Alt Title: Mind Your Bloodpool
My first Movie Review post started as kind of a lark, but the moment I decided to expand the ambitions of the project, I knew this movie would have to be on the docket. Like Blade, it’s a movie I had heard about for years during my childhood of the 90s but, due to my hatred of anything related to vampire mythos, had steadfastly avoided. I mean, I’d seen clips here and there (and, on one notable occasion, was present for a middle-school slumber-party where girls who had seen the movie talked about it and spoke in hushed tones of the strange tingling some of the scenes made them feel). But I’d never sat down to watch the whole thing. Knowing now how pivotal this movie and Rice’s original chronicles were for the development of not only World of Darkness vampires but the entire genre thereafter, I knew I had to slot it into my review schedule right away.
Considering my audience, though, I must share a few caveats. First and foremost, this is a review of the movie only. Keep in mind I only started caring about vampires three years ago, so I’ve never read more than a few excerpts of Anne Rice’s original writing. Yes, I understand her written work has a lot more details and there are nuances that don’t translate well into the movie, that’s fine. But a movie is a movie, so it should be evaluated on how well it stands alone. And before you ask, no, I am sorry, I do NOT have time to go read them any time soon. I have books on my nightstand written by friends of mine that I’m already barely able to scrape together enough time for.
Except for any of them reading this review. I totally already read your book, you!
Anyway, that being said, there’s quite a lot about this movie I did enjoy, most especially the irony of watching it through the lens of the canon it helped inspire in the first place. So I hope you enjoy my observations as well.
As far as establishing shots go, this movie really does it right. We open on a slow pan across the Golden Gate Bridge at night, gradually revealing the downtown skyline while gothic choral music slides across the ear like fog across the bay. Now, even though the tone of our current game is a lot different than Anne Rice’s general gestalt, everything about this sequence says “vampires in San Francisco” and I’m not gonna lie, watching this sent real feels trickling down my spine.
I got even more feels as I noticed something of exceptional personal significance to me. You see that little dot above the skyline, above the “E”? That is the Transamerica Crown Jewel, a special light at the top of the pyramid lit during holidays and other special occasions. It doesn’t look like much here, but in person it’s incandescent, an iridescent LED flickering through opalescent spectrums, bright as a diamond in the night sky and far more tantalizing. Every time I see it it’s literally arresting, overwhelming my breath with awe and beauty and a deep, nameless longing for something more, something dark and magical hovering just out of reach under the reality of this world just as this light is hovering above it—
—FUCK. ME. What the hell sort of mind-games did this Toreador-rant of a movie do to me?! Goddammit, I’ll try to Brujah-up and get the snark back.
Alright, so before we begin the meat of the movie, one last stop on the hometown tour. The movie next cuts to downtown Market Street and slow-pans in to meet Louis, staring out the window of an early-century Edwardian. But that second-floor corner flat he’s in? Apparently my dance teacher, Asia, when she first moved to the city in the 60s, lived in that very apartment (before she moved to the Haight for the Summer of Love and went to parties at the Grateful Dead’s house and all that). So now, in my headcanon for the world of this movie, Asia and Louis moved to the city around the same time, both lived in that apartment in some random hippy co-op, but eventually Asia and the rest of the roommates moved out to other places because Louis’s gloominess became too much of a buzzkill. This left Louis as the last leaseholder standing and he holds it to this day because dat rent control.
Anyway, so now the movie proper. This intro sequence sets up the (actually expertly-executed) framing device for the story. Christian Slater, the interviewer promised to us by the title, apparently met Louis by following him home, which is a good idea pretty much nowhere. Slater explains his actions by saying Louis “seemed interesting,” which makes me wonder if Louis orchestrated the whole thing with some well-timed Presence. This, plus his Celerity bolts around the room, easily establish Louis as Toreador.
If there was any doubt left about his clan, one of Louis’s first lines to describe himself states he was not turned, or even embraced, but “born to darkness.”
