- The Washington Times - Monday, February 25, 2002

"Queen of the Damned" is another Godforsaken installment in Anne Rice's "Vampire Chronicles."
Contributing to the elaboration and propagation of this depraved literary source qualifies as Satan's hack work and should earn priority consideration for eternal damnation, but notwithstanding the long-term downside, Australian director Michael Rymer demonstrates some mercenary skill.
He responds with opportunistic gusto to a disreputable sort of challenge and splatters the screen with unsavory spectacle of one kind or another, from simulations of vampire entrapments in murky castles to a sprawling, teeming rock concert supposedly staged in Death Valley to slumming excursions in predatory sex bars to abstract imagery that filches from post-World War I German expressionism ("The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari" in particular) and the runny-colored, pseudo-hallucinatory film loops of the late 1960s.
Mr. Rymer's gaudy blowout no doubt profits from the experience of an accomplished cinematographer, Ian Baker, who shot all the notable Fred Schepisi features, starting with "The Devil's Playground" and "The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith," and an accomplished production designer, Graham Walker, who got his start with the "Mad Max" thrillers.
The young leads qualify as objects of pity rather than titillating fear and loathing. Stuart Townsend, the choice as Miss Rice's pet vampire Lestat, was replaced by Viggo Mortensen in the Aragorn role in "The Lord of the Rings."
"Queen" imagines Lestat rising from his crypt in New Orleans to become a rock star and ill-advised object of lustful resurrection to a long-gone Egyptian despot called Akasha, supposedly the Mother of All Vampires and impersonated, in four weirdly haunted scenes, by the late pop vocalist Aaliyah, who died in a plane accident last year at age 22.
The late newcomer sashays into movie history in a harem costume that suggests she (or her brain trust) intends to remake all the movies of Maria Montez, starting with "Cobra Woman."
Aaliyah gets to prowl a vampire sex bar and cover her tongue and teeth with fake blood, never a flattering pose, even for those who can boast an exquisite figure. She goes inexplicably ga-ga for Mr. Townsend, pretends to incinerate several rivals and then goes up in digital ashes when assaulted by vampires who contrive to trump her ferocious powers, for reasons that remain strictly arbitrary.
If morbidly adoring fans can sustain a cult around this 15 minutes of provocation, go figure while they go crazy.
Despite the title and the billing, Akasha is in the nature of a guest menace, so Aaliyah is not the leading lady. That misfortune belongs to the more wistful and vulnerable Marguerite Moreau as a corruptible ingenue called Jesse, supposedly shielded from "the life" by vampire aunt Lena Olin but inescapably drawn to it by the knowing sneer of Lestat.
One of the problems with today's vampire fiction is that it has grown so explicitly pornographic that there's no longer any margin for ominous doubt or suggestion when the heroines are being targeted.
Despite her sex, Miss Rice seems as keen as a hardened libertine to see Jesse violated as long as Lestat gets the privilege, anyway. She credits her bloodthirsty hero with more will power than poor Jesse, who keeps teasing him into ravishing her.

*1/2
TITLE: "Queen of the Damned"
RATING: R (Systematic horror elements with the emphasis on graphic, bloodthirsty vampire attacks; occasional profanity and frequent intimations of sexual depravity)
CREDITS: Directed by Michael Rymer.
RUNNING TIME: 97 minutes


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