Dir. John Carpenter (1998)
A vampire hunter is looking for an ancient Catholic relic that will allow vampires to walk in the daylight.
Continuing with our October exploration of John Carpenter, Vampires is a film that was neither critically acclaimed nor appreciated by the audience. Starring James Woods and Daniel Baldwin as the leaders of a team of vampire hunters seeking to eradicate nests around the Southwest, the film is chock-full of gore and gorgeous scenery, the blood-red sunsets and the earth-toned buildings of New Mexico echoing the blood-drenched motel rooms and viscera-streaked setpieces that permeate the film. Carpenter's take on a vampire western, the astutely-named Vampires is much more of a popcorn movie than he usually makes, but it's also a damn fine one.
For the first time in our travels through Carpenter's filmography, we have to view this movie as a movie and not a John Carpenter movie. Perhaps that's a strike against the movie or even a strike against Carpenter himself, this this film falls outside the realm of the quality he is usually known for. But as we've made clear a multitude of times with our reviews on this site, there is absolutely nothing wrong with popcorn movies, as long as you know that's what you're going to get when you buy the ticket. (This one is streaming on Netflix, but you get the idea.) Vampires is a popcorn movie, there purely for entertainment value and not some artistic statement or a sociopolitical value lesson. You buy a ticket to see vampires get fucked up and fuck shit up, and there's plenty of that to go around.
The score is stereotypical Carpenter, probably the best done part of the film from a technical perspective. The cinematography is fitting with Carpenter's filmography, being performed by Gary B. Kibbe, who also served as cinematographer/DOP for Prince of Darkness, They Live, In the Mouth of Madness, Village of the Damned, Escape from LA, and Ghosts of Mars. Needless to say, he knows exactly what Carpenter is looking for and delivers. The effects are actually fantastic, with Greg Nicotero helping to create some gnarly vampire and gore effects. The acting isn't bad either, with Woods and Baldwin delivering performances that are both cheesy and perfectly fitting with the tone of the film.
I've never been a fan of the gothic vampire tale. Yeah, the Hammer stuff was alright, and of course Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing are legends. It just doesn't strike my fancy, all those cobwebs and dirty corridors leading to arched entryways and flowy-dressed women. Meh. Just not my thing. When I watch a vampire flick, I want some ultra-violence and gore, flying dudes who rip people limb from limb and have to be dispatched with extreme prejudice. Vampires is exactly that type of film, a movie that patterns itself as an action flick and is filled with the tropes that have made the genre popular. There are gun battles, people bursting into flames, bodies split asunder and headless arterial sprays. That's the shit I'm in for, and that's the shit that Carpenter made sure to pack tightly into Vampires. It's not The Thing, but it's wildly entertaining and a super fun flick.
At the end of the day, there's nothing original here. There's very little added to the vampire lore, outside of the Catholic artifact that allows them to walk in sunlight, though that was covered perhaps better during the later seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. There are few effects that you haven't seen done somewhere else, perhaps even done better. But it's an entertaining, bloody affair that is a cross between 30 Days of Night and Tombstone, and I'm here for it. Slap on that Carpenter name and you know you're getting a quality flick, even if it doesn't come anywhere close to the expertise of his previous outings.
Who this movie is for: Vampire movie lovers, Carpenter fanboys, Gun-toting priests
Bottom line: Vampires falls far short of reaching the heights that John Carpenter is known for, but it's a wildly entertaining and delightfully bloody good time. I can understand why a lot of people railed against it because it didn't live up to their expectations, but if this movie was made by anyone else, it would be a cult classic. I'm glad that it's getting love from Scream Factory as one of their releases, and I'm glad that more people are watching this one as they explore Carpenter's filmography, because it's a damn good film. The script leaves a little to be desired at time, the acting gets the occasional eyeroll, but there's still a lot to love and it's a worthwhile addition to a man whose filmography crosses every natural boundary within the genre (and others). Give it a real shot.