Before it got off the drawing board, the film Queen of the Damned had a lot to prove - Interview with the Vampire, whose story it loosely follows on from, was a major success. Before the film got to the audiences, the female lead Aaliyah died tragically in a plane crash, which cast a shadow over the entire film. But is the film a fitting sequel to Interview with the Vampire, or a fitting memorial to its dead star?
First among the modern crop of authors to concern themselves with the subject of vampires and their oh-so-tortured existences was New Orleans native Anne Rice. Her seminal Vampire Chronicles have set the standard for such fiction ever since they were published and her subsequent books have only served to cement her reputation. But the works remained something of a cult until the release of the motion picture interpretation of Interview with the Vampire brought the series to the attention of the movie-going public. The big budget film staring Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt and Antonio Banderas admirably attempted to cut through Rice's dense and often overly-worded prose to allow the fascinating depth of the characters she portrayed to shine through. Despite the film's success, Rice disliked the work at first and only warmed to it after a time.
Of course, the first book was just one volume in the Chronicles and Rice had gone on to expand greatly upon the characters involved. She had recounted the history of Lestat D'Lioncourt and his relationship to other characters in The Vampire Lestat and gone on to detail the history of the vampire race from its genesis in ancient Egypt to the modern day. With the popularity of the genre - and Rice's vision in particular - it seemed that it would only be a matter of time before the other two books would be filmed as sequels. In reality it took nearly eight years for the next instalment to appear in cinemas.
In 2001, word began to spread that the next film in the Vampire Chronicles was to begin production and that it was to be titled Queen of the Damned, the title of the third book in the Chronicles rather than the second. This was probably the point when the alarm bells began to ring.
When it finally arrived in a blaze of studio hype and media publicity, it turned out that the film-makers had decided that the best course of action was to marry together the further two books of the series and greatly shorten the tale to allow the whole thing to be fitted into an a screen outing of average length.
Queen of the Damned begins in a New Orleans mausoleum where the slumbering Lestat lies dormant and ignorant of the modern world around him until he is awakened by the strains of a young rock band who practise in a nearby house. Given new vigour by their music, Lestat rises and kindly informs them that he will now be their front man and use them as a means through which to issue a challenge to the vampire population of the world to reveal themselves for what they are (not that they have much choice as he intends to reveal their existence anyway through the content of his songs).
In the meantime, as the phenomenon of the now famous band named 'The Vampire Lestat' after the man himself spreads around the world, the young Jessie is hot on his historical trail. A member of the ancient Society of the Talamasca who study and catalogue the supernatural, Jessie is intent upon tracking down the truth behind the vampire enthralling the world. Her investigations turn up trouble for all involved and also provide handy flashbacks to Lestat's past. This neatly explains his origin and introduces his creator, the vampire known as Marius as well as the inanimate forms of the first two vampires - the Pharaoh Enkil and his Queen Akasha.
We learn that in the past, Lestat's playing of the violin caused the queen to stir from her sleep. Of course, his new dabbling in rock music has a far greater effect and she awakes seeking to bring upon the Earth a new age of darkness ruled over by her and her chosen consort, Lestat.
Jessie for her own part discovers that she is the direct descendant of the vampire Marharet and with the ancient's other progeny makes a final stand against Akasha, now intent upon eradicating every one of her subjects on the face of the planet. In the climactic battle Lestat has a sudden change of heart, decides that he'd rather not rule the world and promptly chows down on Akasha and ends her reign of terror.
Damning the Audience
There are a lot of things that jump out at you about this film, and none of them are good. The film makes no attempt to follow on from Interview with the Vampire, which is probably a good thing for the earlier film. The screenplay liberally drops plots, fudges events and either ignores, distorts or amalgamates characters seemingly at a whim in order to chop the story down to fit. At times it appears that the person who wrote it may have glanced at the blurbs on the actual books and considered using them as a vague guide to what should be going on, but only if they were stuck for ideas somewhere along the line.
The flashy nature of the film tries to push the effects to the fore - maybe hoping to hide the problems elsewhere - but there are no effects in the world that could cover up the fact that the script is awful, the acting poor and the casting even worse. Stuart Townsend as Lestat is an attempt to capture the romantic waif, but sadly lacks the experience and skill that allowed Tom Cruise to bring Lestat to life in the previous film. Much was also made of the fact that this was the first and last film role of the late Aaliyah, who unfortunately died after the film was completed. Nevertheless, it has to be said that the singer was miscast, totally unconvincing, and out of her depth in the role.
Even the supporting cast have problems. The ageing David Talbot, head of the Talamasca, is played by the distinctly not-yet-middle-aged Paul McGann. As for the other vampires, the kindest thing that could be said about them is that they look like extras from the Addams Family - the extras that you'd want to keep right at the back of the shot.
With a soundtrack written and voiced by Jonathan Davis of the band Korn, the film may have had one saving grace. But the fact is that without the restraining influence of his band mates Davis is free to indulge himself and produce the worst Nu-Metal/Quasi-Goth music that can be imagined. Rather than reflecting the centuries old musings of a vampire the tracks resemble more the teenage warblings of a kid defaming the injustice of his parents not letting him pierce his septum with a kebab-skewer.
In short, it's the audience that are the damned here, not the vampires.