major Hollywood stars, but rather the fact that the film so brilliantly presents them WITHOUT losing its sense of identity. INTERVIEW never falls too far away from what it is at heart: a wickedly conceived outright horror film. As one would expect from an epic vampire film, INTERVIEW flows with blood from start to finish, but the horrors of the film are not just physical. The torment of the human (or inhuman) soul is spotlighted through the film, as Louis, Lestat, and Claudia all experience equal doses of love, betrayal, loneliness, and pain. The film is not abundant with scares, but what thrills do exist are carried through excellently.
Finally, attention must also be given to the fabulous musical score by Elliot Goldenthal. Goldenthal’s work for INTERVIEW really gives the film life, and helps solidify the epic scale of the film. INTERVIEW is no ordinary vampire movie, and one need not look much further than the score to find evidence of that fact. The music is jolting and scary, but also haunting and quite beautiful, nicely complimenting the two sides of the film’s conflict.
Both bloody and beautiful, haunting and harrowing, INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE takes the viewer directly into the dark heart of the vampire. Easily the best vampire movie of the decade, it excels both in its depictions of touching, soulful drama and chilling, outright horror.