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Posts Tagged ‘Anne Rice’

Time was when it was easy to generalise grandly and with a veneer of authority about what genres are actually about – ‘the classic horror story,’ one might say, slipping one hand to a lapel in a breezily academic way, ‘is all about sex. Specifically the enforcement of normative socio-sexual codes.’ This is all very well, when you’re talking about the normal socio-sexual behaviour of people who don’t spend all their time in a horror story. How are you supposed to talk about the socio-sexual behaviour of people living in a horror story which is, well, a bit different? Especially when the whole thing is so loaded down with metaphor that it’s blatantly obvious this particular horror story is actually talking about real-world lifestyles?

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Well, look, let’s stop beating about the bush, no pun intended – I finally managed to get through Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire, the first time I’ve managed to stagger to the end of one of her books. As you may or may not know, it details the biography of Louis, a member of a secretive minority who exist at something of a remove from conventional society. He was drawn into this world by an older man, Lestat, who is extremely shallow and possessive of his younger friend. Wanting to perpetuate their relationship, but obviously unable to have children in the usual way, Lestat contrives that they adopt a young girl, Claudia, although the circumstances of her upbringing leave Claudia seriously messed up. Louis broods a lot; Lestat bitches, eventually they break up and Louis gets together with another even older guy called Armand who he genuinely loves, although Armand still seems a bit jealous of Lestat, and so on. (There’s a bit more to the plot of this book, by the way, but these are the key beats.)

Now, obviously I’m being selective in describing what happens in Interview with the Vampire, but even so – there’s not a lot here which distinctly screams ‘supernatural horror’. Saying this book has a gay subtext suggests a level of subtlety which quite frankly isn’t there – it’s right there in the text, in some ways the stereotypical gay lifestyle is what this book is about. Hence my queasiness about describing the sexuality involved, specifically in terms of contrast to the usual sort, as the danger of sounding inadvertantly homophobic is severe. I wouldn’t personally choose to describe homosexuals as deviants, aberrant, or abnormal – but in terms of the book, ‘alternative’ is gilding the lily a bit when talking about a lifestyle founded on murder on a massive scale.

It’s funny, really, if I sat down tomorrow and wrote a story where I used zombies as a metaphor to talk about, say, immigration, and through some horrible disaster/extraordinary miracle it got published, I’d probably get slated for being racist or xenophobic. And yet here’s Anne Rice writing a book about gay men which depicts them as soulless, vicious, monstrous killers, and it’s become some sort of classic and the foundation of her career. Then again, I suppose you could argue that the book isn’t explicitly intended to be read as a metaphor for being gay. The problem is that if it isn’t, it’s very hard to see what it actually is about – the ‘gay lifestyle’ stuff is so prominent, as I said, that it’s almost impossible to miss.

This may explain the curious deadness at the heart of the narrative (for me, at least) – this is supposedly a story about a being mired in sin and evil, whose very existence is predicated on it, and yet I got very little sense of genuine angst or moral pain when reading it. Louis goes on, a lot, about his wretched situation as a child of Satan, in terribly florid language, but I never really cared about it, mainly because I think I figured out quite soon that this guy was going to be a whinger, all mouth and no trousers, and he was going to carry on in this vein (boom boom!) for the entire book.

This book is brooding. This book is introspective. Not a great deal happens beyond various vampires bickering with each other about the nature of their undead existence at considerable length, and (some might say) overcooked descriptions of places and events. The prose is certainly sensuous and evocative, perhaps a bit too fulsome, but coupled to the vague sense of moral vacuum at the heart of proceedings the end result is a bit like getting stuck in Italy for a month. Actually, I’m not surprised this book did as well as it did – the overwrought pseudo-sexual stuff and obsessive detailing of emotions and so on probably makes it a killer potboiler for a certain type of person who just enjoys wallowing in melodrama, while the one-two punch of ‘safe’ transgressiveness (the occult and homosexuality) gives it a faint air of edginess it really doesn’t warrant.

Well, I made it through to the end, although I didn’t find it a particularly nourishing experience – most of the time I was just trying to remember the movie and spot the bits which were different. My favourite bit of the book, oddly enough, is in the middle where it genuinely (and rather briefly) goes all Hammer horror: needless to say, none of this is in the movie.

And I suppose one shouldn’t overlook how massively influential this book has been – the sympathetic vampire is now practically a stock figure and barely worthy of comment, which I suspect was very much not the case in 1976. If vampires in fiction have acquired some depth and intelligence in the intervening time then obviously Anne Rice and Interview with the Vampire deserve much of the credit for this. However, every bland and melodramatic ‘dark fantasy’ romance with a bunch of Goths mooning over each other is arguably their fault too. Didn’t do a lot for me on any level, but culturally and historically interesting.

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From the Hootoo archive. Originally published April 18th 2002:

[Originally following a review of…]

The One may not be terribly good, but it looks like Citizen Kane compared to Michael Rymer’s Queen of the Damned. This is loosely based on two books in Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles, the first of which was filmed in 1995’s Interview with the Vampire. None of the same creative personnel are involved in this very loose sequel, and I’ll bet they’re counting their blessings.

Undead poseur Lestat (Ronnie O’Sullivan lookalike Stuart Townsend, who seems famous these days mainly for not being in Lord of the Rings) is roused from a century’s kip by the sound of an unsigned nu-metal band tuning up. Rather than instantly gaining the audience’s sympathy by murdering the lot of them, he decides to join the band and starts writing songs revealing untold vampire lore (as you would, obviously). All this is handled in a rushed and perfunctory pre-credits sequence, after which what I laughingly refer to as the plot goes all over the place for a bit. But eventually the bloody awful racket of Lestat’s band wakes the ancient vampire queen Akasha (yet another Romeo Must Die veteran, in the form of the late Aaliyah), who – God knows why – takes a fancy to the leather-trewed prat. Blade’s never about when you need him…

I find it hard to believe such a comprehensively bad film could be made by accident. Probably due to the fact it’s an amalgam of the plots of two separate novels, the script varies between the silly and the utterly incoherent. We’re into a rolling expanse of silly accents, paper-thin characterisation, and rampantly illogical plot developments. For instance: the other vampires take exception to Lestat revealing their existence via his songs, so they decide to silence him – by mounting a full-on supernatural onslaught against him while he’s performing live on stage in front of a million fans. The film contains only tired old cliches about vampires and their society: the usual melodramatic goth posturings. Poor old Paul McGann wanders around in the midst of it all playing a totally superfluous character who’s a spectacularly blatant knock-off of Giles from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

The film has the odd visual flourish to its credit, and there’s one quite impressive set-piece when Akasha first rises. But in the end Queen of the Damned has no focus, nothing to involve the viewer and ultimately nothing new to say. For connoisseurs of the execrable only.

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