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Read past reviews by the Film Gang

Queen of the Damned
Reviewed by Carla Freccero

Playing at the Aptos Cinemas, Santa Cruz Cinema 9, the Skyview Drive-In, and the Fox Theater, Queen of the Damned is directed by Michael Rymer and is a Scott Abbott screenplay adaptation of Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles.  It stars Stuart Townsend as the vampire Lestat, Jesse Reeves as the intrepid and innocent sleuth Marguerite Moreau, the fabulous Vincent Perez as Marius, and the late Aaliyah as Queen Akasha, the vampire who gives the movie its name.

I didn’t know the rock star Aaliyah except through the news of her death, so I don’t really know whether she was a credible actor or not.  This movie—which is dedicated to her memory—sure isn’t a tribute to her acting career, although as a friend pointed out, she does a great job of moving around like someone who’s been petrified for hundreds of years (more about this in a minute).  Nor is the film a tribute to Anne Rice who, rumor has it, was already plenty upset by that other rendition of her work, Interview with the Vampire, starring Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt.

Lestat, bored with immortality and lonely, has gone to sleep in a New Orleans cemetery, when the sound of an industrial garage band re-awakens his desire to live.  In these postmodern gothic times, it’s ok, if not cool, to be a vampire.  So Lestat joins the band and becomes a rock star.  The music in the movie—though not to my taste—is a really great sample of the industrial metal goth genre.  Lestat also comes out publicly as a vampire, urging all the other immortals to do the same. He finds his “father,” Marius, the old world vampire who brought him out, and also discovers the secret crypt where Egyptian stone statues of the mother and father of them all reside.  But these are no ordinary statues, and—in one of the best special effects scenes of the movie—Lestat swoons in ecstasy as he feeds on the pure blood of his ancestral mother, the queen of the damned, Aaliyah/Akasha herself.

Now one of the reasons vampires are so cultishly popular is that they are powerful signifiers of cultural politics around reproduction and kinship, especially in the areas of sexuality and race.  For example, they often figure queerness, with their non-normative reproductive sexuality (the direct exchange of blood) and their alternative kinship networks (they are families of choice).  They are sexually ambiguous, since boys exchange bodily fluid with other boys and girls with girls, as well as boys with girls and vice versa.  In this movie it’s all about incest too (father/son, mother/son)—and why is it, by the way, that so many movies these days are about incest?  This movie also exploits the queer metaphor:  “Come out, come out, wherever you are,” croons Lestat.  But the metaphor goes exactly nowhere, and by the movie’s conclusion, heteronormative vampire coupledom is restored, as Lestat and Marguerite walk off into the post-sunset.

The racial metaphor is more disturbing.  On the one hand, Egypt is returned to its revisionist Black African roots (the encrypted statues), and the mother of us all--all of us who are vampires, that is --turns out to be black. (Remember Time Magazine’s Black Eve issue?) So that seems like a multicultural step forward.  But Aaliyah, whose dark skin contrasts even more sharply with the gothic pallor of  every other character in the film, turns out to be, well, a bloodsucking vampire, the insatiable, decadent, bloodthirsty, immoral and ferocious devouring maternal figure who also has the gall to miscegenate with her white son.  And, true to racist readings of the Bible, hers is the race of the damned.  All of this sets the stage for the obscene denouement, where the mob of supposedly good “white” vampires are totally justified in ripping the queen to shreds in a scene of gang violence ironically rivaling the worst of Akasha’s own bloodsucking barbarity.  I guess the movie knows more about white supremacy than it would seem.  Looking for trouble at the movies, for KUSP and the film gang, this is Carla Freccero. 

Copyright Carla Freccero 2002