I watched Interview with the Vampire this weekend, the largely Louisiana-set 1994 Neil Jordan film based on the Anne Rice novel of the same name.
I’ve read the book recently (love it), but hadn’t seen the film since my last year at school, over fifteen years ago. That was long before I’d visited Louisiana, so it was interesting to watch it again knowing the state and New Orleans in particular, though of course there are one or two differences between Jordan’s dark and theatrical settings and the state today.
Large portions of the film were filmed on location in Louisiana, though – for instance, lead character Louis de Pointe du Lac’s estate is Oak Alley Plantation in Vacherie, and the house where he sets his onetime companion Lestat on fire is in fact the building known as Madame John’s Legacy at 632 Dumaine Street.
Since the mid-1990s, a fair few more movies have been filmed or partially filmed in the state, including two vampire flicks schoolgirls are probably more likely to be found watching today – The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1 and Part 2, and the superlative Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. In fact, Louisiana boasts more cinematic activity than any other state in the US apart from California and New York, with New Orleans being nicknamed “Hollywood South”.
Popularity with filmmakers is something Louisiana has in common with London, where film production also continues to boom. Those making movies here also show an appetite for horror, with zombie films being some of the best-loved London productions over the past decade – see 2004’s Shaun of the Dead, or the more recent Cockneys vs Zombies.
I’d love to be able to say that London and New Orleans/Louisiana in general have storytelling in their water, or that there’s some mystical quality to these places that makes them particularly magical when looked at through a camera. I do actually think these things could be true, but what’s probably the real reason for their cinematic popularity is more prosaic – both Louisiana and the UK offer hefty tax breaks to filmmakers.
However, I think the association of both places with telling horror stories on film is about more than accounting. London and New Orleans are old cities with long and – partially – dark histories that hover close to their surfaces. They’re also ports, always welcoming a flow of new people, new tales and new money which can mean, in the popular imagination at least, new dangers. Both of these factors make them good settings for all things scary supernatural happenings.
And it’s intriguing that New Orleans and wider Louisiana continue to be associated by filmmakers with vampires, which were popularised in the modern era by Irish-born London resident Bram Stoker through his seminal and partly London-set novel Dracula.
Zombies, meanwhile, London’s silver screen monsters of the moment, have their cultural roots in Haiti, which is not so far from Louisiana, geographically and culturally.
I think it just goes to show that, while bloodsucking and monster munching are a little icky in literal terms for some, even those who don’t love watching a good horror film have to admit that they’re thoroughly good things when seen as metaphors for cross-cultural feeding and fertilisation. As are those juicy tax breaks too, of course.