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'Queen of the Damned'

The latest in the Anne Rice vampire series is a bloody mess

Friday, February 22, 2002

By Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

How do you know you're at a concert where the lead singer is a vampire?

    a. Some fans wave pitchforks.

    b. Others clutch plastic skulls.

    c. The frontman descends to the stage from above, without benefit of wires or harnesses.

    d. When one of the angry vampires in the crowd -- they're the ones who aren't rocking out or wearing band T-shirts -- flies onto the stage, he gets speared with a microphone stand, and all hell breaks loose. Before you know it, the mother of all vampires arrives and starts turning other immortals into great balls of fire.

    In "Queen of the Damned," the correct answer is all of the above.

'Queen Of The Damned'

RATING: R for vampire violence, sexual scenes.

STARRING: Stuart Townsend, Aaliyah, Marguerite Moreau

DIRECTOR: Michael Rymer

WEB SITE: queenofthedamned.



Although it has widely been called the "Aaliyah movie," the 22-year-old singer who died in an August plane crash is more supporting player than star. And she's buried under so much eye makeup and faux golden accessories -- headdress, necklace, cuff bracelets and a metallic breast plate that must have been glued to her skin -- that her body and not her acting skills are on display, as in "Romeo Must Die."

She is briefly seen about a half-hour into the movie, and then it's another 20 minutes before she walks into a London club that's home to the undead and extracts the heart from a vampire, bites into it and crushes it. With blood dribbling down her chin, she turns into an inhuman torch before walking out of the place and the movie for a spell. Once she arrives at the concert, she's there to stay.

The star of "Queen of the Damned," based on Anne Rice's vampire writings, is Stuart Townsend as Lestat (the role played by Tom Cruise in "Interview with the Vampire"). Bored with being entombed in New Orleans, he rises from his crypt, acknowledges he's a vampire, joins a band and becomes a worldwide rock sensation -- even snaring the cover of the Rolling Stone and attracting girl groupies who get more than they bargained for.

He invites other vampires to join him in the limelight, teasing them at a press conference: "Come out, come out, wherever you are."

As Lestat awaits his one and only concert (in Death Valley, of course), he attracts the attention of a mortal named Jesse (Marguerite Moreau) who studies ancient philosophy and paranormal activity. Also in the wings are a vampire named Akasha (Aaliyah) who was once queen of Egypt, and Marius (Vincent Perez), Lestat's mentor and the vampire who turned him to the dark side.

The idea of vampire as rock star is quite inspired. Compared with the metal fans with their pale skins, tattoos, piercings and black clothing, vampires don't look quite so out of place. Well, except for that whole teeth thing.

But "Queen of the Damned" desperately could use a stronger sense of humor, and it tries to cram so much background into the story that it resorts to narration -- when that doesn't conflict with pounding music. It starts off on a promising note and descends into a murderous morass.

Townsend is, by turns, seductive, insatiable, remorseful and tender, while Aaliyah is pretty much reduced to wicked window dressing, with an enhanced voice that sounds like it was recorded in an echo chamber. Perez lends a touch of international class, while Lena Olin as another ancient vampire doesn't get much screen time.

I've not read Anne Rice's books, so I can't give a blow-by-bite description of how this differs. But I've seen my share of vampire movies and I prefer them without the sounds of the lead singer of Korn, Marilyn Manson, Static-X and all manner of industrial and nu metal music.

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