Consider these two films: 1977’s Saturday Night Fever and 2002’s Queen of the Damned. On the surface they seem like two entirely different films. One involves John Travolta disco dancing with friends and women and the other is a gothic love story about our favorite vampire prince enamored with a queen. What if I told you that Queen of the Damned was the Saturday Night Fever of the early 21st century goth culture? Whoa, what are you talking about, Chip? I know it’s crazy, but hear me out.
Let’s first talk about each film’s literary beginnings. Fever was loosely based on an news article called “Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night” written by Nik Cohn, an allegedly non-fiction piece about the disco club scene in the mid 1970s. Years after the film’s release, Cohn would admit that his work was completely fabricated and never based on real events. Much like Fever, Queen of the Damned was also based on fictional stories, two actually. Queen is (very loosely) based on The Vampire Lestat and Queen of the Damned by Anne Rice, which were sequels to Rice’s groundbreaking novel Interview with the Vampire. Saturday Night Fever was a major hit at the box office in 1977, scoring almost $95 million from a $3 million budget while Queen of the Damned was considered a flop, grossing a little over $30 million with a $35 million budget.
Let’s briefly examine the central characters: Tony and Lestat. Both are handsome young men (forgetting that Lestat is immortal), cocky at the beginning of the films and both trying to win the affection of a woman (Tony by dancing, Lestat by spilling blood of mortals). By the end of the films, each character goes through a change and they grow up: Tony decided to be mature after watching his friend fall off a bridge and Lestat got wise after nearly wiping out all of humanity.
While both films come from fictional tales, and their main characters are relatable, what really makes these films so similar is how they were presented. In the mid ’70s, Americans were facing a recession and their only escape from these woes was the club scene: drinking, drugs, and lots of disco dancing. Saturday Night Fever was Hollywood’s portrayal of the disco dance culture, featuring some of Disco’s top hits from the Bee Gees, KC and the Sunshine Band, and The Trammps. This craze fizzled out not too long after Fever‘s release on December 16, 1977. America’s favorite secret escape was no longer a secret, so disco was dead by the time the ’80s rolled around.
Where Queen of the Damned is concerned: it was also a dramatized example of American culture, but of Goth culture of the early 21st century, demonstrating how American youths were finding validation for their angst on MTV. We traded the leisure suits and gold chains to blacker-than-your-soul band shirts and Tripp pants with enough chains to make Pinhead excited. Instead of disco music setting the mood of the film, we had goth metal from such groups as Disturbed, Static-X, and Jonathan Davis (lead singer of Korn) providing the musical vocals for Stuart Townsend’s Lestat.
Music was an important character to both films, setting the tone of the scenes and also how it interacted with the characters. Tony Manero’s opening strut in Saturday Night Fever wouldn’t be anywhere as memorable without “Staying Alive” playing and Lestat would’ve had a harder time getting his vampire secrets out if there wasn’t a dark and brooding music scene. Try imaging Lestat doing music with Nickelback. Yeah, that wouldn’t have gone far.
Much like how Disco died after the success of Saturday Night Fever, the goth culture eventually lost some of its appeal after Queen of the Damned. It didn’t take quite as long as it did for Fever, American Goth culture put up a good fight. But where the walls of Hot Topics around the country were covered in all things brooding and dark, now are t-shirts of popular internet memes and the heavy metal shirts have maybe a corner in the back next to t-shirts for emo/pop rock bands. That’s not to say that Goth is dead, perhaps it’s found safely hiding in the shadows, just in the nick of time before Twilight and Invader Zim flooded the scene. Here’s hoping that goth is, dare I say it: Staying Alive.