Horror in literature frequently mirrors the tone of modern society. Monsters during the Age of Enlightenment received a spike in popularity due to their portrayal as creatures with human emotions, still a terror to their mortal victims but often haunted by their dark nature. This theme rises and ebbs in fashion over the decades, and reached a new peak in the 1970’s with Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire.
Most illustrations of vampires before this consisted of seductive killers that reveled in their power and evil, and while that archetype does exist in Rice’s universe, main character Louis introduced a vampire with a conscience.
Louis de Pointe du Lac begins his tale in 1791 as a young plantation owner in Louisiana. Distraught and overcome with guilt after the death of his religious brother, he lives a reckless life in which he passively seeks out death until he is seduced by a vampire named Lestat. He is soon turned into a fellow blood drinker and becomes Lestat’s reluctant companion. Louis spends much of his time as an immortal repulsed by what he has become, and appalled by Lestat’s seeming relish in their amoral nature. He begins to think of leaving Lestat, and to combat this, Lestat turns a dying five-year-old girl who Louis had fed on into a vampire “daughter” for them. The ploy works and keeps both Louis and the girl Claudia bound to him for years, until Claudia outgrows Lestat emotionally and resents him for his unwillingness to share any knowledge of vampire lore. Claudia eventually plots to kill Lestat and flees with Louis to Europe to search for answers. Their hunt is initially fruitless and they retire to Paris, where they stumble upon a theater run by vampires. Here Louis falls under the enchantment of the alluring vampire Armand, which brings about the coven’s true doom.
Rice’s depiction of vampires that struggle to maintain their humanity laid the groundwork for today’s brooding vampire with a soul. Forty years after its publication, the novel still holds relevance with its dissection of human nature and existential dread. Angst and terror over the concept of death is a universal part of the human condition. Through Louis the reader is given insight into those struggles while also being offered alleviation from fear of death with the possibility of immortality, and at the same time we are forced question of whether or not an eternal life might intensify that deep seeded dread.
The novel was also groundbreaking for its time with the representation of same-sex romance and seduction. Though not explicitly stated until later sequels, the story is wrought with latent subtext between Lestat and Louis (and later between Louis and Armand), which resulted in a dedicated following in the queer community that still thrives today.
The 1994 film adaptation is considered one of the few successful book-to-movie interpretations. It lacks some of the novel’s subtler themes, but adequately brings the story to life. Though Tom Cruise was initially thought to be a poor choice for the roll of the vampire Lestat, he surprised both fans and Anne Rice herself with his version of the charismatic and decadent character. The queer undertones are more overt, which suited the 90’s and was a relief to the book’s cult following.
It was announced in late 2018 that Interview with the Vampire and all subsequent sequels would be adapted into a television show, and is set to premiere on Hulu sometime in late 2019 – early 2020.