Queen of the Damned

Townsend & Perez Can’t Redeem the Rest of the Picture

Directed by Michael Rymer; Reviewed by Emily Crow

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Title: Queen of the Damned
Director: Michael Rymer
Starring: Stuart Townsend, Aaliyah, Vincent Perez, Marguerite Moreau
Released: 2002
Running Time: 1 hour, 41 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for vampire violence
Freak Nation Rating:
Buy It From: Amazon.com

I had incredibly low expectations for this movie when I entered the theater, and by the end of the film, only a few of them had been lifted. If you can suffer through the first 20 minutes, the film does improve, but only marginally. A few moments of directing and timing brilliance cannot save the otherwise trite and confusing plot.

The plot: Vampire becomes rock and roll star, uses music to reveal vampire secrets, inciting them to attack him at his rock concert. Music unexpectedly awakens ancient vampire from her slumber. She is bad and nasty. Plot attempts to ensue from there.

The good parts: Stuart Townsend and Vincent Perez deliver very good renditions of the two main vampire characters in this film, Lestat and Marius. Townsend is a vast improvement over Tom Cruise as Lestat de Lioncourt, much more menacing and darkly sexual than the Interview With The Vampire actor managed with the same character. But Perez, as Marius, nearly steals the show. His performance is understated, and the subtleties in his facial reactions convey more than the script ever had a hope of conveying.

Marius (Vincent Perez, left) and Lestat (Stuart Townsend) are, aside from the music, the only good things about Queen of the Damned.

The soundtrack is loud, but very good, and the one star I gave this movie is mainly for the quality of the soundtrack. All of the songs allegedly sung by Lestat were performed by three different artists, yet have enough similarities in feel and tone that it is completely believable as his music. My respect for Static-X, Disturbed, and Marilyn Manson increased with these songs, and I was happy to encounter a few other bands — Tricky, Earshot, and Kidney Thieves — that I had not heard of previously. Most appropriate to the soundtrack were the lyrics, which carried what plot there was along, and often brought out undertones that enhanced the action.

The bad parts: Pretty much everything else.

Acting: Most of the other actors, including Marguerite Moreau and Aaliyah, deliver uninspired acting at best, and almost no acting at worst. For much of the movie, I was under the impression that the director’s instructions to Aaliyah must have only consisted of “undulate your hips and leave your mouth open so we can see your fangs.” I would like to believe that she was capable of better acting, but this film does not reveal any. Moreau has some good scenes, but she just couldn’t make me care about her character at all.

The plot: Let’s set the record straight here — Queen of the Damned was a mediocre book with a mediocre plot. If you are apologizing to Anne Rice or saying how it didn’t live up to the book — stop. When you were a teenager until maybe age 21, Queen of the Damned was cool, and you could ignore all of the bad plot twists (e.g., ancient queen rises from eternal slumber because of a man, obsesses over man, and then decides to create a new world where the women are in power — don’t worry, they left that out of the movie) because the vampire Lestat was a very sexy main character, and vampires were nowhere as trite back then as they are now. But the book isn’t close to her best writing; it’s just better than the two turkeys about Lestat that followed.

That out of the way, the movie doesn’t even try to follow most of the plot of the book. This is both good and bad. While it avoids some of the worst and least-believable aspects of the book, it also leaves the plot confused and floundering. A large number of obviously powerful characters appear late in the film and are either (in one case) explained poorly or (in the rest of the cases) not even named at all. Aaliyah mentions she has a score to settle. But what? Why? Who are these vampires to her?

The entire semi-romantic subplot between Lestat and Jesse (Marguerite Moreau) is also completely unbelievable. Lestat had a much longer connection to Marius — or to Louis (not in this film at all). He’s no doubt had countless one-night stands with mortals, many of whom understood him far better than Jesse. It just doesn’t work.

And why the heck would vampires who are angry at Lestat for revealing “secrets that must stay hidden” attack him in the middle of a concert, in front of 100,000 mortals, using obviously supernatural powers, while it is being recorded and probably telecast? The concert’s in Death Valley, moreover, so you can’t even say it was all stage-work — there is no ceiling for the wires to hang from to fake flight, for example. One or two attacks might be explainable as part of the show, but by the end of their attacks, it’s obvious that there’s more going on. That part was just poorly thought out — and by the director, not just the vampires. (One point in favor of Rice’s book: the vampires at least wait until after the concert to attack Lestat.)

The scenery, while nice on occasion, also had the feel of an overworked MTV video as directed by someone who didn’t really understand the market. Lots of Goths undoubtedly got small moments of fame as extras in the concert sequences, but the overall feel of the concert was... well, hokey. A small example — there is nothing about a vampire or the goth or metal scenes that make you think, “Hmmmm, I should bring a plastic red pitchfork to the concert.” And yet they were everywhere in the scene, looking dumb and unbelievable.

As I said, there were a few moments of brilliant timing to enjoy, and I never once in the film thought, “Man, I should just gnaw my own arm off to escape this trap.” But that is the only faint praise I can give to the Queen of the Damned.

Emily Crow is an inveterate and incorrigible geek, especially in the fields of role-playing games, horror and science fiction. She lives in the freak Mecca of San Francisco with her husband, two cats, and various permutations of housemates. There she strives daily to defy categorization and compartmentalization. As such, she has gathered a large number of adjectives that swarm about her, often agreeing and sometimes even complimenting each other — when they are not vehemently contradicting themselves. Among her favorite descriptors in this flock are: queer, married, talkative, introverted, pantheistic, animistic, agnostic, harmonious, helpful, difficult, corvidesque, and peculiar. Her superpowers include cat-herding, finding things and throwing good parties. On the pirate-monkey-robot-ninja continuum, she falls in the Monkey/Pirate quadrant.