Tales about vampires always reflect the culture around them. Bram Stoker’s Dracula wouldn’t be welcome in Anne Rice’s landscape of the undead any more than her Lestat would be in his. Rice’s Vampire Chronicles lay out a far different underworld than the one Dracula roamed. The lore is altered. The personalities tweaked to fit the fascinations of the era.
Queen of the Damned doesn’t pick up the story immediately after 1994’s Interview with a Vampire, but it does come after it. The vampire Lestat wakes from a century-long slumber to find the world much changed. Gas lamps have given way to neon signs. Horse-drawn carriages to sports cars. Concertos to rock ‘n’ roll. Lestat is pleased with what he sees. So, daring to break an age-old vampire tradition of shadowy discretion, Lestat decides to reveal himself for who he is to the mortals around him. And he vows to become their god. The best way to do it, he concludes, is to become a rock star. "New gods were born and worshiped," Lestat narrates. "Night and day, they were never alone. I would become one of them." But in his quest for fame and fortune, he is aware that even being a god won’t make him happy. He’s lonely. Lost. And without hope. "In the end we are alone," he laments, "and there is nothing but the cold, dark wasteland of eternity."
His music wakens Akasha, the Queen of the Damned, mother of all the undead. Millennia ago, she dominated the world with an iron fist and a thirst for blood. Openly she ruled, feasting on humans as a lion would on sheep. Gradually, she grew disinterested and slept. Lestat’s openness and lust for supremacy rouses her to reclaim her throne, and make Lestat her companion and king. But the covens of vampires scattered around the world aren’t about to let Lestat and Akasha expose them to their human prey. A showdown is inevitable. The vampires. Lestat. Akasha. The world hangs in the balance, at the fulcrum of evil.
positive elements: Whatever is "positive" here is irrevocably woven into what is "negative." Issues of redemption, eternity, lust, power, futility and death are all addressed. But you have to do quite a bit of digging to come up with any nugget that even vaguely resembles undiluted truth. One of the clearest sentiments is that the love of family is much more desirable than power. Some of the other themes will be addressed in more detail in the conclusion.
spiritual content: The world of vampires is inherently a spiritual one, in which human souls are trapped in "undead" bodies, forever rejected by both heaven and hell. Akasha remarks that this world to which she woke doesn’t believe in anything. "We will give the world something to believe in, again," she promises Lestat. She’s right on the money. Evil will always fill the vacuum of unbelief.
nudity and sexual content: Akasha rises from her sleep clad in what appears to be an ancient Egyptian costume which leaves most of her upper torso bare (the fronts of her breasts are covered). She’s not the only scantily-clad woman. Many of Lestat’s "groupies" and fans wear revealing clothing, from fishnet blouses to low cut dresses. Additionally, a painting shows a woman’s breasts. Attempting to entice Lestat into sucking her blood and making her a vampire, a woman takes a pin and scratches her skin right above her breast, drawing blood.
Much more significant, however, is that the drinking of blood in Anne Rice’s stories is the vampiric equivalent of human sex. Facial expressions. Moans. Even body movements exude sexual tension as Lestat and the others of his kind drink the blood of both humans and fellow vampires. A scene in which Lestat and Akasha share each other’s blood takes place in a large marble bath. The surface is covered with rose petals which obscure the pair’s nakedness and the growing darkness of the bloodied water. A groupie tries to undo Lestat’s pants so that they can have sex, but he stops her. Then he kills her.
violent content: Many scenes are included of humans dying at the hands of vampires. Lestat sucks the life out of some. He merely snuffs the life out of others for convenience's sake (one scene lingers as he snaps a young woman’s neck with his hands). Blood drips from his mouth (and other vampires’) after drinking. Gushing wounds left behind are shown repeatedly and close-up. To create a new vampire, a human’s blood must be sucked, then the vampire must let the human also drink. To do this the vampire slits his wrist and dribbles the blood into the recipient’s mouth. A gruesome scene to be sure, and one that isn’t just shown once. Necks. Wrists. Elbows. Chests. All are shown being slashed, bitten and drunk from.
In a battle with other vampires, Lestat uses a knife to decapitate a foe. The cut is so clean that the head stays in place until Lestat pushes the body to the floor. He impales another vampire with a microphone stand. And bludgeons others with his fists and feet. Akasha destroys vampires with even greater ease, using the power of her mind to—one by one—set them on fire. Their bodies writhe in the flames, then explode and dissipate into the air. In one grisly scene, Akasha plunges her hand into a vampire’s chest (offscreen) and rips out his heart. She then puts it to her lips (onscreen) and begins to eat it.
crude or profane language: The f-word is used at least once in a song and is also seen spelled out on a guitar. Beyond that, only four or five other profanities arise, a few of which are misuses of God’s name.
drug and alcohol content: Two groupies discuss a rumor they heard about Lestat supplying "his women" with weed. One of those girls offers what looks like a joint to Lestat (he ignores her). A London pub serves as the backdrop for several scenes.
other negative elements: Much of the movie’s music is composed and sung by Korn’s Jonathan Davis. The songs fixate on blood, death and power.
conclusion: Lestat is consumed with the contradictions that rule his life. He’s an immortal, yet he despises the pedestrian passage of time. He’s nearly omnipotent in a human world, yet he loathes his own dark desires for power and destruction. He desperately yearns for companionship and love, but knows he’s incapable of such comradeship or emotion. He wants to die. He wants to live. He wants to rule. He wants to beg. He wants. He wants. He wants. The immensity of his own desire ultimately leads him to despair. That’s when Akasha offers him what looks like a glimmer of light. Literally. He has always longed to become human again so that he can see the sun. So that he can revel in its warmth. Akasha’s power allows him to do so. He’s not human, but he can see the light. And the light is intoxicating.
Putting Lestat’s journey on a spiritual plane offers, among other things, this poignant insight; an illusion of light never equals the peace and security of the Source of true light. Akasha, like the devil, offers what appears to be the answer to life. It is offered in different forms to each of us, but it is always offered. Embrace it at your own peril, though. For its end is death. Lestat comes to realize that, as each of us must.
Naturally, it is fascinating to me, as a media critic, that Lestat, the personification of evil on earth, finds modern rock music a comfortable environment. He sees the power of the medium, and exploits it effectively. He also sees how far the tendrils of evil have tangled themselves into the mainstream of our culture. Upon arriving in Los Angeles, he comments that "the City of Angels has already fed on the blood of youth. My presence here barely caused a ripple." A remarkable observation. One that should scare the dickens out of anyone who cares even a whit about our culture’s moral condition. The very idea that such a supreme form of evil would find itself lost in the shuffle of humanity’s homegrown debauchery is sobering at best.
Regrettably, just because Queen of the Damned proffers insights into our humanity and our spirituality (most of it obsessed with our fallen natures) doesn’t make it healthy entertainment. Not even close. Lestat's struggles may mirror our own, but he is evil. And his evilness is ultimately glamorized. His brooding darkness is attractive. And it is deceptive. Beyond that, graphic visual images of blood, gore and death are what will leave the theater with you, not an indirect examination of philosophic nuance.