Most horror movies are all flash, action, and plenty of screaming. The Queen of the Damned is no exception to the rule, despite attempts to become something more, but it still manages to deliver a fair bit of vampire fun.
The Queen of the Damned stars Stuart Townsend as the vampire Lestat, a character first made popular in film by Tom Cruise in the engaging Interview With the Vampire. This time around, Lestat has risen from his slumber again, intent on making his mark. Tired of hiding in shadows, he starts a career as a rock star, much to the ire of his maker Marius (Vincent Perez). But the anger of the world's vampire covens is the least of his problems when his music awakens the mother of all Vampires, the all-powerful Queen Akasha (Aaliyah).
While it is true that both Interview With the Vampire and Queen of the Damned are based on Anne Rice's series of popular novels, they really share little else in common. Interview is a thoughtful and intelligent film, punctuated with terror and violence. Queen of the Damned is only a step above your typical horror flick. Its characters are frequently one-dimensional, lacking the sense of power and charisma that Rice's vampires so richly deserve.
Townsend however, is quite capable in his role as the engaging Lestat. He is wholly unable to match the electricity and life that Cruise originally brought to the character, but he does a great job of pumping out a "produced on a budget" second best. Townsend oozes disturbing sexuality, his lines delivered with the lust of Shakespeare and the darkness of Poe. His nipples too perform wonderfully, under the most difficult of circumstances. Normally, the performance of a man's chest is not worth comment, but Townsend goes through so much trouble to continually display them, it's almost impossible not to notice.
Marius too, played by Vincent Perez, really brings life to the screen, though with an admittedly limited performance. Though his motives are frequently puzzling and poorly explained, Marius is instantly likable, perhaps even more so than Lestat. The movie might have been better served had he been used as some sort of wickedly intentioned protagonist, yet Marius himself is well defined.
The film aims for rich styling and dark hearted violence. At times, Queen of the Damned reaches out for something deeper in the heart of Lestat and almost catapults itself to a higher status, but it inevitably gets lost in the gore of the Hollywood vampire world. Sadly, this is most obvious in the case of the film's weakest link, the Queen of the Damned herself. Forget for a moment that the character is little more than an afterthought in a film that could have and should have been about Lestat's redemption. Instead consider the work of Aaliyah herself. She was undoubtedly a talented and beautiful artist, with a lot to give the world. Few have had anything to say about her that wasn't filled with lavish praise. Yet, the truth is: She's not exactly an actress. It may not feel good to say it, but Akasha is just a prop, sent in to set things on fire and give the vampires something to do. Aaliyah adds no substance to her character with her performance, though clearly her heart was in it.
Visually, Damned is solid, if not particularly inspiring. The vampires tend to move in a slightly annoying manner, but clearly when it came to effects, budget crunching was in play. Several of the fight scenes are well done and enjoyable, and while there is little to point out as a specific fault, I doubt this Anne Rice outing will exactly wow audiences with mind blowing effects.
Anne Rice obsessives will probably eat up the DVD, with tons of extra footage (how many scenes did they delete anyway?), commentary track, and the obvious documentaries. The good news is that the even more obvious "Aaliyah remembered" short is no more offensive than the utterly bizarre gag reel.
Damned if ya do...