Artistic bloodletting in ‘Interview with the Vampire’ | Mint – Mint

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Recreating classic paintings is a visual device that keeps filmgoers on their toes. When used well, it can add colour and vibrancy to the film’s visual-emotional palette. An oft-cited frame from Michael Mann’s Heat (1995) gained fame because it was based on Alex Colville’s 1967 painting Pacific. Several shots in the Lars von Trier film Melancholia (2011) recreated works by artists like Pieter Bruegel the Elder and Sir John Everett Millais. Rolin Jones’ series Interview with the Vampire, based on Anne Rice’s eponymous 1976 Gothic horror novel, takes the engagement with classic art to a new level, with several shots from the series resembling baroque paintings.

With the show’s ongoing second season (Amazon Prime), art also permeates every frame in more direct ways. The Kiss of Judas (1908) by Dutch-Flemish artist Jakob Smit hangs in the background in episode one, as one of the series leads, Louis de Pointe du Lac (Jacob Anderson), fills the foreground. In a flashback scene set in post-World War II Paris, we see a painting by Louis Icart, noted for his depictions of Parisian life in the 1920s. The show’s other lead, Lestat, even wears a dressing gown inspired by the American commercial artist J.C. Leyendecker.

Interview with the Vampire will wrap up its second season on 30 June, while another Anne Rice adaptation, 2023’s Mayfair Witches (based on her Lives of the Mayfair Witches trilogy of novels), is now available to Indian viewers on Amazon Prime. Both shows are a part of AMC’s declared “Immortal Universe”, based on the works of Anne Rice. A New Orleans native like many of her characters, Rice specialised in Gothic and horror fiction. She wrote over 30 novels during her lifetime, over a dozen of which featured her character Lestat the vampire. Rice sold over 100 million books worldwide, making her one of the most successful authors of the 21st century.

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Born to an Irish Catholic family, Rice had a complicated relationship with organised religion. Her Christian values are apparent in her books but these values are seldom presented in an uncritical or unchallenging manner. Later in life, in the mid-2000s, she wrote a series of Bible novels before distancing herself from the Church in 2010. Rice began writing Interview With The Vampire in the 1970s shortly after losing a child to a prolonged illness. This grief, coupled with her fondness for Gothic themes and the works of novelists like the Bronte sisters, Charles Dickens and Henry James, led to the story of Louis and Lestat, melancholy centuries-old vampires grown weary of immortality and the inevitable spectre of watching loved ones age and die. It’s a deeply, almost luxuriantly sad book about loss and guilt, wrapped up in the lurid templates of genre fiction. During a 1985 review of the novel The Vampire Lestat, The New York Times critic Michiko Kakutani wrote about Rice’s “Gothic imagination crossed with a campy taste for the bizarre and the decadent”.

This also means that her books are an acquired taste. The Lestat books are all from the point-of-view of the vampires, not their victims. By doing this, Rice was subverting one of the oldest rules of vampire fiction. Usually, we are shown the monstrosity of the vampire from the victim’s viewpoint, thereby cementing the creature’s status as something not-quite-human. Rice made it clear that her sympathies lay with the vampire, with the tragedy of being not just immortal, but “undead”. The monstrosity is therefore seen from the inside—a human being losing its soul in real time and assuming a different creature-hood. These ideas are central to the appeal of Lestat and Louis, whose decadence is matched only by the pathos that defines their lives, lurking just underneath the surface.

Lives of the Mayfair Witches is also a horror/fantasy series steeped in Christian themes, but this time the dominant emotion is not guilt but foreboding. In these three books, published between 1990-94, California neurosurgeon Rowan Mayfair (Alexandra Daddario in the series) discovers that she is the heiress to a family of powerful witches, all of whom have been haunted by a malevolent, powerful shape-shifting entity known as Lasher. There are all your classic witch-lore plot devices, like haunted houses, necrophilia and an alarming number of incest scenes (Lasher has been nudge-winking the Mayfairs into incest for generations now). The show is definitely the weaker of the two Rice adaptations currently on air, but it has its moments, not least a wickedly enjoyable performance by Jack Huston as Lasher.

The success of the Interview with the Vampire series, both with fans and critics, is in sharp contrast to the 1994 Neil Jordan film adaptation, starring Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt as Lestat and Louis, respectively. Today, the film is remembered mostly as a star-studded misstep. The series on the other hand has inspired a legion of fan-made art and fan-fiction. Which is ironic because Rice once asked FanFiction.net to remove fan-made stories about Lestat, eventually relenting to their existence as long as readers kept those stories away from her. Rice passed away shortly before the “Immortal Universe” was formally announced, but there’s plenty left in the canon for at least a dozen more seasons of TV. Few writers inspire the kind of devoted following Rice enjoyed, and TV executives have finally woken up to this fact.

Aditya Mani Jha is a writer based in Delhi.

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