INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE Starring Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, Antonio Banderas, Kirsten Dunst, Christian Slater and Stephen Rea. Directed by Neil Jordan. Category III. Coming to .......IN 1984, the Irish director Neil Jordan made The Company Of Wolves, a rich, disturbing work of gothic romance, adapted for the screen by Jordan and the novelist Angela Carter from her original story - a modern, intelligent interpretation of the myth of the werewolf. It remains one of the best and most original horror-fantasy films of recent years. Now he has made Interview With The Vampire, a rich, disturbing work of gothic romance, adapted for the screen by the novelist Anne Rice from her original story - a modern, intelligent interpretation of the myth of the vampire. Jordan is a canny film-maker who knows where his strengths, not to mention his preoccupations, lie. He is apparently happy to dig over old ground just in case he had missed something. What The Crying Game was to his earlier Mona Lisa, in terms of its themes and textures, Interview With The Vampire is to The Company Of Wolves - a blood relative if you like. Brad Pitt's jowly, hirsute, flamboyantly Byron-esque hero/anti-hero, in particular, is a spit for one of those sexually dangerous 'men whose eyebrows meet in the middle', who stalked the erotic dreams of innocent adolescent girls 10 years back. Here Pitt, Tom Cruise, Antonio Banderas and their fellow bloodsuckers are urbane, amoral (in Pitt's case) parasites stalking the decadent demi-mondes of, by turns, 18th century laissez-faire New Orleans, 19th century fin-de-si?cle Paris and contemporary San Francisco. The strange sexual allure of the vampire has been another constant, from Bram Stoker's seminal Dracula, through the first fang-flick, F. W. Murnau's original Nosferatu (Louis watches it in the year of its release) to Francis Ford Coppola's 1993 extravaganza. But what drew a star of Cruise's stature to a part that is little more than a strong supporting role was perhaps the chance to play the ultimate super-villain. The vampire Lestat, after all, is completely amoral, bisexually voracious and a cruelly indiscriminate killer ('not unlike God', he observes). Cruise is highly impressive in the role, his portrayal a minor triumph of good character acting over media type-casting. He appears unfazed, somewhat surprisingly, by the film's broad streak of homo-eroticism, and positively relishes its often stomach-churning, gleefully malicious mortuary humour. It has become the stuff of Hollywood folklore that Rice vehemently opposed his casting and then repented. Whether this is because she gained sudden respect for him as an actor or because somebody whispered to her the film's projected earnings with his name attached, who knows? But Cruise's firm faith in his own ability to rise above others' low expectations has been spectacularly vindicated. (The film trounced Kenneth Branagh's much-hyped Mary Shelley's Frankenstein in a media-led 'battle of the monsters', with a record opening on a seasonal weekend.) The less experienced Pitt is less comfortable in his role, as the young Louisiana landowner chosen by Lestat as a soul-mate (he is later - two centuries later - to relate the whole sorry tale in flashback to his 'interviewer' Christian Slater in a San Francisco apartment). Easily the best work comes from a very young actress, Kirsten Dunst, as the 'adopted' daughter of Lestat and Louis, whose body will never grow to maturity. Banderas is in fine form too, in the film's second act, as a subterranean vampire king in Paris, though as his impish sidekick Stephen Rea (on his fourth Neil Jordan film, after The Crying Game) has little to do beyond an amusing French mime act. This film, like most of Jordan's, is not without its major flaws - the worst being much clumsy playing to the Saturday night slasher set, the most damaging aspect of which is a badly miscalculated semi-comic ending. It is also unflinchingly gory. But Interview With The Vampire remains a picture well worth seeing - like Coppola's Dracula, an intriguing marriage of film-as-art and glorious, vulgar commerce.