Film Review: The Ninth Gate (1999)

Release Date: August 25th, 1999 (Spain premiere)
Directed by: Roman Polanski
Written by: John Brownjohn, Roman Polanski, Enrique Urbizu
Based on: The Club Dumas by Arturo Perez-Reverte
Music by: Wojciech Kilar
Cast: Johnny Depp, Lena Olin, Frank Langella, James Russo, Jack Taylor, Emmanuelle Seigner, Allen Garfield, Barbara Jefford

Orly Films, R.P. Productions, Artisan Entertainment, 133 Minutes

Review:

“There’s nothing more reliable than a man whose loyalty can be bought for hard cash.” – Boris Balkan

I don’t know what it is about this movie but I’ve probably watched it more times than anyone else I’ve ever met because it enchants me and grabs my attention. Something about it is cool, mesmerizing and weirdly soothing.

I also like that it blends supernatural, biblical horror with film-noir. Horror and noir were always a really good thing when paired up and a lot of those early RKO horror films that Val Lewton produced, showcased the blending of these genres exceptionally well.

This is directed by Roman Polanski, who made one of the greatest neo-noir movies of all-time with 1974’s Chinatown. Here, he takes some of that noir experience and adds it to a more contemporary film. And like Chinatown, this moves at a slow and steady pace but definitely not a boring one. The film is a slow burn all the way up to its finale, which I thought was pretty neat and satisfying.

The plot plays out like a game. You have a very rich publisher that hires a rare book dealer to track down the other copies of an extremely rare book that could very well be tied to the Devil. With that, he sets off on this adventure and crosses paths with a lot of mysterious people who have their own agendas, most of them being pretty sinister. The book dealer also gets assistance from a mysterious, unnamed girl, whose motivations are never clear. Later on, we also see that this girl has powers that make you wonder if she’s an angel or a fallen angel or even possibly a demon or some important biblical character.

There’s a Satanic cult, murder plots, twists, turns and serious curveballs that I didn’t see coming the first time I viewed this film. All the while, it does seem pretty clear that one of these people is pulling a lot of the strings.

The atmosphere of the film is one of the things that make this such a visually beautiful picture. While a lot of that has to do with the general cinematography, I think that the score by Wojciech Kilar is stellar and really gives this movie its life and energy while enhancing those visuals.

This is also one of my favorite roles that Johnny Depp has ever played and I thought that his fairly chill, almost understated performance was perfect for the tone of the story. I also thought that Frank Langella was magnificent and this is my favorite thing that he’s done besides Skeletor and Dracula.

The Ninth Gate was a movie that came out and seemed to be completely overlooked. Still, I know that most people haven’t seen it, over two decades later. It reminds me of the ’70s style of serious, religious horror. If that stuff is your thing, this should be right up your alley.

Rating: 9.25/10

Film Review: Queen of the Damned (2002)

Also known as: Anne Rice’s Queen of the Damned (complete title), Interview with the Vampire II (working title)
Release Date: January 10th, 2002 (Côte d’Ivoire)
Directed by: Michael Rymer
Written by: Scott Abbott, Michael Petroni
Based on: The Vampire Chronicles by Anne Rice
Music by: Richard Gibbs, Jonathan Davis
Cast: Aaliyah, Stuart Townsend, Marguerite Moreau, Paul McGann, Vincent Perez, Claudia Black, Lena Olin,

Village Roadshow Pictures, NPV Entertainment, Material Productions, Warner Bros. Pictures, 101 Minutes

Review:

“You’re beautiful to me because you’re human. Your frailty. Your short years. Your heart. All that suddenly seems more precious than anything I’ve ever known.” – Lestat

I think that most fans of Anne Rice’s work were happy with the 1994 film version of Interview With the Vampire. It would have been nice to see her Vampire Chronicles continue with that same cast and team but its sequel, The Vampire Lestat, never really materialized.

Eventually, Rice was pushed out of the project, the studio took over and we got this abomination, 8 years later.

I remember seeing the trailer for this and almost losing my shit in the theater. How could something so perfect be followed up with something so flawed and soulless? I never really wanted to watch the movie but my girlfriend, at the time, brought it home from Blockbuster one night and I was subjected to this heinously inferior creation that set adaptations of Rice’s work back decades. In fact, we’re still waiting for more Vampire Chronicles adaptations, 16 years later.

So what’s wrong with this movie? Short answer: everything. Long answer: read the next several paragraphs.

To start, this was made without the care that Neil Jordan and Anne Rice had with Interview With the Vampire. In fact, this doesn’t even have respect for the work it is based on. It was a quick, cheap and sad attempt at cashing in on something people craved without any wherewithal of what made Interview so damn good in the first place. Frankly, I’m pretty sure they never really cared about that to begin with and chances are, the filmmakers didn’t even watch that film or they found it boring because it wasn’t littered with nu metal or rap rock songs.

This was a film that tried so fucking hard to be edgy but it failed to understand what edginess is and that it really had no place being tied to the source material, as Interview was edgy in its own way. A way that showcased its eloquence and fit within the style of what that film was. Queen of the Damned was the forced edginess that makes most people laugh like when they see wealthy white teenagers wearing t-shirts that say “fuck you” or “suck my dick”. It’s cringe edginess.

A big example of this type of cringe edginess comes in the form of the film’s music. In the books, Lestat’s music is described to be otherworldly and it’s powerful and magical enough to resurrect a long dead vampire queen from thousands of years of sleep. So how did they make this work in the film? They didn’t. Lestat’s music was nothing but Korn songs that the actor lip synced. Fucking Korn. Now I don’t hate the band but c’mon, Korn? Really?!

Also, the film was terribly cast. I guess Stuart Townsend has the look part down but he certainly didn’t have the presence of Tom Cruise’s Lestat. And really, on paper, Cruise looked miscast but he made it work and put in one of the greatest performances of his career. But we got Townsend, a guy who also failed at being a convincing Dorian Gray, another literary character of greatness. He would ruin that character a year later in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

Then you have Aaliyah, the top billed star who only appears in brief glimpses and not in full until the last half hour of the movie. Her accent was terrible, her inability to act was baffling and nothing about her seemed alluring or threatening. Once her and Lestat do come together, there’s no character development to their story and there is absolutely no chemistry whatsoever. It’s really embarrassing to watch.

You also have the parliament of vampires or whatever they’re called. Most of them looked ridiculous and like they were handpicked out of a crowd at a My Chemical Romance concert, even though I’m not sure if that band even existed yet.

This movie hurts my brain. I didn’t want to revisit it but since I just recently got reacquainted with the greatness that is Interview With a Vampire, I felt that I should re-familiarize myself with this, which really is the antithesis to everything its predecessor was.

Do yourself a favor. Never watch this. It’s beyond bad. It’s not even the sort of bad that becomes good. It’s the worst kind of film and shouldn’t exist.

Rating: 2.25/10
Pairs well with: other early ’00s vampire movies that were far from great like Dracula 2000 and The Breed.