John Carpenter's Vampires
John Carpenter's Vampires
1998. Directed by John Carpenter.
Leave it to the master to come up with a visceral, no sparkly nonsense take on the vampire genre. Carpenter's south western neo-gothic odyssey Vampires is a stripped down kick ass action horror film with absolutely no restraint.
Jack Crow is the leader of a Vatican funded team of vampire hunters. The team is attacked by Valek, the original vampire, and summarily slaughtered, with Crow, his right hand man Montoya, and a recently infected hooker being the only survivors. They're joined by the idealistic Father Adam in their quest for revenge, leading to shocking discoveries, tragic betrayals, and a bloody final showdown in a dusty New Mexico town.
James Woods stars as Crow, giving a vintage performance. Don Jakoby's script abandons the serious tone of the source material and gives Woods unlimited opportunities for vulgar rebellion and a kitchen sink approach to combat that is equally desperate and hilarious. Woods is supported by Daniel Baldwin, Sheryl Fenn, Tim Guinee, and a Trent Reznor cloned Thomas Ian Griffith. Guinee steals the show as the young Father Adam whose transformation into fearless vampire killer is the film's comedic heart blood. Fenn and Baldwin's fang crossed lover angle is laughable and yet perfectly at home in Carpenter's Wild Bunch transgression.
Alan Friedman's makeup design presents the vamps as putrid denizens of a dirt caked world. The creatures are simply garbed and serve a singular purpose of violence. Valek's vein dappled face is sadly cosmetic, but this flaw is out shined by the monster's relentless brutality. The over the top black blooded execution scenes easily surpass the corny cliches by displaying vampirism as a primal condition rather than a fate induced affliction.
Gary Kibbe's cinematography is one of the high points, presenting Carpenter's southwest as a forsaken land drenched in deep reds and oranges. The framing of the action sequences is excellent, with Jeff Imada's stunt coordination delivering bare knuckled bloodbaths and high noon showdowns as a parody laden homage to the American western. Carpenter's score ups the ante, evoking a classic cowboy nostalgia, while staying comfortably within the film's bare bones presentation. Everything about Vampires can be boiled down to the classic good versus evil trope, and yet Carpenter manages to use its various elements to subvert the concept, morphing a basic story into a foul mouthed surface level statement on brotherhood.
Available now for digital rental, or on a recently released blu ray from Twilight Time, Vampires is a 108 minute chin check that never quits. It sets the stakes early and continues it's blood and booze soaked opera down to the final frame. Slick dialogue and above average action set pieces elevate this film into a solid, but predictable horror offering that is the perfect addition to a fright film marathon. Come for the fangs, stay for Woods's epic one liners and you won't be disappointed.