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Queen of the Damned (2002)

Directed by Michael Rymer

Queen of the Damned -- rose petal bath

"Queen of the Damned" is a limp and fey 100 minute perfume commercial -- "Vampire's Obsession: Ew, The Smell of It!" Anne Rice's whiney vampires live on in this combination platter of two of her follow up books to "Interview with the Vampire." For some reason, "The Vampire Lestat" and "Queen of the Damned" were mashed together to create one very thin plot. Interestingly, the DVD contains deleted scenes with the filmmakers' comments on the reasons for deletion. They usually say something lame like, "We loved every frame of Aaliyah's dance but needed to cut it for the sake of pacing." Hmm... mission accomplished, I guess. Damned doesn't pause a moment to smell the garlic. It just drives relentlessly forward with a dozen hastily introduced characters to the climax. Is that good pacing? Pacing doesn't mean rush through the plot, it means that there should be peaks and valleys. There should be a balance between character development (the slow stuff) and action (the fast stuff). "Damned" dispenses with all that character stuff and instead jumps from place to place, person to person, unsuccessfully looking for a dramatic core. It's a quick trip that you realize is going nowhere fast.

Queen of the Damned -- Jesse

To further unfocus the storyline, "Damned" doesn't commit to a main character. Sometimes it seems that it's the vampire Lestat that is at the center, at other times it is a vampire obsessed woman, Jesse (Marguerite Moreau), who works for some sort of vampire monitoring group. Jesse is obsessed with vampires because she is haunted by dreams of her aunt (Lena Olin) who raised Jesse after her parents' deaths. Lena was a vampire who raised and protected a human child, sort of like Jesse's vampire fairy godmother. The adult Jesse is enamored with Lestat who has reemerged, after a long siesta in a crypt, and is now a super-star front man of a lousy Smashing Pumpkin-ish band. Jesse reads Lestat's diary (kept at the vampire intelligence agency) and we go into an extended flashback of Lestat's creation (at the fangs of Marius) and his growing awareness of the sadness of being an immortal (*YAWN*). At this point Lestat discovers the Queen of the Damned (Aaliyah) who is taking her own little timeout by posing as a marble statue in the dank basement of an ancient castle.

Queen of the Damned -- Aaliyah

Later, or should I say today, Lestat's stinky music awakens Her Badness. Like most hot chicks, she is touched by music in ways and places that no one else could possibly understand or so she thinks. Once awake, all hell threatens to break loose. Aaliyah isn't just another vampire, she's the original vampire. She's a vampire god. Aaliyah is inspired by Lestat's sucky music to reawaken and bring about a new world order (unfortunately, not by raising Curtis Mayfield from the dead which might have been a cooler movie). She and Lestat will shun the dark and feed freely on humanity and their lesser vampire cousins all the live long day. The only thing in her way is "a coven of the ancients," vampires that measure their lives in thousands of years. Lena Olin is one of the ancients and so is Bruce Spence (If you are asking "Bruce who," then this isn't going to be much of a revelation. Old Bruce was the Gyro Captain in "The Road Warrior"). Bruce is an odd looking duck and this movie could have used more actors like him to amp up its credentials as a horror flick. Where was Ron Pearlman? You can just go ahead and put together the rest of the storyline from here on in.

"Queen of the Damned" will be pleasing to anyone who likes their horrors lite. Horror films are all about creepy mood, atmosphere, and dread of mortality and decay. They don't cut down on creepy moments for the sake of "pacing." Actually, cutting down on those moments kills the pacing. Horror films wallow in the slower moments (also known as suspense!) where the audience is squirming in anticipation of the next encounter with the undead. You'll find "Damned" in the horror section of your local video store, or listed as "horror" in the cable listings, but it's not a horror film. Calvin Klein's "Obsession" commercials or any of Marilyn Manson's music videos are easily more horrific. Damned is really a grade-B action flick with a bloated budget for its Goth-obsessed art department. It belongs to the same family of flicks as the "Blade" movies, John Carpenter's "Vampires," and "Dusk 'til Dawn" -- minus any fun. There is one unintentionally creepy aspect to this encounter with the undead and that is Aaliyah's star turn as the titular "Queen." You are probably already aware that pop singer, Aaliyah, was killed in a plane crash before the release of the movie. It's difficult to watch the tragic, young actress without being a little creeped-out. For some of us, life is brief, keep that in mind before spending your valuable time watching this flick. -- Rating: $3.52

Tom Graney -- copyright Hollywood Outsider 2002

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