It’s October, the spookiest month, so I am devoting this column to vampires. Even before Twilight, these undead villains had a special place in female sexuality, so it seems only right that we explore the many vampire lady movies out there.

INTERVIEW WITH A VAMPIRE
Director: Neil Jordan
Writer: Anne Rice
Key Cast: Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, Kirsten Dunst, Christian Slater, Antonio Banderas

In Short
Louis, a vampire with a couple centuries under his belt, tells his story to journalist Malloy. He was turned at the age of 24, in his prime, by a vampire named Lestat, who values beauty and saw quite a lot of it in Louis. When Louis becomes depressed and refuses to kill, Lestat turns a 12-year-old girl, Claudia, to keep Louis company. They become a strange family, but as the years pass and Claudia realizes she will never be anything but a child, discontent settles in once again. Claudia and Louis attempt to kill Lestat. They go on the run, searching Europe for other vampires like them. Eventually, they find a whole group, led by Armand, the oldest vampire, clocking a solid 400 years. The other vampires dislike Claudia, believing she is an abomination. They kill her and threaten to bury Louis forever. Armand helps him escape, but it’s too late to save Claudia. Louis burns all the vampires, and Armand helps him escape. He eventually makes his way back to the US, where he finds Lestat, depleted and a shell of his former self, waiting in a mansion. It’s here that his interview with Malloy ends. Malloy gets into the car to drive home, and he’s attacked by Lestat, who offers to turn him.

As Cinema
Based on the popular book series by Anne Rice, who also wrote the screenplay, Interview with a Vampire is the perfect blend of historical romance and camp. Louis and Lestat are not monsters, but they often behave monstrously in their respective pursuits of love and beauty. With a score that obtusely highlights the constant melodrama and Tom Cruise’s most over the top performance to date, it is fine cheese indeed. Every line wants to be important, and every character speaks like a freshman year philosophy major, but in the most enjoyable way. Kirsten Dunst gives an incredible performance, especially when you consider that she was a child holding her own against two of the biggest movie stars in the world. Although the script meanders, taking its time and operating with little forward propulsion, the characters are all enjoyable enough that its two hour runtime feels appropriate.

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The Horror
As much as I enjoy Interview with a Vampire, it is none too kind to its female characters. Aside from Claudia, all of them are literally objects for consumption, arranged in beautiful tableaus on screen until Lestat is ready to feast. Claudia herself is a tragic figure, a little girl who wants nothing more than to grow up and have her own agency. She has immortality and so much power, but she’s trapped in a world that will only ever see her as a little girl. Even Louis, who loves her, treats her as a child despite the decades they’ve spent together. She tires of being a little doll, but Louis continues to shelter her even after they’ve rid themselves of Lestat. She cannot run or protect herself when the other vampires come for her, and her misplaced sense of loyalty toward Louis keeps her in Paris even when she knows in her gut that he will leave her to learn from Armand. Hers is a very typical story of women in period pieces and throughout history, hamstrung by a society that refuses to see women as people.

So why, then does this movie appeal so much to women? These vampires lust for blood, and they take it, so it’s certainly not exploiting any taboo. In fact, it’s telling a pretty standard story. Guy wants something. Guy takes it, women be damned. I think the appeal lies in the tenuous relationship between Louis and Lestat. Theirs is more reflexive of some female friendships, particularly among teen girls. They love each other and hate each other. They admire one another to the point of jealousy, and they let their insecurities dictate their affections. It feels familiar to a lot of female viewers, and not without reason. Women are often forced to be competitive in a world that sees 17% women in a crowd as gender parity. Successful women are still subject to tokenism, and often instead of helping one-another, we buy into that competition. Similarly, vampires are working with limited resources. They cannot kill as much as they want and still blend in with society. So rather than work together to create a version of society more welcoming to their needs, monstrous as they are, they have to compete. But they are so scarce, they still need each other to survive and learn and understand their powers. The movie underscores its own point by treating any actual women with a contempt that we also recognize. Interview with a Vampire may not be feminist, but it’s familiar. It’s romantic and beautiful and comfortable, so even though it may not be kind to women, it feels right.

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