Movie Review of Interview with the Vampire (1994)

by JoHarrington

It's one of the classic vampire movies of all time. The dramatization of the first in Anne Rice's 'The Vampire Chronicles' series set the standard.

I had long since been a fan of the books, when this vampire film was made. I recall being there at the cinema to watch it on the opening night.

There were some dodgy casting choices, but Anne Rice herself adapted 'Interview with the Vampire' for the silver screen. It was glorious! I watched it, then bought the video when it came into the stores. Years later, I bought the DVD too.

So how has 'Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles' dated with the years? Answer: Not much.

Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles on DVD

The Tale of a Tortured Vampire from New Orleans

Louis had a choice. He could live or he could die. What he got was something horrifically in between.

Journalist Daniel Molloy (Christian Slater) is a self-confessed 'collector of people's lives'.  He interviews any individual, who seems like they may have an interesting story to tell. 

He met Louis de Pointe du Lac (Brad Pitt) in an alleyway.  He never did get a good look at the man who claimed to be a vampire. Molloy didn't see him properly until they were in the hotel room with the tape recorder poised to hear the tale.

In truth Molloy thought it was all some big joke.  An American freak trying to present himself as more than he actually is.  An outcast, a nobody, existing on the outskirts of society and attempting to seem 'cool' with this vampire nonsense.

He was wrong. Louis is terrifyingly, horrifically, all that he said he was.  He has been dead for over two hundred years, feeding on blood each day to sate his desperate hunger.   Now he's ready to tell his life story, in all its grisly detail.

Most of the movie recreates, in elongated flashback, two centuries in one vampire's life. Along the way, we meet the decadent Lestat and the tragic Claudia, not to mention the enigmatic Armand and his Theater of Vampires.

They all leave a trail of death and destruction in their wake, even the ones who are trying to stay human until the 'dark gift' swallows them whole.

Trailer for Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles (1994)

The Guilt-stricken Humanity of the Vampire

Vampires used to be much more psychopathic than this. Louis invents emo centuries before it even became fashionable.

Before he received the 'dark gift' of vampirism from Lestat, Louis wanted to die. He'd lost his wife and child. He had nothing left to live for, give or take a plantation full of slaves. 

It was his hedonistic life-style, courting death at every turn, which attracted Lestat in the first place. But the second that Louis had it all, he wanted to give it all away.  He couldn't kill.  He didn't want to feast on human prey.  He wanted his own humanity back.

Thus began an eternity of guilt, suffering and trying to fight against his very nature.  It wound Lestat up no end.

Their early days together become a study in how to turn a highly sensitive and compassionate human being into a monstrous predator.  Lestat has several tricks up his lacy sleeve, each one more ghastly than the next.  Until he finally hits upon a way to keep Louis close.  They become a nightmarish family, when Lestat turns a twelve year old girl into a vampire, just so Louis will stay to look after her.

Yet for all of his protestations, there was a savage side to Louis too. When provoked, he could enact a terrible revenge.  He's the archetypal poster boy for the rhyme, 'when he's good, he's very, very good; but when he's bad, he's horrid.'

Interview with the Vampire, both book and movie, depicts the thinking, feeling person's vampiric undead.  The sex and horror runs as the usual undercurrent, but mostly it's about the emotionality of the thing.  Lestat calls Louis his philosopher.  Later Armand refers to the young vampire as the 'broken heart of the age'. 

They're both right, and Louis carries his heart-broken philosophical musings from the 18th century American deep south, back into the darkness of the Old World, and finally into the 20th century interview room.  He proves that vampires can cry and grieve.

Casting Choices in Interview with the Vampire

This movie was made before Scientology and the like had tainted Tom Cruise's acting career. He was one of the biggest names in Hollywood and a firm fan choice for the role of Lestat.

But he certainly wasn't Anne Rice's first choice.  She very vocally and publicly berated the movie-makers for doing this to HER Lestat.

It was only after the movie was made that she relented. Once she'd seen Tom Cruise in the role, she wrote him a personal letter of apology.  He was perfect after all.

I personally didn't have a problem with Tom Cruise as Lestat.  It's only in retrospect that the decision even attracts disdain.

As for Brad Pitt, he just is Louis. There's no-one else I can imagine bringing Louis to life like that. He was relatively unknown until this movie catapulted him into fame. He acts his heart out.

Interview with the Vampire on Amazon Instant Video

However, I sniffed at the time (and now) at Antonio Banderas as Armand. He's a great actor, whom I love in other movies, but he's not Armand.

Armand is supposed to be seventeen. Antonio Banderas was thirty-four at the time the movie was released. Also Armand is Russian, but Antonio played him with a distinctly Spanish accent.  Why would a 400 year old Russian teenager, living in France, have a Spanish accent?

The distance between the book and film details have colored what is otherwise a great performance by Antonio Banderas.  I might even get over it one day and just enjoy it for what it is.

At the time, especial praise was given for Kirsten Dunst's portrayal of Claudia.  She did nail it, as several awards for the role confirmed.  It's impossible now to think of Claudia without picturing the young actress.

She was only ten years old when she played the part.  The strangeness is that she's slightly wooden, when she's being the twelve year old Claudia.  But once the vampiric role calls for her to act as a grown woman in a child's body, she is utterly convincing.

So much so that I always assumed that it was a diminutive adult actress who played Claudia. It's only looking it up to write this review that I've been pleasantly surprised by the truth!

There's a kind of Easter Egg to watch out for in the closing credits.  That's the memorial to River Phoenix.  He was meant to play Daniel Molloy, but died four weeks before filming.  His friend Christian Slater stepped into the role at very short notice and refused payment for it. 

Slater's salary was eventually donated to River Phoenix's favorite charities in his name.

