John Carpenter’s Vampires has several distinctions, some of them good and some of them bad. It was his first film after the box office failure of In the Mouth of Madness, which has gone on to become a cult classic. It was to be his last movie of the ’90s, and arguably his last good film, as he followed it up with Ghosts of Mars in 2001 and The Ward in 2010, both of them failures. John Carpenter was seriously considering retiring when the script for Vampires came along, and because he always wanted to make a western, he agreed to give the directing gig one more shot. Whether the result of Carpenter having a great time on set is a good thing or bad thing depends on your opinion of Ghosts of Mars. On the one hand, a bad experience means we never get Ghosts of Mars; on the other, a good experience means we will always have that last scene of Ice Cube staring straight into the camera and into your soul.
John Carpenter’s Vampires is based on the John Steakley book Vampire$, but according to the author, the only thing left from his plot is the dialogue. Having never read the book (I do own it and will read it soonish), I can’t say whether or not that statement is true. What I can tell you is that the story we get is a rather fun spin on the vampire genre with a good heaping dash of western thrown into the mix.
James Woods plays Jack Crow, a badass vampire slayer with an even more badass hairdo. Jack and his team of slayers are busy clearing out nests in a small New Mexico town, looking for the master vamp. Unfortunately, after an exciting scene of vampires bursting into flames in the sunlight, the master vampire is nowhere to be found. The team call it a success regardless and head back to their hotel for a night of drinks, drugs and hookers. Unbeknownst to them, the master vampire, Valek (Thomas Ian Griffith) is on his way to their hotel. The team is slain and Jack, his friend Montoya (Daniel Baldwin) and a bitten hooker (Sheryl Lee) are the only survivors and are on the run. With the help of a catholic priest (Tim Guinee), the team figure out that Valek is searching for a cross that will allow him to survive in the daylight. Time is running out as Valek gets closer to his goal, but Crow will stop at nothing to kill the master once and for all!
Vampires really is John Carpenter’s last good film, and there are a lot of reasons for that. First off, the performances from everyone, yes even Daniel Baldwin, are excellent. James Woods is playing a role you wouldn’t normally see him in, and he nails that steak perfectly. Thomas Ian Griffith as Valek is equal bits menacing and alluring. Sheryl Lee’s slow transformation into a vampire is played perfectly; however, there is some rushed editing near the end that makes her complete transformation seem oddly placed. You can’t place any fault on her performance, of course. Besides the exceptional acting, we have John Carpenter slamming out a groovy soundtrack full of that delicious Carpenter guitar twang. It might not be the synth-heavy score you are used to, but the soundtrack is still very much Carpenter, which helps set the western horror theme. Greg Nicotero is on hand to provide some gnarly special effects, with the highlight being the hotel massacre. Honestly, the film is just a good time with only a few slight issues.
Those issues, if you are wondering, seem to be mostly editing problems. There is the one I mentioned above, and there is also Jack Crow’s convenient amnesia about what the black cross does. (Seriously, Jack, you were told not too long ago why Valek getting the cross is a bad thing. Why are you now all of a sudden forgetting about it?) The one thing I wish we could have had more of was the team of slayers taking out vampire nests. We have a broad array of bit actors (Mark Boone Junior, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Thomas Rosales Jr., Henry Kingi) and the beginning of the film isn’t enough time with them. Alas, we take what we get and that my folks is a fun time and Carpenter’s last hurray in good filmmaking (no offence Ghosts of Mars, but you really are a terrible movie).
John Carpenter’s Vampires was originally released on a limited edition Blu-ray from Twilight Time. Having long since sold out, getting your hands on Vampires was becoming a hassle. That’s all changed, thanks to Scream Factory. Scream’s Blu-ray release uses the same transfer from Twilight Time, which is to say it’s impressive-looking, with even film grain, a nice warm temperature to skin tones (unlike the international StudioCanal release) and no moments of damage. (Check out our extensive gallery to see for yourself.) The Blu-ray disc offers both DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and 2.0 options. I had to watch the film in 2.0 but had no complaints with the stereo option. I looked up information about the 5.1 track, and the consensus is this is the best way to experience the film. The surrounds are used effectively, and the dialogue is loud and clear.
Scream Factory has served up some new features. We have a 12-minute interview with John Carpenter, Sandy King Carpenter, and Cinematographer Garry B. Kibbe. They discuss how much fun it was to work on the film and how John Carpenter had such a good time with James Woods. That is backed up in the 22-minute interview with James Woods. Next, we have a nearly 10-minute interview with Thomas Ian Griffith, who played Valek. He provided some fun stories, one, in particular, is pretty funny involving his weave he had to wear. Next is an interview with Greg Nicotero, who dissects the special effects. Last, but not least for new features is a 12-minute interview with the Padre himself, Tim Guinee. Rounding everything out is the isolated score from Twilight Time’s release, the older commentary with John Carpenter, a 23-minute Vintage Making of with more interviews with the cast (here Daniel Baldwin and Sheryl Lee are interviewed), a theatrical trailer, a couple of TV spots, and finally a Still Gallery. The Collector’s Edition label is warranted this time around.
NEWTime To Kill Some Vampires – An Interview With Composer/Director John Carpenter, Producer Sandy King Carpenter, And Cinematographer Garry B. Kibbe (12:25)
NEW Jack The Slayer – An Interview With Actor James Woods (22:18)
NEW The First Vampire – An Interview With Actor Thomas Ian Griffith (9:38)
NEW Raising The Stakes – An Interview With Special Effects Artist Greg Nicotero (10:20)
NEW Padre – An Interview With Actor Tim Guinee (12:45)
Audio Commentary By Composer/Director John Carpenter
Vintage Making Of Featurette (23:41)
Theatrical Trailer (2:06)
TV Spots (3:16)
Still Gallery (6:12)
John Carpenter's Vampires is the last film from the master of horror that is worthy of having his name on it. Sure, Ghosts of Mars is fun in a campy and godawful sort of way, but Vampires is legitimately not a bad movie. Scream Factory uses the same solid transfer from Twilight Time but also slaps on a bunch of new interviews worth checking out.
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