Queen of the Damned

My mother always told me that if you can’t say something nice, then don’t say anything at all.
My mother didn’t see “Queen of the Damned,” another MTV-influenced horror film shot and edited for people with the attention span of a music video. Take away the eye candy and rock music and what’s left is a vampire film that is sorely in need of a transfusion.

The second film to fly out of Anne Rice’s “Vampire Chronicles” belfry, “Queen of the Damned” is a sad follow-up to Neil Jordan’s “Interview with a Vampire,” which starred Tom Cruise as the enigmatic vampire Lestat.

Even though Lestat returns in “Queen of the Damned,” Cruise is nowhere to be found. He’s been replaced by Stuart Townsend, whose Lestat rises from a self-imposed slumber to awaken to a new millennium and dreams of being a rock star. No kidding. Bored and tired of being bound by the rules and regulations of vampirism, Lestat fronts a heavy metal band and flaunts his blood lust to the masses.

His fans think it’s an act, but the other vampires know better, who conspire to end Lestat’s moment in the spotlight. Oh no, it’s every parent’s worst nightmare confirmed, that heavy metal rockers like Ozzie Osbourne and Marilyn Manson are really the undead. It makes sense, much more sense than the hash house screenplay by Scott Abbott and Michael Petroni, who serve up a little of everything just to cover their bases.

It’s funny how time changes everything. When Warner Bros. acquired the Anne Rice juggernaut, they made sure Rice was involved in every decision. Rice wrote the screenplay for “Interview with a Vampire,” which made enough money to insure that Warner Bros. would be in the Anne Rice business for many years to come.

Then along comes J.K. Rawlings and “Harry Potter,” and Rice’s tales of vampires and mummies become yesterday’s news. Perhaps that explains the liberties screen writers Abbott and Petroni take with the original novel. Fans of the book will undoubtedly have problems with the tampering, which totally eliminates some characters and takes others out of context. Take away the Rice connection and “Queen of the Damned” is barely serviceable as a vampire film.

Cruise may not have been great as Lestat, but at least he was interesting. Even though Lestat is hundreds of years old, Townsend never convinces us that there’s any history beyond the written word. Once Lestat comes out of the bat closet and starts to feed off the power of his fans, he undergoes a metamorphosis that leads him to betray his beliefs.

When Lestat falls for a paranormal researcher (Marguerite Moreau) who is eager to take a walk on the wild side, he finds himself confused . Should he oblige? Or does he love her enough to keep her pure? Can vampires and humans coexist?

The script raises more questions than it can answer, but the biggest question is why director Michael Rymer just didn’t go for all out camp. “Queen of the Damned” hovers between B-movie bad and “Rocky Horror” camp, a clear sign the filmmakers couldn’t make up their minds what kind of film they were making. The result is a film with no identity.

As a horror film, “Queen of the Damned” lacks the visceral thrills fans come to except. There’s very little to warrant an “R” rating. Maybe it was the fear that teenagers wouldn’t see a film called “Queen of the Damned” if it were rated PG-13. The film also lacks the tongue-in-cheek action- adventure of “The Mummy” series, even though some scenes are so bad you can’t help but become unwrapped.

That leaves camp, and on that level, “Queen of the Damn” could have been a real hoot. How else could you explain late hip hop singer Aaliyah dressed up like she just stepped out of a Michael Jackson video. Aaliyah plays Akasha, the eternal “Queen of the Damned,” who is awakened by the soulful moans of Lestat’s heavy metal serenade. Sadly, Aaliyah’s performance is more costume than acting.

Director Michael Rymer, director of photography Ian Baker and production designer Graham Walker are to be commended for making a delicious looking movie, but they fail to capture the gothic charm of Jordan’s “Interview.”

Everything about “Queen of the Damned” seems tailor made for an audience too young to see it. Quick editing, dazzling graphics, a heavy metal soundtrack, a desert rave, all calling cards for a generation that didn’t even know what a vampire was when “Interview” originally came out.

I wouldn’t even mind seeing that film, just not under these conditions. Rymer lacks the ability to make this anything more than an extended rock video. His characters are as artificial as the words they’re forced to mutter, and his plot has more holes in it than Bonnie and Clyde’s car. It feels like everyone is just there for the moment.

To work, “Queen of the Damned” needed the sensibilities of someone like director Penelope Spheeris, whose documentaries on the punk and heavy metal scenes make her the perfect candidate. The film also needs a strong lead, someone like Mark Wahlberg, whose recent gig in “Rock Star” proved he could hold an audience both on and off the stage. Spheeris’ cutting edge style and Wahlberg’s strutting confidence would have made “Queen of the Damned” a much better film.

As it stands, it doesn’t suck, but it lacks bite.

DAMNED IF YOU DOQueen of the Damned is a real rocky horror picture show


Stuart Townsend, Aaliyah, Marguerite Moreau, Vincent Perez, Lena Olin. Directed by Michael Rymer. Rated R. 101 Minutes.


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