Alright. Let’s get this feels-train on the road
PART THE FIRST: The Becoming
Louis’s story opens with him still mortal and riding along a riverbank at sunset. We find out he was a southern plantation owner in the late 1700’s, living in that one plantation house at the end of a cypress-lined avenue that seems to be the setting for all deep-south period pieces. Apparently Louis’s saturnine tendencies bloomed early, as he spent the last months of his mortal life pining over his dead family and courting oblivion.
Telegraphing his melancholy all over town eventually works, though, and calls down a monster from the shadows, the vampire Lestat, who stalks him down to grant his wish.
Louis, though, chickens out at the last minute and Lestat releases him to stumble back to the living world, highly anemic and as sullen as always.
But the monster isn’t done with him yet. Lestat visits Louis in his sick-bed the next night, stalking him sensuously through the drapes of his bed linens, offering him promises of transformation (promises that sound suspiciously close to wedding vows). This time Louis agrees. The next night, he meets Lestat in the swamp cemetery his family is buried in. Tired of the seduction games, Lestat jumps him. There’s an extended scene of his embrace and transformation, though really it can be boiled down to one tl;dr:
Transformation brought to it’s happy ending, Louis sits up and explores his new existence, staring about the swamp with his special eyes in what can only be a representation of Auspex. At this point, we learn more about the rules for vampires in this world. Crucifixes are a no, interestingly staking does not work at all, but they do sleep in coffins. Which I guess makes sense, it’s probably one of the only reliable light-safe objects around that’s large enough to sleep in (and comfortably padded).
We also learn, as Louis and Lestat go out for a night on the town, that vampire bites in this world are apparently pleasurable to humans.
But vampirism isn’t all fun and games, or at least not for the recently-mortal. His ennui having persisted through his embrace, Louis isn’t happy with the prospect of killing people, which is awkward because Lestat literally revels in it. While Louis goes through the common neonate phase of trying to make do with choking down animal blood, Lestat is apparently out killing two or three people every night.
To which I say…fucking WHY!? Besides the fact that we’ve established they don’t have to kill to feed, for the love of god, how are you burning through twenty to thirty blood points every night, especially when all you’re doing is loafing about the manor and taking carriages to parties?? World of Darkness-snark aside, and more to the point, how is the local population sustaining that?? Not just in terms of volume; with only a few thousand people in the entire town, at some point surely someone would notice!!!
Well, the white people in town may be oblivious, but the black slaves all seem to figure out what’s going on, calling down every voodoo stereotype in the book to protect themselves as Louis and Lestat’s reign spreads across the swamps.
Over the course of this, we find out a few precious bits of Lestat’s backstory, specifically how he was embraced in Paris without warning or consent, then abandoned by his sire. The first thing Louis—aspiring goth navel-gazer that he is—asks is what being a vampire actually means. Lestat, though, reacts so vehemently one can only assume that he’s run the same question over and over in his mind with no answer either.
Now, here some of the deeper differences with World of Darkness start to show. Treacherous and deadly as WoD vampire society is, at least it’s a society. You may be stuck in eternity in a coterie of frenemies—many of whom are as happy to eat you as look at you—but at least it’s a place you belong. But Louis and Lestat’s life in this world, wandering alone through the ages with godlike impunity and few consequences to indicate anything they do even actually matters, to me, is far more dehumanizing than anything WoD could dream up.
Anyway, over the next few nights, as Louis is grappling with the meaning of his existence, Fate decides to hurry her hand and sends a Choice his way in the form of his supple housemaid, who visits him over uneaten dinner and beseeches him for reassurance while posing like a Flemish tronie in breast-heaving pastiche. Louis, starved by his diet of rats, eventually loses the battle and succumbs to his vampiric nature: first by biting her, then by stopping to pose dramatically and rant woefully about the horrors of his existence in front of the entire plantation.
Louis seems intent to let himself immolate in the blaze, but Lestat busts in like a swashbuckling antihero to rescue him. And apparently these guys don’t suffer from Rotshrek cause Lestat takes a few minutes to stand there in the burning house and berate Louis for ruining all his stuff.
