Rated R - Running Time: 1:41 - Released 2/22/02

The death of singer/actress Aaliyah in a plane crash shortly after completing filming on Michael Rymer's mediocre vampire movie Queen Of The Damned (in which she played the title role) did not stop the film from being released; in fact, it may have helped the situation, as Warner Brothers allegedly upgraded the film from a direct-to-video release to cinematic status following the tragedy. How appropriate, since the film is about evil blood-suckers. Also, aside from its producers' apparent capitalization on Aaliyah's death (for the record, Warner denies this allegation), there is also the issue of the script, which was adapted from Anne Rice's popular novel series The Vampire Chronicles, the same source material used for Neil Jordan's 1994 Tom Cruise/Brad Pitt vehicle Interview with the Vampire. According to the Internet Movie Database, Rice offered to adapt the screenplay at no charge, but was turned down in favor of relative newcomers Scott Abbott and Michael Petroni, who apparently altered the original story beyond recognition.

Media hype and unprincipled choices aside, Queen Of The Damned as it turns out is predictably not a very good movie. Following the continuing adventures of French bloodsucker Lestat de Lioncourt (Cruise's previous role, which he turned down for this film), it serves as a cautionary tale for vampires who would seek to"come out of the casket," since it is the fate of all undead to remain cloaked in secrecy lest they become known and have bad movies made about them. In this tale, Lestat (Stuart Townsend), after spending a few hundred years chilling out in his tomb, listening to his Walkman, discovers that the occult is all the rage and decides to re-emerge and join a New Orleans goth rock band. Not only do Lestat and his bandmates become world famous, they also arouse the ire of numerous other vamps, who converge on a huge, Woodstock-style Death Valley concert to attack Lestat and suck him dry. Ah, the life of a rock star.

But Lestat's music, whose lyrics contain hidden messages and various vampire secrets, not only attract the numerous ranks of cloaked, sullen-eyed, garden-variety vampires, but also a mousy orphan librarian named Jesse (Marguerite Moreau), who was raised by vamps and wants to be one; Lestat's old suck-buddy Marius (Vincent Perez), to whom he owes his undead status; and the queen of all vamps herself, legendary Egyptian ruler Akasha (Aaliyah), whose power is awesome enough to destroy all, but whose Egyptian accent leaves a lot to be desired. But Lestat doesn't care about the danger; he wants to end his existence, so he's intentionally stirring up the undead hornet's nest in hopes of being vanquished and ending his eternal torment. I felt the same way sitting in the audience.

This film is all about cool effects and costumes, of which there are many. Shot like a music video, it includes flashing lights, hard music, and lots of sticky sweet blood dripping off the lips of its stars. The oppulent sets are enjoyable, as long as those annoying actors don't get in the way too much. The fact that the queen really is dead lends a macabre, depressingly appropriate quality to the proceedings, but unfortunately it doesn't help her acting any. I daresay that while the film has made the top ten at the box office, Warner Bros. should have followed their original plan. Wait for this movie to come out on video, where you can witness the sucking in the privacy of your own home. **

Copyright 2002 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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