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Published: Friday, 2/22/2002

Queen of the Damned: Caught in a world between horror and camp

BY CHRISTOPHER BORRELLI
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Vampires are a cursed lot. All that posturing. All those capes. All those rules. You can't cross a running stream. You can't step into the sun. You can't check your hair in a mirror because you have no reflection. You can't enter a house without the express written consent of Major League Baseball.

Who needs it, right?

You'll ask yourself the same thing while watching Queen of the Damned, the first adaptation of an Anne Rice vampire novel since Interview With a Vampire. In that 1994 film, director Neil Jordan mixed playfulness with the poignant loneliness of having eternal life. But here you'll just wonder what the upside is to living forever if you spend your time miserable, acting like fashion roadkill.

Queen - which is overly stylized, loud, and never fun enough to work as camp - misses a fundamental point of all vampire movies: that there's a romantic allure to the undead lifestyle. Instead, it's Grade D horror with B+ production values and a bestseller pedigree. The movie is only notable because it contains the posthumous performance of Aaliyah, the young, talented R&B singer who died in a plane crash last summer.

She plays Queen Akasha, the first vampire ever. But the story is about Lestat (Stuart Townsend), the foppish vamp Tom Cruise played in Interview. Townsend gives the character an ominous hiss, but that's about it. Drained of all his blood, bone white, and prone to egotistical hissy fits, Lestat is just a long, gaunt, undead bloodsucker who becomes a rock star.

Insert Keith Richards joke here.

The plot centers on an upcoming Lestat concert that makes Altamont look like Disney on Ice. Lestat goes public about being undead. The traditionally underground vampire community decides to off him at the big show. Akasha wakes up and announces she wants Lestat as her new king. The rest makes no sense.

Say you're a vampire and you've waited hundreds of years to wake up and join a rock band and give a huge concert. Wouldn't you rehearse first? Once the idea is established (and it is a clever one) that a vampire might want to live like a rock star, hold big press conferences, and have groupies nipping at his heels, the angle is left undeveloped: What is this band Lestat turned into an overnight sensation? Why not make the members vampires, too, and ensure no one goes solo? How is it that Lestat, we're told, has become “bigger than Elvis”?

And another thing: If vampires don't reflect off mirrors and cameras use mirrors to capture images, how does a picture of Lestat turn up on the cover of Rolling Stone?

And about this Queen.

w If Akasha is the mother of all vampires, why would a group of vampires try to kill her? I can understand why they wouldn't like her. An evil eye from her turns any vamp into a dust bunny. But haven't these vampires ever seen a vampire movie? Apparently Akasha has, and she's been entombed for 6,000 years. She reminds her assassins that if they kill her, they kill themselves. They try to kill her anyway.

w If Akasha is the mother of all vampires, what then, are the ramifications of Lestat taking a hot tub full of rose petals with his mother?

w Why does Akasha wake up in the first place? Apparently it's because the world is ready for mediocre hardcore metal; according to the press notes, “Lestat's music is the revelation she has been waiting for.” If so, then why Lestat and not, say, Hootie and the Blowfish? How hip is she? She's been out of it for 6,000 years.

w If Akasha is Vampire Zero, so to speak, how did that happen? If the book explains this, the movie doesn't attempt an answer, and without a subplot like that, Queen is just another lousy vampire movie. In fact, there's little Queen here.

Aaliyah is only in about three or four scenes; she doesn't make her first appearance until an hour into the film, and when she does, the movie briefly lights up. Akasha creeps into a night club and shows the undead who's boss. Aaliyah gives the character the kind of undulating slither that makes a good vampire movie work.

But this isn't a good vampire movie. Aaliyah has few lines and she's surrounded by cheap special effects and an oppressively loud soundtrack. And she's still the only thing that stands out. Then it just goes back to bloodsucking.



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