The two hit the road, winding up in New Orleans, but while the plantation is left behind, the deeper question between them—to kill or not to kill—is not. As they continue to struggle with the nature of their existence, their already-conflicting viewpoints become increasingly polarized, as Lestat’s hedonistic obsession with murder takes on Malkavian intensity while Louis’s inner monologue drifts deeper into Sad Panda. It finally comes down to a raging argument between them, as Lestat tries to vindicate his own monstrousness by convincing Louis to essentially become a copy of himself and Louis retaliates by refusing to harbor any vampiric behavior at all. The spectrum of choice is clear, their positions entrenched in opposite poles and their words a magnetic storm between them, leaving all other details of the world—including half-bled hookers—momentarily forgotten.
Louis finally bails to take a cold shower by walking through the rain, in the process of which stumbling upon Claudia, a young child mourning the death of her mother in a New Orleans hovel. He comes inside, she runs to him for comfort, then, for some reason, this guy who can barely bring himself to bite adults feeds on a child. Luckily, Lestat shows up to call him on his bullshit. Louis bolts again in a don’t tell me what to do! rage, his inner monologue lamenting the fact that drinking human blood does taste better. I’m shocked, Rat-King.
But here is a moment where the logistics of the movie lose me again. He says his nature can only feel peace when he kills, but—spoiler alert—he didn’t kill Claudia, so how come he feels better now? Perhaps it’s an intentional tragedy of the movie that these two are stuck in all-or-nothing thinking when the clear compromise is to mind your damn blood pool and only take a few fucking blood points, edge-lords!
Anyway, Lestat finds him again, now sulking in the rain. Lestat is now a bit more apologetic than ragey—hitting the love-bomb stage of his abusive-relationship tendencies—but is still certain he’s right. More importantly, he apparently has a plan to help heal their damaged relationship. A plan guaranteed to work just as it has for millions of mortal relationships before them.
They have a kid together.
PART THE SECOND: Two and a Half Vampires
As the second-act opens, the tragedy of their existence seems far in the past as Louis and Lestat throw themselves into the small joys of undead life. For once, time passes happily with them raising Claudia, as we see in Adorable Gay Vampire Dads Montage:
We learn through this, though, that Claudia is almost more blood-thirsty than Lestat, and despite his frustrations with dead tradesmen all over the house, it’s clear he secretly approves. However, this begs the question: New Orleans is certainly a larger town than the parishes around Louis’s plantation, but even so, surely someone would notice that various artisans and tutors going to their home and people they were visiting for dinner were all turning up dead.
The movie, though, seems to anticipate this very question, as within the next few scenes, we see how times are changing, the population is growing, and it’s becoming easier for predators to fade into the background of the crowd.
But the eternal irony, of course, is as much as the world changes around them, vampires themselves do not, and the tragedy of child vampires is something even more particular. Claudia reaches her first moment of existential crisis when she spots a beautiful naked woman and remarks on how she wants to be just like that when she grows up, which many child-psychologists would agree is a fairly normal little-girl reaction. Things get dark, though, as she realizes for the first time that she cannot, and will not, ever. She then has the normal little-girl reaction of throwing a tantrum.
Lestat reacts to this development with similar levels of maturity, so it’s up to Louis to tell Claudia the truth about her embrace. And just as her prey-drive proves she’s a childe of Lestat, she proves she’s also a childe of Louis by throwing an emo-fit and running away. However, she eventually proves she has more gonads than the both of them by coming back on her own, smiling politely through Elysium-levels of shade from Lestat, all while orchestrating his murder.
Now, here things got a little confusing for me again. Apparently drinking from a corpse is toxic to vampires? That’s fine, but the movie didn’t pre-establish that anywhere I could find (in two viewings), which is frustrating cause it would have been vastly easy to do. So as Lestat is yelling and thrashing around, I was genuinely confused as to what all the fuss was about for a few minutes. Anyway, once it’s clear he’s poisoned and weak, Claudia comes forward to slit his throat with some kinda agg-dealing knife that keeps him from healing before he bleeds out all over the floor.
