Miriam (Catherine Deneuve) and her husband John (David Bowie) are vampires. They have a grand time picking up couples in bars and feeding on them until one day John realizes he’s aging. Miriam is forced to admit that this happens to her every time she makes a human a vampire; he or she lives for a few hundred years, then ages and rots but never fully dies. She then leaves the unlucky sods in coffins to lie around starving for all eternity. So John’s in for a treat. Enter Dr. Sarah (Susan Sarandon), a scientist who’s working on reversing the aging process. It’s too late for John, but Miriam decides Sarah will make a great new companion—whether Sarah likes it or not.
She seems pretty into it, though.
I like how vampires are a bit unconventional in the film (the casting off of traditional depictions of vampires is made vocal by the inclusion of the song “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” in the opening scene); it breathes new life into the tired old genre. First, the word vampire is never used at all. Second, the usual vampire clichés are dispatched: they sleep in beds, go out during the day, and don’t fear crosses. Vampires are looked at from a scientific perspective, though more so in the book by Whitley Strieber that the film is based on.
Speaking of the book, there are quite a few changes made in the adaptation. (I was amused with one similarity between book and movie: Strieber describes Sarah as having eyes that are too big—Susan Sarandon does have rather large eyes.) The plot is basically the same, but the characters act somewhat differently. I agree with most of the changes, such as deleting John’s charming proposal to Miriam, “Marry me, whore,” and leaving out a corny scene of Miriam breaking into Sarah’s apartment and entering her dreams. In addition, Miriam is less cold and calculating. Some of the character development is left by the wayside, but overall the writers did a good job of compressing book into film subtly and efficiently, like conveying how old Miriam and John are with flashes of them in period costumes. On the whole, I like the movie better, particularly when the book has typos like “The girl’s skill was crushed.”
The only thing I miss from the novel is Strieber’s way of saying vampires are killers, but humans can be just as brutal. Miriam has flashbacks of her former lovers, including Eumenes, a soldier in Spartacus’s army who was crucified, and Lollia, who was accused of being a witch and consequently boiled in oil. Then there’s the scene when villagers roast her sisters alive, eat them, then drink and have sex.
By and large, the performances are terrific (David Bowie, you are sorely missed), the love scenes are exquisite, and the special effects are decent. Check it out if you’re in the mood for retro bisexual vampire love.