Why Anne Rice’s Vampirical World Is the Next New Hollywood Trend

Megan Walsh

 

Anne Rice's popular vampire series, known collectively as The Vampire Chronicles, was recently acquired by Universal Pictures with the intention of relaunching the series as a new film franchise. Following on the heels of that announcement was the news that Televisia USA acquired another of Rice's series, the (questionably) erotic Sleeping Beauty trilogy, with plans to bring it to television. In many ways, this sudden return of Anne Rice to current pop culture comes as no surprise considering the last few years have brought new success to her contemporaries, and television in particular appears to be mining book series of the 70s-90s to great acclaim. Rice may soon be experiencing the swelling of new popularity that George R. R. Martin and Diana Gabaldon are currently enjoying, so it seems another look at her works is not unwarranted.

 

While the vampire trend is dwindling (sure to rise again in another 10 to 15 years, as vampires are wont to do), another is moving briskly along: that of darkly romantic high fantasy. By now, we are all familiar with the trademarks of the genre: epic stories with huge casts, gorgeous sets and even more gorgeous costumes, and always situated in an era far removed from our own. Game of Thrones' massive pop culture impact can testify to that, and the recent positive outpouring in the wake of Starz' Outlander adds more evidence to the pile.

 

Rice published the first of her vampire novels, Interview with the Vampire, in 1976, following that up with a string of sequels throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s (the latest in the series is set to come out this year). Game of Thrones, the first book in George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series, was published in 1996; Outlander in 1991. These books may fight comparison at first glance – one series about a woman who travels through time, another about emotionally high-strung vampires, and the third delving into medieval political machinations. But there are themes and styles that overlap, such as the florid prose, the explicit sexuality, and an omnipresent violence. These stories are told using commonly romantic elements and tropes to reveal new, darker depths to the genre – Dorian Gray in the attic, so to speak, the disfigurement beneath the charming façade.

 

Why do these dark stories still pull us in years later, and hold our collective attention for so long? They're books you can't put down, books that give rise to fanatical fannishness that lasts decades. Their fans are dedicated, intense, and they crave each new endeavor; new fans are quickly and easily pulled in by the new mediums. Why is it we can't let these stories go? And why are the works of Anne Rice, specifically, worth another look?

 

Whatever one's personal feelings about her work, Rice has undeniably laid a large part of the foundation of the modern vampire myth. Drawing on the Draculas and Carmillas and Lord Ruthvens of vampire mythology, she created a cabal of sexy-yet-monstrous gentlemen – vampires with style who wept when they killed, yet nevertheless felt the compulsion to do so again and again. Those romantic rogues took the vampire from villain to antihero and provided a link in the evolutionary chain that eventually led us to the likes of Angel, Eric Northman, and Edward Cullen.

 


 

Television certainly seems to crave the kind of moral ambiguity and outright unconscionable actions that Rice's novels explore. There are all the usual things that come along with that: murder, mutilation, mental instability, sexual violence, even incest. Television has made great leaps and bounds in the thoughtful exploration of those themes; big blockbuster franchises, however, have not quite caught up. Therefore the idea of a film franchise could be worrying to longtime fans: what if the integral aspects of the novels are lost from page to screen?

 

There have been two adaptations of Rice's Chronicles already: Interview with the Vampire in 1994, a general success and cult classic, and 2002's Queen of the Damned, a complete flop. The former found ways to walk the fine line of her dark themes while maintaining a maturity of storytelling and a lot of visual interest. The latter had an okay soundtrack (and Aaliyah) but didn't honor that aristocratic bisexual brutality that is a series trademark.

 

Sexuality is as huge a part of The Vampire Chronicles as anything else. While the vampires of the story do not engage in any actual sex (and are not physically capable of it), there is a sensuality that pervades the narrative. Her characters essentially explode the Kinsey scale. Most of the main characters express attraction to both men and women, with a vast majority of bigger relationships existing between two men. This was present in the 1994 adaptation in a subtle, restrained way that hinted at attraction without outrightly stating it, which is in tone with the first novel in many ways. However, the books only get gayer as they go on, and it's hard to imagine a series of Hollywood movies setting out to make money while still embracing a non-heteronormative story. This post-Tumblr generation craves representation and diversity (which, it needs to be said, Rice is sorely, sorely lacking in the racial sense), but our media is answering that call with glacial slowness.

 


 

It is easy to see why the novels do lend themselves to visual media, however. There is a built-in fan base to take advantage of, decades of dedication to be mined. There are exciting, morally gray, very wealthy characters – the kind of characters people seem to love watching, delighting in the exemption from rules their status seems to allow. It would be a male-dominated cast, always a Hollywood favorite, with a few token women to round things out. The action can be dialed up, heterosexual romances inserted. You can practically see the blood-dripping fighting montages, melodramatic antihero Lestat looking brooding and superior as he makes his way from century to century.

 

It's difficult not to expect such things from an adaptation of a series as bizarre, philosophical, and sexually ambivalent as Anne Rice's. The existing film works are split fifty-fifty when it comes to quality, after all. But it would be much nicer to hope for something that not only honors the source it sprang from, but builds upon it to create something new and equally exciting.  There is something in Anne Rice's stories that has drawn us in for years. Perhaps they're things we'd rather not address in the light of day, feeling freer when dark proclivities can be ascribed to literal nighttime terrors. Perhaps it is the overwhelming passion of the stories and characters; perhaps it is their constant yearning to be good in the face of all their intrinsic evil. It is a tale as timeless as the characters in it, at the end of the day; we can only wait and see what turn it takes. 

 

Author Bio:

Megan Walsh is a contributing writer at Highbrow Magazine.

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