Lestat’s body withers up, Claudia and Louis drag his body to a swamp to dump it, then do what any good immortal would do the moment it gets out from under the control of its parents.
They decide to go backpacking around Europe.
Yes, okay, ostensibly the trip is to figure out more about the nature of vampires and their meaning in life, and frankly I’m on board with this plan. Lestat loved dropping oblique references to the “Old Country,” each begging the listener to ask more about it probably so he could deny them the answer. But if there is, in fact, a vampire society to bring some sort of order and meaning to their existence, I am dying to know what it’s like. And at this point I am expecting there to be something, since one of the subtle themes of the movie seems to be that as much as vampires hate each other, retaining their sanity requires them to gravitate to each other anyway.
But before Louis and Claudia can leave, they discover that Lestat is not quite dead yet when he shows up back at the house looking like forty-years of shit stuffed into a ten-year-old container. Apparently being poisoned and exsanguinated wasn’t enough to send him to final death and he was able to scrape a few blood points back from swamp wildlife. He monologues creepily at the piano, then Celeritys around the room after Claudia until Louis throws a lamp at him and immolates him too.
Louis and Claudia run down to the dock where they find their ship is preparing to set sail, so it’s probably a good thing Lestat showed up to light a fire under their asses to get out of the house, when the hell were they planning to go down there? They climb aboard just in time and sail away while staring back at the fires spreading through the city and Louis narrates the tragic symbolic symmetry of it all. Because of course he fucking does.
PART THE THIRD: EUROTRIP
Somehow, they cross the Atlantic without killing everyone on board in the process and begin their quest to find out more about vampires. They travel the Near East and the breadth of the Western World, yet somehow come up empty handed. Finally, reaching a sort of acceptance of their isolation, they return to true civilization for any wannabe-Toreador and wind up in Paris in 1870 and settle into an unlife filled with grand balls and shopping.
Until one night, when a strange man bearing all the hallmarks of the otherworldly appears out of the shadows behind Louis.
The mime is rapidly followed by his boss, a dark and mysterious vampire named Armand.
Armand invites Louis to his haven, an abandoned church running an on-going production called Theatre des Vampires, which is like first-edition V:tM levels of subtlety. It’s appropriate, though, for the theme of their show, which consists of short skits enacted to illustrate poetry quartets on the meaninglessness and futility of life.
Yeah. But things get a lot more interesting when the show reaches the finale. The vampires pretending to be humans pretending to be vampires bring out a live woman who actually appears to understand the truth of her predicament and shrieks for help as the audience watches with bemusement. But the show must go inexorably on, and the woman is murdered and devoured live on stage before the curtain falls. The raw psychological horror of the situation is real, and awesome, but it wasn’t until later I realized what these slam-poetry vampires had done: in this climax, they’ve constructed a situation to give humans the same dispassionate observation of death that vampires themselves have, all without the humans realizing it at all.
Armand invites Louis and Claudia backstage after the show to meet the rest of his pack, who—in wry contrast to their fine looks and clothes—live in the dank catacombs beneath the church, sleeping in the alcoves and apparently doing not much besides hanging around waiting for the next show.
But, monstrousness aside, these vampires at least seem to have figured out how to manage their damn blood-pools and can feed without killing, which we see when Armand trots out a teenage ghoul of his and invites Louis to feed on him.
Armand takes Louis to his study and waxes philosophically about the relentless march of time, consuming the world these Old World vampires know as easily as the Death they emulate consumes the mortals. Louis shrugs it off and presses for information on the meaning of vampires. Specifically, who they really are, where they come from, etc etc etc. As I listen to all this, wondering the same questions myself, I can’t help but think:
Louis’s drive for some sort of story is poignantly understandable, even to a human viewer. Whether or not we understand them as literal truth, we all need creation stories—mythological and historical—to shape our identity and root us into a niche in the larger order of the cosmos. Without stories, we’re just pieces of consciousness that sprang unexpectedly into being and will disappear just as easily.
