of the Damned
(Warner Bros. Pictures, 2002)
MPAA: R. Runtime: 101 minutes
Review by Amy Harlib.
Directed by: Michael Rymer.
Cast: Stuart Townsend .... Lestat de Lioncourt / Marguerite Moreau .... Jesse Reeves /Aaliyah .... Queen Akasha / Vincent Perez .... Marius / Paul McGann .... David Talbot / Lena Olin .... Maharet / Christian Manon .... Mael / Claudia Black .... Pandora / Bruce Spence .... Khayman / Matthew Newton .... Armand / Tiriel Mora .... Roger Smythe Megan Dorman .... Maudy / Johnathan Devoy .... James / Robert Farnham .... Alex / Conrad Standish .... T.C.
Departing from his mundane track record (Angel Baby and In Too Deep for example), helmer Michael Rymer finally gets to try his hand at his beloved horror genre with reasonably successful results in his latest project, the film Queen of the Damned, loosely based on the widely popular "Vampire Chronicles' by Anne Rice. No one can deny that the greatest fascination factors in this production are the tragically ironic circumstances surrounding the performance of its star, Aaliyah, who died tragically in a plane crash shortly after shooting was completed. Here we have a very dead actress on screen portraying a ruler of the undead!
Queen of the Damned's plot, title notwithstanding, actually concentrates on Lestat (Stuart Townsend), a centuries-old vampire of musical inclinations who yearns for fame and public adulation and sees his path to fulfillment by revealing his true nature and using this sensational information to promote himself in the world of heavy-metal rock 'n roll. Due to the fortunate combination of talent and the phenomenal appeal of what most critics and media pundits believe to be a clever gimmick, Lestat (urging others of his kind to "come out wherever they are"), achieves superstardom and public notoriety that arouses the ire of the rest of his ilk. They prefer to retain their shadowy anonymity away from the all too frequent hostile attentions of their mortal prey.
Thanks to Lestat's publicity machine, an orphaned psychic investigator, Jesse (Firestarter Rekindled's Marguerite Moreau - see our review in this issue) becomes intrigued with him, knowing that he's for real because of her heightened awareness due to her upbringing by her benign vampire Aunt Maharet (Lena Olin). By being a member of the Talamasca, an esoteric occult organization of researches, Jesse gains access to their prized possession, Lestat's journals of his transformation. This unique tome contains information that enables Jesse to get closely and romantically involved with the object of her fascination. Jesse's reading of these memoirs leads to an extended and interesting flashback sequence: the 18th century encounter with the 2000 year old vampire Marius (Vincent Perez) responsible for Lestat's becoming one of the undead. Marius, now mentor to Lestat, shows him the ropes and reveals that he, in turn, looks up to the multi-millennia old 'Mother of all Vampires', Queen Akasha (Aaliyah), of Ancient Egyptian origin and now so powerful that she can withstand the sunlight and fire that normally destroys her kind.
Back in the present day, awakened from a kind of hibernation by the power of Lestat's music, Queen Akasha senses that she can use this energy to achieve her long-held plans of world domination. With Consort Lestat by her side, their combined mesmerizing abilities would turn mortals into helpless sheep, ripe for the picking. Akasha at first, easily enthralls Lestat after she spirits him away in a spectacular climax to showdown at a huge concert in Death Valley where the protagonist's band's event became the target of an attack by an array of the undead. This exciting setpiece of CGI effects, flying stunts and dismembered foes that seemed part of the show to the audience, was all too real for the participants. The bizarre and graphically violent action in this scene logically progresses from Akasha's earlier grand entrance in a secret club for vampires where she destroyed all the patrons because they resisted her rule, for not all of her kind wish to treat humanity like mere meat. The ultimate finale occurs when Akasha, with Lestat by her side, confronts the leaders of the more benign vampire faction, most notably among them Maharet and Marius (with Jesse in attendance). There the fate of Lestat, Akasha, the other leading characters and the planet gets determined (despite some bloody bits), in fascinating, visually thrilling and finally romantically satisfying scenes.
Queen of the Damned, beneath its glitzy, glossy surface, contains some disturbing racial and sexual politics, yet, caveat in mind, still delivers plenty of dazzle of the gothic/punk, outrageous variety with Aaliyah's exotic head to toe costumes so breathtakingly gorgeous I couldn't get enough of them or her (a presence worth the price of admission alone). With her perfect body and radiant charisma, Aaliyah exudes a sinuous sensuality and grace that seduces despite her character's evil intents and actions. This paradoxical effect on Lestat in particular gets well portrayed.
The movie attempts to pack so much Anne Rice source material into the story that the characters do not always get the development they deserve, yet the leads---Lestat, Marius, Jesse and of course, Akasha---still come across vividly. Richard Gibbs and Jonathan Davis provide pulse-pounding heavy-metal lyrics and music for appropriate performance-related moments and offer excellent, complementary dramatic and eerie scoring the rest of the time. The vampire/pop/rock music combination works effectively here and should please the film's intended youthful audience. The gore, though less pleasing, nevertheless belongs to the genre and its shock value works to score points in key scenes. Definitely worth seeing for dark fantasy and horror fans, Queen of the Damned offers plenty of hip, contemporary thrills and, to reiterate, morbidly ironic frissons of fascination to see a very dead star performer ruling the undead. Those insisting that all their cinema be a highbrow, artistic experience may sneer---the rest of us will enjoy falling under Akasha's spell and regret Aaliyah's untimely passing.
For a superior vampire dark fantasy film treat, don't miss the Japanese anime feature 'Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust' in which the setting, characters, visual dazzle and science-fictional plot elements are more complex and gripping though lacking in the contemporary music aspect. My detailed review of this genre gem can be found at: http://www.rambles.net/vampired_bloodlust00.html
© 2002 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu