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Cult Classics: Remembering Aaliyah’s Iconic Queen Akasha in ‘Queen of the Damned’

Cult Classics: Remembering Aaliyah’s Iconic Queen Akasha in ‘Queen of the Damned’

It’s been twenty-one years to the day since the tragic death of music icon Aaliyah. Today, we honor her memory by revisiting the young actress’s second and final film, Queen of the Damned.

After the success of 1994’s Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles, based on Anne Rice’s book of the same name, a follow-up film was inevitable. But instead of adapting the second book in Rice’s The Vampire Chronicles series, The Vampire Lestat, Warner Brothers oddly chose to combine its storyline with Rice’s third book, Queen of the Damned. The 2002 film, directed by Michael Rymer (Hannibal) and written by Scott Abbott (Introducing Dorothy Dandridge) and Michael Petroni (The Rite), celebrated its 20th anniversary back in February this year. 

Lestat de Lioncourt (Stuart Townsend) has been in a vampiric slumber for decades. One night in a New Orleans cemetery he’s awakened by a band rocking out in his abandoned house. (Is it their first jam session here, or did Lestat not hear them until this specific night? We don’t know.) He adopts the band, generously lending his haunting voice to their instrumental-only setup. The keyboard player says vampire with a very Bon Temps twang, a treat for all us True Blood fans out there. 

With a vampire wearing super low-rise leather pants on vocals, the band, named The Vampire Lestat, skyrockets to fame, despite never playing actual concerts. I guess their The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari-esque music videos were enough to gain a following. 

When he’s not bragging about his modern-day rockstar status and snacking on goth groupies, Lestat narrates his undead beginnings with his vampiric maker Marius de Romanus (Vincent Perez). While still a baby vamp, Lestat awakens Akasha (Aaliyah). The titular queen and mother of all vampires awake with his furious violin playing, similar to how he’ll respond to the hard rock of the 2000s.

Aside from Lestat’s narration, we also hear Jesse Reeves (Marguerite Moreau), a researcher at the Order of the Talamasca — a secret society that keeps tabs on the paranormal. But studying isn’t enough for Jesse, who clearly has a death wish. It’s the age-old tale of a moody vampire fascinated by a gutsy human and vice versa. However, their connection seems to develop over exactly two brief encounters. 

Lestat’s coming out of the coffin isn’t ideal for his fellow vampires. He uses his music and one massive press conference to taunt them. He actually says, “Bring it on,” at one point. He really could’ve tried to be scarier with that. Lestat essentially invites his undead haters to the band’s first and only concert in Death Valley (featuring over 3,000 local Melbourne goths). Why these vampires, who wish to remain in the shadows, would choose to attack him in public in front of a massive crowd of humans is beyond me. Korn frontman Jonathan Davis provided the vocals for Lestat in the film (though it’s completely unconvincing that a French vampire would have Davis’ distinct voice). 

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Queen of the Damned feels more like one long music video than a 101-minute film, but that isn’t meant as an insult. The soundtrack is expertly curated by Korn’s Jonathan Davis (American Satan) and fellow composer Richard Gibbs (Love Don’t Cost a Thing, 28 Days). Davis and Gibbs wrote original songs and scored the film. But they also included rock hits like “Excess” by Tricky (which is also heavily featured in Thir13en Ghosts), Disturbed’s “Down With The Sickness,” and the sexy and spooky Deftones’ “Change (In The House Of Flies)” — which plays during the aesthetically pleasing sex scene between Lestat and Akasha.

Of course, the highlight is Aaliyah, though she doesn’t appear on screen until 50 minutes into the film and has limited screen time. Queen of the Damned was the budding actress’s second movie role following Romeo Must Die with Jet Li. At the time, an ancient vampire queen seemed like a surprising choice, but Aaliyah was a horror fan. In a May 2001 interview with Entertainment Tonight, Aaliyah described her characters as “very regal. Very grand. A lot of great costumes. She’s sexy, but she’s evil.”

On August 25, 2001, six months after production wrapped, the 22-year-old R&B star died in a plane crash flying from the Bahamas to Florida after shooting the “Rock the Boat” music video. After her untimely death, Aaliyah’s brother, Rashad Haughton, completed ADR during post-production

In addition to it being a part of Aaliyah’s legacy, Queen of the Damned was the first R-rated movie I watched in theaters. I was 12 years old and a few months into my goth phase. Admittedly, I envied all the pale-skinned girls because that was just the typical image of goth girls. I felt the same seeing Kirby Howell-Baptiste as Death in The Sandman. though thankfully, it’s becoming less the norm. But seeing a brown-skinned vampire was mind-blowing to me. 

Queen of the Damned is mostly considered a bad adaptation, over-the-top silly, and just a poorly structured film in general. All are true. However, many, myself included, see it more as a disasterpiece, a guilty pleasure, a piece of 2000s nu metal nostalgia. It also had a killer soundtrack, gorgeous and intricate costumes, and good acting. As stated by her family and colleagues, Aaliyah would’ve been proud. 

Queen of the Damned is currently streaming for free on The Roku Channel.

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