As I mused on this during my second watch-through, a horrifying thought hit with sudden pathos: What if, underneath all the lore and mystery, the World of Darkness is the same as this?
What if Caine, and all the stories tracing back to him, didn’t exist there at all? What if vampirism in WoD is nothing more than an unusual condition, mystical or biological, evolved by chance. At some point or points in history, various humans afflicted with this condition found themselves suddenly fallen into the gaps of the world, unstuck from society and time. Desperately clinging to sentience, they created elaborate myths and stories from fragments half-remembered from their old lives, weaving the flimsiest of narratives to wrap around themselves to ward off the existential darkness. Devoid of all else, a living human is at the very least still tied into the ecological cycles of life and has an evolutionary history written into the very bones of the earth. But a vampire’s identity is as far-removed from even that most-basic birthright as the sun is from the bottoms of the ocean-floor.
What if, under the plots and the schemes and the plans, the history of vampires in WoD is nothing much at all? If so, no wonder they created the stories they did, for a story of eternal damnation is better than no story at all. Better to believe God shunned you than to think he never noticed you at all. Better to believe your purpose in existence is Evil than to think that you are nothing more than a cosmic error who will affect nothing of consequence and has all of eternity to do so.
…WHAT. THE FUCK. IS THIS MOVIE DOING TO ME. YOU GUYS.
Here I am ranting against the somber thoughts and feels and yet entirely new ones are springing to my mind completely unbidden!!!
Goddamit, okay, so, apparently Armand has probably had similar thoughts to the ones I just had cause he says some stuff about pain and there is no God, which Louis isn’t too happy about. He also says he’s the oldest known vampire in the world, at the ripe old age of four-hundred.
Disheartened, Louis and Claudia leave, but on their way out, Mime-Vampire reads their thoughts from across the room and picks out the name of Lestat and deduces a murder may have been involved. He ominously mentions that the only crime in their eternal-goth-prom world is killing another vampire and the punishment for it is death. Which eases my own existential horror a bit, because if they’re going to get their cravats in that much of a knot just over one vampire killing another vampire—without even any diablerie involved!—then there’s no way this world is overlapping with WoD.
Anyway, Claudia and Louis go back to their hotel. Claudia is upset, thinking that she’s about to get Blood Hunt called on her, but more to the point she points out that Armand clearly has a crush on Louis and wants to run away with him. Louis shrugs it off, but sneaks off to visit Armand the next night. There, the fact that he and Claudia killed Lestat bubbles slowly to the surface of their subtext-loaded discussion. With pretenses peeling away, Armand tells Louis that child vampires are forbidden (implying that they end up being more of a pain in the ass than they’re worth). Louis maintains that he loves Claudia, so Armand says fine, send her away and stay with me. Irritated, Louis tries to leave, but Armand calls him back and, giving in, doles out some carefully-hoarded elder knowledge, saying the reason there are so few vampires in the world is because most die by their free will. (I suspect, though, many are dying because they can’t manage their blood pools). Armand says he needs Louis to be his connection to the modern world, help them change, claiming that Louis’s passions and gothy-emo-ennui is something he actually wants to emulate and possess, in order to create a new type of vampire for a new world.
Louis goes home to consider the proposal and actually seems pretty open to the concept. Plans seem to align when he meets up with Claudia and finds she’s found herself a new doll, an adult woman who wants to be embraced so the two can live as mother and daughter forever. Claudia apparently can’t handle the embrace herself so begs Louis to do it, who is inexplicably hesitant even though THIS MAKES EVERYTHING WORK OUT PERFECTLY FOR EVERYONE! He finally agrees and does the thing, though he bitches about it the whole time, claiming the act has stolen one last part of his humanity, or something.
But then, in the middle of it, Armand’s pack shows up to abduct the three of them, despite the fact that Armand said they wouldn’t be punished for Lestat’s death. Maybe these guys are going off-reservation, or maybe Armand’s entire position of leadership is a sham, or maybe—shocking, I know, for an elder vampire—Armand lied, cause the pack shoves Louis into a coffin and Claudia and the newly-embraced woman into an abandoned silo to face the sun.
