John Carpenter's Vampires

John Carpenter's Vampires


Reviewed by: Stephen Carty

After finishing Escape From LA, horror supremo John Carpenter toyed with the idea of not making films any more as - wait for it - “it stopped being fun”. And yet, a few years on, here we are with another name-above-the-tile effort destined to have every fanboy bleating on about the director’s glory days. And yet, while it is certainly not up there with the cult helmer’s best Halloween and The Thing, if you can ignore the Eighties B-movie feel and a few slices of cheese, then there’s both surprising chills and wild er, fun, to be had.

Having successfully cleaned out a 'nest' of vampires in New Mexico, Jack Crow (James Woods) and his team of Vatican-sponsored slayers are followed by a master vamp named Valek (Thomas Ian Griffith) who slaughters most of the squad. Though ordered to rebuild, Jack, surviving teammate Montoya (Daniel Baldwin) and their new Priest (Tim Guinnee) head off to stop Valek as they discover he's trying to acquire an artifact that will allow him to walk in daylight.

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It may have an unshakable, low-budget straight-to-DVD feel, but this cheap-and-nasty approach actually adds to flavour. An old-school Western disguised as a horror, the Carp gives us a Dusk Till Dawn Setting, his own score - which oscillates between creepy tones and "baaaw-baaaw-ba!" guitar riffs - blood galore and enough gory deaths to make a Tarantino movie look like Mary Poppins. Yes, a few of the slayings will have you guffawing at the over-the-the-top naffness, but there's still a few genuinely eerie moments (Padre getting out the lift, Valek waiting on a ceiling) that'll have you surprisingly on edge.

Of course, it helps that the bloodsuckers here are savage killing machines far from the Gothic, lothario stereotypes. Adapting the novel by John Steakley, Carpenter renders his own take on vampires; namely that while sunlight still kills them, crosses, garlic and holy water don't do squat. Admittedly, this spin isn't anything groundbreaking and won't stand up to scrutiny, but it’s worth it for the this-is-how-you-kill-them explanation by Woods, who is on top, fast-talking, sweary form.

As you probably guessed, Woods is easily the best thing about Vampires, ratcheting his expletive-filled edginess up several notches on the intense-ometer while living up to Carpenter's claim that "he's "the kind of guy you’d believe could and would chew off the leg off a vampire". In support, Tim Guinee plays it admirably straight as the fact-finding Priest, Baldwin (yes, another one of the clan in acting) offers some intensity as Crow's driver and Griffith does a passable line in neck-biting as the largely-unkillable Valek. As for Sheryl Lee's bitten-hooker, she provides, well, the cleavage.

Certainly not a return to his glory days, but John Carpenter's Vampires is far from the nail in the coffin many hailed it as.

Reviewed on: 28 Feb 2010
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A vampire hunter goes on the prowl.
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Angus Wolfe Murray **

Director: John Carpenter

Writer: Don Jakoby, based on the novel Vampire by John Steakley

Starring: James Woods, Daniel Baldwin, Sheryl Lee, Thomas Ian Griffith, Tim Guinee, Mark Boone Junior, Gregory Sierra, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Thomas Rosales Jr, Henry Kingi, David Rowden, Clarke Coleman

Year: 1998

Runtime: 108 minutes

Country: USA


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