John Carpenter’s Vampires

There have been two direct to video sequels for this film. This film was hardly a hit – and yet someone managed to convince Jon Bon Jovi to head up the second film. How odd – and a shame they couldn’t invent a better story for James Woods to return to. And with that in mind let us look solely at the original John Carpenter film.

Jack Crow is a Vatican funded vampire hunter – on the trail of head honcho Valek. Right from the get-go the mission is already underway and we meet James Woods as Jack Crow and his, er, crow-nies, discovering a nest of vampires and dragging their sorry asses out into the sunlight where they turn into a bunch of screaming crispy critters.

With the mission a success and a sleazy party at a sleazy motel as reward – the team are set upon by a vengeful Valek who acts and shouts in the most unconvincing manner as he tears the team apart. And in some cases, they are actually torn apart.

Crow has to regroup with his only surviving team member (a pretty good Daniel Baldwin) as they rescue a hooker who’s been bitten and now (conveniently) has a psychic link to the guy that bit her. A Vatican order (led by Maximilian Schell) send one of their priests along for the journey. The purpose of this priest is, it seems, firstly to annoy Woods (leading to some wonderfully colourful language from Woods) but also to serve as the member of the cast which the plot is explained to for the audience’s benefit.

But if you’re going to have anything explained to you, then having it explained by James Woods is never a bad idea. Woods is quite literally, BAD-ASS in this film. At the time this film was made we had had our share of goody-two-shoes heroes and were missing the days when our heroes were foul-mouthed ruffians. His banter with Baldwin is one of the film’s highlights which also adds a bittersweet resolution to the end when Baldwin finds himself a target for Crow. He’s given a short chance to run before chase will be given.

Carpenter’s work is a step up from some of his mid-90s output, and his familiar music score is recognisable – but blended with the Western feel he’s given this cross-genre picture.

Vampires has a couple of sore spots though. The supporting cast are woefully underused. Jack Crow’s team of vampires consist of a few well know supporting actors including Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa and Mark Boone Junior who get little to no screen time to do their characters justice.  A little bit more action with these guys wouldn’t have hurt!

Sheryl Lee is given a role that would make any feminist’s head spin as she’s beaten by heroes and villains alike, and treated like complete trash. The main villain Valek is played terribly  by Thomas Ian Griffith. It’s a real case of miscasting and it hurts the film almost as much as his underwhelming death at the end of the film.

Thank god then for James Woods who’s proved time and time again that he can carry and support any film to equal degree. He manages to make the film a decent watch, and an enjoyable Carpenter film. It’s a shame that the holes prevent it from being a Carpenter classic which it could have been with a little more tender loving care. Perhaps it’s more painful to think about what it could have been than what it actually is.

Steven Hurst

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