Armand finally comes out to help Louis, but it’s far too late for Claudia and the woman. As he leaves, the pack laughs and leers at Louis with all the subtlety of standard vampire thugs, and clearly they have the intelligence level of thugs too, cause they’re caught completely with their pants down when Louis returns in the early light of dawn to burn their whole haven to the ground and slice up anyone who tries to escape, including Mime Guy.
Louis stumbles out of the burning building and Armand shows up in a black liveried carriage just in time to save Louis from the rising sun.
Hooray, the night is saved! Except…things seem…suspicious:
- Armand said he was done with those posers loafing about the place
- Armand wanted Louis to join him instead, and knew Claudia was a stumbling block to that
- Armand did nothing to stop the pack from abducting and harassing Louis and Claudia
- Strangely, even though Louis and Claudia were involved in Lestats death, only Claudia was actually killed
- Armand discouraged Louis from taking out his frustrations immediately, perhaps seeding the idea for an early-dawn attack
- Armand suspected an attack and left just in time, but didn’t warn anyone else
- Armand shows up just in time to pick up his new boy-toy with all the assholes he didn’t need in his life conveniently removed for him.
Yeah, nope, that doesn’t sound like the machinations of elder vampires at all.
Louis, vampire instincts honing rapidly, seems to connect the dots on this as well. He reveals as such to Armand, giving a monologue about how apparently his melancholy-emo powers give him strength or something, I don’t know, the movie has been vague on what exactly this means, and I was a little busy making “now kiss!” gestures at the screen.
I realize something else here as I’m writing this: throughout the movie, but in this act especially, Louis is like the male version of a YA-novel heroine. He doesn’t bring that much to the table, yet inexplicably everyone is obsessed with him, claiming that something about him is unique and special, and though it’s vague to the viewer, it’s apparently enough that whole plot arcs revolve around access to him because of it.
But, unlike many YA-heroines, Louis comes into his own and decides that vampires is jerks and he doesn’t need to hang around begging for the privilege of dealing with their bullshit.
Louis leaves Armand and Paris, wandering the world by himself, finally winding up back in America, in New Orleans, in the 1980s. There he discovers what I assume he, and the audience, have secretly suspected all this time: Lestat is in fact alive, just very badly burned.
Louis lingers long enough to soak in Lestat’s final fall from grace, then peaces out, leaving him alone in the darkness.
We cut back to the final scene in the framing device, where Louis tells Christian Slater that he never saw Lestat again and he has since gone about doing his thing, his super-emo powers somehow making him ironically-content with his empty existence. Slater, though, falling victim to the fate of similar humans in vampire stories—and apparently having listened to nothing Louis has said over the last two hours—begs to be given the embrace as well. Louis flips out and basically Dreadgazes his ass and Slater bolts into the street to his car (which, against all odds for being a convertible parked in mid-Market, doesn’t have a homeless person camping in it). Slater takes off and heads north across the Golden Gate Bridge.
But apparently he should have checked the back-seat a little better, cause suddenly, oshit, Lestat appears out of nowhere to jump him, bite him, take control of the car, and ostensibly gear up toward offering him the embrace instead.
As hoped, this certainly was a tonal shift from the Blade movies. Despite my initial concern at having to sit through almost two hours of the exact sort of vampire stereotype I hate, the actual movie was a lot more subtle and nuanced than I was expecting. Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised, considering Anne Rice herself wrote the script. But in reality, I’m even more surprised, because the skillset needed to write a well-crafted screenplay is often very different from the one needed to write novels. Many authors have tried to make the jump to doing screenplays of their own work and have failed. The fact that Rice was able to do not only a decent screenplay, but quite frankly a stellar one, is even more impressive in my mind. In any event, perhaps my enjoyment of a movie focusing on emotions rather than explosions is simply a sign that I am maturing in my storytelling tastes.
Or perhaps it’s an indication that this thematic obsession of mine has already gone way too far….
…But we’ll have to wait till the next review to see.
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