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How to market ''Queen'' after Aaliyah's death

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Aaliyah, Queen of the Damned
Queen of the Damned: Jim Sheldon

How do you market a racy thriller about an undead vampire played by a young star who has died? That was the question facing the makers of ”Queen of the Damned” — starring singer-actress Aaliyah, who perished in a plane crash last August at 22 after wrapping the adaptation of Anne Rice’s best-seller. Warner Bros. (a division of EW parent AOL Time Warner) will avoid any mention of the real-life tragedy in its promotions — which include a poster of a half-naked Aaliyah. While PR materials don’t mention Aaliyah’s death, tag lines like ”All she wants is hell on earth” have reportedly rankled some fans. ”We’re not exploiting her death,” says studio exec Dawn Taubin. ”We’re being very true to her character in the movie. It’s a very straightforward, nonexploitative presentation.”

In marketing a dead performer, studios must avoid appearing like bloodsuckers themselves. ”Clearly the worst thing is to seem to be exploiting the situation,” says producer Ed Pressman, who faced a similar dilemma on 1994’s ”The Crow” after 28-year-old star Brandon Lee was accidentally killed late in the shoot. ”The basic argument is you should bury the film along with the person — it’s somehow sacrilegious to exploit a film with someone who’s not alive,” says Pressman. ”There’s a cynical attitude that people have…no matter how much you try to do the right thing.” (”The Crow,” completed without Lee but promoted with his image, grossed some $50 million domestically.)

As for ”Queen of the Damned” (rated R for ”vampire violence”), don’t expect any major changes in the sexy, death-themed plot. ”I’m always shocked at how conservative America is,” says Aussie director Michael Rymer. ”Everyone is just so terrified of being inappropriate. It’s a rock ‘n’ roll vampire movie that’s supposed to be good, dark fun.” Those closest to the late star support the studio’s plans. ”You have to separate fantasy and reality,” says Aaliyah’s brother, Rashad Haughton, 24, who redubbed some of his sister’s dialogue on the film last fall. ”This was her art, and her art was her life.”

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