Louisiana is Anne Rice’s Transylvania, but she knew it far more intimately. Stoker researched his titular character’s origin in broad strokes. Rice was born in New Orleans and while she lived in quite a few different locations, including Texas and Hollywood, she always called New Orleans her home. Readers associate her with its Garden District, and her characters originate in wards. Louis de Pointe du Lac, the vampire who is interviewed in Interview with the Vampire, was a slave-holding plantation owner in antebellum New Orleans. He travels the world after escaping his vampire maker, Lestat de Lioncourt, journeying from the theaters of Paris to the saloons of San Francisco. But New Orleans is his spiritual home.
Because of Rice, Louisiana is now associated with the vampire. Charlaine Harris’ Southern Vampire Mysteries, which was adapted into HBO’s influential series True Blood, took place in Bon Temps, Louisiana. The state has a long and chronicled history of vampire-like activity, both legendary and surprisingly real, and sad tales of wayward innocents.
Rice’s vampires weren’t the first regretful bloodsuckers. In interviews, Anne herself cited Gloria Holden’s ambiguously carnal Countess Maria Zeleska in the 1936 Universal horror, Dracula’s Daughter, as an inspiration. Dark Shadows’ Barnabas Collins, played by Jonathan Frid, went as far as to bribe a friendly scientist to try and reverse the process which turned him into the undead. Even Count Dracula (John Carradine) went to Dr. Franz Edelmann (Onslow Stevens) for a cure to vampirism in House of Dracula (1945), as did biochemist Dr. Michael Morbius, who attempted it on himself in Marvel Comics’ Morbius. While none of them suffered biter’s regret like Lon Chaney Jr.’s werewolf in The Wolf Man, they fretted when they fed. Some were even prone to play sympathy games with their food.
“To die, to truly be dead, that must be glorious,” the Transylvanian count pondered in Dracula. The depths of his Eastern European philosophies laid cynically shallow. “Do you know what it means to be loved by Death,” Interview with the Vampire asked. “Do you know what it means to have Death know your name?”
Rice’s characters thrived on their immortality because it fed their hunger for meaning and tweaked their eternal curiosity. They could ponder the fates of mankind and beyond, measure death by the gallon, sin by the moment, and still procure dinner for two before the sun rose. Rice’s vampires were animals, beasts even, but they were thinking beasts. She taught even the most over-thinking vampires to explore the possibilities, with an eye towards ever-elusive karmic retribution, and go for the jugular.
“What we have before us are the rich feasts that conscience cannot appreciate and mortal men cannot know without regret,” we read, and Rice concisely sets out, for the first time with such eloquent clarity, the choice that lies beyond the veil. It is more than hunter and prey, and yet as simple an equation. “God kills, and so shall we; indiscriminately He takes the richest and the poorest, and so shall we.”