JOHN CARPENTER'S VAMPIRES
by Justin Felix
Rating: *** (out of five)
Screenplay by Don Jakoby.
Based on the novel Vampire$ by John Steakley.
Directed by John Carpenter.
Starring James Woods, Daniel Baldwin, Sheryl Lee, Thomas Ian Griffith,
Rated R (contains violence, nudity, and profanity) 107 mins.
Synopsis: Swearing, cigar-smoking professional vampire slayer Jack
leads his buddy Tony, a prostitute, and a Catholic priest into battle
against Valek, the world's first vampire, who is searching for the means to
be able to live in sunlight.
Comments: As I write this, Halloween 1998 is a three-week old
memory, and Thanksgiving is quickly approaching. Hollywood released a slew
and horror-related movies right before and closely after Halloween, and
these movies are now slowly making their way through second-run, cheap
theaters. The season brought us the campy Bride of Chucky, the
Screamish Urban Legend, and the more serious Apt
Pupil, based on a short story by Stephen King. A latecomer, the sequel
, came out on November, Friday
the 13th (aren't they just so clever marketing a slasher movie on Friday
the 13th?). Having seen all these films except the last (which has been
slammed by most critics), I can safely say that John Carpenter's
Vampires, released the day before Halloween, was the best horror film
created for the holiday. This does not necessarily mean it was a great
film--the aforementioned flicks were mediocre at best--but it is
entertaining, especially for horror, action, and "B-movie" fans.
John Carpenter has done a number of film classics in his long and varied
career (however, he's also produced some turkeys). His chief
accomplishment, so far at least, is the little 1978 film Halloween,
a film which became a huge hit and launched the teen slasher genre,
Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street cycles. He's
also done a number of solid horror and sci-fi movies: The Fog, They
Live, Starman, and a remake of the 50s classic The Thing.
Carpenter, unfortunately, seemed to be losing his touch recently. He
directed Kurt Russell through the bad escape from LA and Christopher
Reeves through the even worse Village of the Damned (a lousy
remake). Carpenter somewhat needed a film to resolidify his standing as a
premiere talent. John Carpenter's Vampires, at least, is a step in the
Vampires, throughout film history, seem to be very popular with movie
audiences. From Bela Lugosi's classic turn as Dracula in the
Universal classic to Christopher Lee in England's Hammer cycle to recent big
budget epics like Bram Stoker's Dracula and Interview with A
Vampire, these creatures of the night continue to rake in profits.
Subtle changes in the vampire myths as they get translated through the
decades may allow for enough variety to keep people interested. This year,
for example, Wesley Snipes played Blade, a vampire slayer from
Marvel Comics, combining the vampire with the comic book hero. John
Carpenter's Vampires, similarly, combines vampires with another genre,
the Western (interestingly, the Western had just been combined with another
genre, science fiction, in Soldier). The results end up as an
interesting mixed bag.
John Carpenter's Vampires begins promisingly. Within a beautiful
New Mexico landscape, Jack Crow leads his motley crew of vampire killers
infested, dilapidated house far removed from civilization. Apparently,
Crow's crew kills bloodsuckers in a unique manner: they pierce them with
cables attached to a running truck outside. The vampires are thus yanked
from the darkness of their abode and into the sunlight, where they quickly
flare up into ashes. The scene is effectively scary yet sets up the film's
darkly humorous tone as well. After this beginning, however, the movie
slows to a crawl for about half an hour as the major conflict between Jack
Crow and the original vamp Valek is set up.
Whether you like John Carpenter's Vampires or not will largely
whether or not you like the actors. James Woods does a wickedly fun turn as
the lead vampire slayer. He brings a manic energy which fits the character
perfectly. Thomas Ian Griffith deserves an equal nod as the very effective
Valek. He informs the vampire with a menacing quality equal to that of
other classic actors like Bela Lugosi. If you do not like these actors,
especially Woods, however, you probably won't like this movie, as it serves
almost like a vehicle for the two. As a side note, the highly respected
Maximilian Schell does a supporting role here -- this makes *two* so-so
Hollywood movies he's appeared in this year (the other being the somewhat
cheesy Deep Impact).
John Carpenter's Vampires is remarkedly different from the other horror
movies released this past month and a half in that not even a single
teenager graces the screen. ... all of them center upon teenagers.
John Carpenter's Vampires features an entirely adult cast. This
necessarily mean the behavior of these characters, however, is any more
informed by intelligence. People do stupid things in this movie just like
any other horror movie. One of the reasons, though, that I only give this
film three stars is the attitude the main characters have. Jack Crow and
Tony Montoya are uncomfortably misogynistic. They kidnap a prostitute who
has been bitten by Valek and treat her like absolute crud. Although she is
turning into a vampire, their treatment of her still seems cruel and
passionless. The storyline's only major fault is to suggest that Montoya
falls in love with her. Crow's treatment of members of the Catholic
priesthood will probably offend some too. In one scene, for instance, Crow
kicks the crap out of a priest to get information, then asks the priest
whether he was turned on by the abuse or not.
Despite these faults, the final hour of John Carpenter's Vampires
speed and is highly entertaining. Not much more may be said without giving
away some of the plot's resolution; however, the final showdown between
Crow's "gang" and Valek's "posse" in a deserted town combines the genres of
the Western and horror quite well. Ultimately, sitting through the first
half-hour is rewarded by the finale.
John Carpenter's Vampires is deservedly rated R. It contains many
graphic violence, some nudity, and several words and phrases which will
never make it to commercial network TV. This one's worth catching before it
comes out on video. You could probably still see it at a second-run,
bargain theater for the next several weeks.
Other reviews by Justin may be found at
The Internet Movie