“Queen of the Damned” tells you what it’s like to be a vampire. Actually, it gives you a sense of what it’s like to sleep 200 years in a crypt.
Despite blood-slurping, a Goth rock score and even the chilling resurrection of Aaliyah as the title character, this third installment of Anne Rice’s “Vampire Chronicles” seems curiously torpid. After the singer’s death last August, Warner Bros. had denied rumors that “Queen” would go straight to video. Except for the special effects (not impressive, but you could tell a computer with a lot of memory was used), the pallid story line and predictable emotional pulse have that two-day rental feel.
Expect no references or sense of continuity with the 1994 “Interview With the Vampire.” Lestat (Stuart Townsend) has been slumbering bored and lonely in his crypt since the 18th century, until the music of a Goth rock band awakens him to the possibilities of joining the human race again. “I am the Vampire Lestat,” he announces, and everyone plays along with what seems to be a gimmick (despite his ability to fly on-stage without wires). Instead of skulking in the shadows, he becomes a postmodern god among men, or at least among Goth groupies, much to the ire of his secretive brethren. (Imagine what this film would have been like if he were awakened by new country, disco or heavy metal – vampires with mullets.)
Speaking of groupies, a woman named Jessie who works with the Center for Paranormal Studies in London becomes fascinated with Lestat. She reads his 18th-century journal, an awkward device used for a film flashback to Lestat narrating his conversion from man to immortal thanks to Marius (Vincent Perez). The flashback also makes the first reference to the ancient Egyptian queen Akasha (Aaliyah), entombed in a marble crypt and almost awakened by Lestat’s passionate fiddling.
Jessie’s obsession leads her to a local vampire bar, where she foolishly gets into trouble. However, she manages to meet up with Lestat and purports to understand the sneering nightstalker. Jessie recognizes his outing of vampiric codes of behavior — which has earned the deadly ire of his infuriated coven — as an act born of arrogance, desolation and a death wish.
In the meantime, his music has fully awakened the queen and Mother of all Vampires. She and her former king had nearly sucked Egypt dry, and she can rip out hearts and turn vampires to burnt toast in seconds. More than Lestat’s needy adolescent ego, Akasha strikes fear into the hearts of the older vampires such as Marius, as her insatiable thirst will ultimately destroy everyone.
If someone had a chance to ask Aaliyah “Is this really the last movie you ever want to make?” she might have been satisfied to hold with the Jet Li action film “Romeo Must Die.” Much of her brief screen time (she doesn’t show up until almost halfway through the film) is divided between walking sinuously in skimpy Egyptian gear and sinking her teeth into body parts and pulsating organs. When she starts toasting vampires, the soundtrack eerily screams, “Why won’t you die?” The creepiness factor multiplies when you realize that she’s not always speaking with her own voice: In some outdoor scenes, it’s a composite of Aaliyah and brother Rashad Houghton, who stepped in to dub some lines.
“Queen” had a lot of possibilities: maybe Lestat growing to embrace 21st-century liberality instead of slyly using it (vampires love double-entendres), looking at how far a Goth rock culture will go, or the irony of a vampire using a counterculture to enter the mainstream.
Instead, we’re treated to all this angst about living forever but not really living, and how rabid adoration doesn’t quite cut it. It’s not delivered with a lot of suspense or passion, and certainly not worth burning an after-image of a sharp-toothed Aaliyah licking fake blood from her lips.
Events editor Vera H-C Chan can be reached at vchan@
cctimes.com and 925-977-8428.