John Carpenter's Vampires

Don’t let the title fool you – Vampires is not a horror film. Vampires is a Western set in modern times where the good guys carry big silver crossbows and the bad guys wear long incisors. Plotless and mindless, Vampires is proof that a good director, actor and film personality can make a testosterone-laden movie entertaining.

Jack Crow (James Woods) is a vampire slayer. Scratch that, Crow is a vampire slayer with a serious attitude. Having seen his mother and father fall to vampires, Crow has his mind set on killing all vampires. From childhood, the Catholic Church has raised Crow to be a vampire slayer. The Catholic Church, from an exorcism gone awry, created the first vampire, Valek (Thomas Ian Griffith), centuries ago. As the movie opens, Crow and his team go into action by taking out a whole house of vampires.

After the house incident, Crow has a nasty run in with Valek. Valek is the most powerful vampire because he was the first. Valek escapes Crow’s first attempt to take him out, though Valek ends up biting a hooker before his getaway. Crow uses the hooker (Sheryl Lee) as a vampire-radar of sorts. After being bitten by a vampire, a person doesn’t turn into a vampire immediately. There is a period before the bitten person “turns.” During this crucial time a telepathic link is set up between the bitten and the master (the vampire who did the biting). Crow uses the hooker to track down Valek.

As I mentioned, Vampires is proof of what a good director, good actor and film personality can do to enhance a film. Last week I saw Soldier, a terrible film; the director was a rookie, the lead actor didn’t have much to work with, and the film had no personality. Vampires has all three.

Director John Carpenter knows how to put together some exciting scenes – though, his pacing for the film as a whole is off. Carpenter mixes the right amount of action, horror, and humor for the action scenes, and he builds a lot of tension. But, he is unable to pace the film correctly. The best parts of the film are the opening vampire hunt and the last thirty-five minutes. The middle section of Vampires is slow and sometimes painfully so. Had Carpenter taken the movie and distilled it - stripped it of the useless character development and the love story – it would have been to die for. The opening vampire hunt is gory with vampires dragged into the sun and burned instantly to a crisp. There are other extremely gory scenes, like a man split in half, all shown onscreen. This is definitely not a movie for the squeamish.

The second thing that Vampires has is James Woods. Woods brings to screen a brash will-take-no-crap attitude that is used effectively as a tool of humor. I loved the way that Woods breaks in the new priest and how he later deals with the master vampires. Woods brings a personality to the character Jack Crow that would have been lacking if another actor attempted the part. Woods just drips of coolness onscreen; he’s cool, tough, and arrogant. There would be no other actor better for the part of Jack Crow.

The personality of a film is important. Take for example, Soldier, the film had no personality - it was bland. Vampires, on the other hand, has personality. The mixture of Woods, the way the film was shot, the lone guitar in the film score, and the sure-handedness of Carpenter’s direction all add up to make this movie enjoyable.

Vampires is not Carpenter’s best work, but it’s also not Carpenter’s worst work either. Ranking at the top is Carpenter’s The Thing, Halloween, Escape from New York, and Escape from LA. Vampires is a middle-of-the-road, average Carpenter film.

Would I recommend Vampires? Definitely, it’s an entertaining film. For those of you worried that Vampires is a scary horror film, it’s not – though it is quite gory. I enjoyed Vampires because it’s a modern Western where the bad guys are vampires. If you have two hours to spare, catch Vampires in the theatres.

Edited by Mark O’Hara.