Did You Agree with the Casting Choices for Interview with the Vampire (1994)?

If there's any that you didn't, then who would you have cast in their place(s)?
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Interview with the Vampire (The Vampire Chronicles One)

The film was great. The book is so much better. I can't recommend that you read it enough. It stands the test of time and many re-reads too.

Interview with the Vampire Fails the Bechdel Test

Unless you're going to count a very one-sided conversation with a maternally minded victim on a bench.

Before I rewatched Interview with the Vampire, I thought that it was going to pass the Bechdel Test. After all, it's a movie that I've seen several times before.  I could picture a couple of scenes, which would probably make the grade.

It not only failed miserably, but it was painful to watch the lengths to which the director went to ensure that was the case.

The Bechdel Test requires that two named female characters have a conversation, which can't be about a male character. That shouldn't have been a problem. I knew where this movie would pass.

The major scenes which I had in mind was the whole sequence with Madeleine (Domiziana Giordano) and Claudia (Kirsten Dunst). I watched as their meeting occurred in silence.  The conversation was implied, as the camera took a long angle out of earshot. 

I watched further as they outlined their plans with Louis.  But they merely took it in turns to talk to Louis.  It was a powerful, beautiful scene, in which no word was actually exchanged between the two female characters.

Yet there was more to come.  I rested easily, knowing that they'd be alone together during a very climactic scene.  It was another failure!  At one point, Claudia yells Madeleine's name, but the woman responds only with a look and expansive body language.  If non-verbal communication could win the day, then this one had it hands down.  But it can't. The Bechdel Test requires conversation.  Even in extremity, they couldn't manage that.

There were two more near misses earlier in the movie.  At one time, a seamstress cuts herself, but only Claudia actually speaks and the seamstress isn't named. 

Later on, a female traveler encounters Claudia sitting alone on a bench.  There's plenty of dialogue, but it's all one-sided.  The unnamed woman speaks, but Claudia only utters the single word 'mama'.  It's not a conversation.

Director Neil Jordan seemed determined for Interview with the Vampire to fail the Bechdel Test, even if the actual scenes were rendered unnatural by ensuring it.

Three questions are asked of each movie. They are so simple that it would be harder to fail than pass. They examine the role of females in that film. Nearly half fail.
Updated: 05/15/2013, JoHarrington
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JoHarrington on 10/27/2013

Tom Cruise is so Tom Cruise that we all forget that he's also a great actor. I believed him as Lestat, though I prefer Stuart Townsend.

I do recommend the Vampire Chronicles. None of the films have ever truly done them justice. I've not seen/read the Vampire Diaries though.

AlexandriaIngham on 10/26/2013

I watched this not expecting to enjoy it. I've never read the books (I really need to!) but I just didn't like Tom Cruise. I never have liked him and set myself up to hate him as Lestat. I definitely didn't hate him though and I enjoyed his acting throughout the film. I did enjoy how each vampire was different and it's set it up for more recent books, movies and TV shows--I'm sure Interview with a Vampire has helped set up the storyline for Vampire Diaries!

The whole Antonio Banderas thing didn't bother me but I've not read the books so I didn't know that the character wasn't a good portrayal of the character in the book. I agree with your view on Kirsten Dunst being quite wooden to start with but she definitely showed her acting skills when she was a vampire.

JoHarrington on 04/22/2013

Hello there! It was certainly genre changing in its own way. There isn't a 'one vampire fits all' thing going on. Every vampire is different and having to approach their state in their own way. I thought it was wonderful.

JoHarrington on 04/08/2013

It's slightly dated, but definitely worth it. Tom Cruise is still Anne Rice's Lestat of choice.

HollieT on 04/08/2013

I'm embarrassed to say that this is yet another movie which I have not seen. Must rectify!

JoHarrington on 03/31/2013

I've revisited Anne Rice three or four times in my life. The first time, The Vampire Chronicles were newly written and I was a teenager. They blew my mind. As a young adult, I re-read them all and I was deeply impressed by the complexity of her interwoven stories. As an older adult, I warmed to the philosophical angst concerning immortality.

I'm now entering middle age and I'm edging towards your take on it. She does go on a bit in part. But yes! It's all a matter of taste. :)

Mark on 03/31/2013

Great film and the casting choices were excellent. Personally, i'm not a fan of Anne Rice. She wastes too many words going into details that do not interest me in all. I don't need to know each and every stain in a shirt. Just give me the facts ! It's a matter of taste. This movie rocks. great review !

JoHarrington on 03/24/2013

I do too. It was great to watch it again the other night!

MonisMas on 03/24/2013

Great review, JoHarrington! I really like this movie.

JoHarrington on 03/21/2013

Fair point that an obscure actor could make a better Louis, but I still think that Brad Pitt did it well. Remember that in 1994, Brad Pitt was fairly unknown.

He'd had a bit part in 'Thelma and Louise', then taken the lead in 'River Runs Through It' and some other film, which I can't even recall now. I only watched 'River' because a real life friend was in a crowd scene. (Blink and you miss her, but it was fun knowing she was there!) It was 'Vampire', followed by 'Se7en', which made him famous.

Books are usually much better than the movies. If I know that a book is being adapted, I do try to read the book before seeing the movie. But it it's an old favourite, like the Vampire Chronicles or The Woman in Black, then I get disappointed when it's not faithfully reproduced on the silver screen. There have been some exceptions to the rule though.

I think that the Bechdel Test is extremely limited in its scope, but it serves as a useful standard, even if the bar is very low. Some movies don't have to pass the Bechdel Test. They may quite legitimately be movies about men. On the whole though, Hollywood seems to be all about women looking pretty and shutting up, unless they are addressed by a man.

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