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John Carpenter's Vampires (1998)
Blu-ray Disc Released: 10/13/2015
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 10/20/2015
Back in the early 90s, before a wife, a family, and DVDs, I used to read a lot. I mainly read horror novels and would try to look outside of the current Stephen King or Dean Koontz bestsellers to find something different. (Not that there's anything wrong with vintage King or Koontz.) One of the novels that I found was John Steakley's Vampire$, and I really enjoyed it. I was very excited when it was announced that John Carpenter would be adapting the novel for the screen. But, apparently, many things went wrong and John Carpenter's Vampires was a crushing disappointment.
John Carpenter's Vampires deals with a group of vampire hunters who work for the Catholic church. Jack Crow (James Woods) leads the team in their quest to wipe-out the undead. After destroying a "nest" of vampires, Crow and his team head for a local motel to celebrate. There, a master vampire named Valek (Thomas Ian Griffith) ambushes the group, killing everyone save for Jack, his sidekick Montoya (Daniel Baldwin), and a prostitute named Katrina (Sheryl Lee), who's been bitten by Valek and thus shares a psychic link with him. Jack reports this incident to his church contacts, who report that Valek is searching for a religious relic that will allow him to walk during the day. Crow, a determined man, if nothing else, vows to stop Valek, leading to a showdown in a ghost-town.
Carpenter and veteran screenwriter Don Jakoby have taken the main ideas from Steakley's novel, and discarded the rest. But, this isn't the only reason that Vampires doesn't work. But, I'm gettig ahead of myself. The novel is definitely a work of horror, but it borders on being a fantasy/sci-fi work. In the book, Jack Crow is a larger-than-life character, who uses wooden stakes the size of baseball bats to do his work, and weilds a giant crossbow. He and his crew wear chain-mail armor equipped with halogen-lit crosses. Crow has some inner motivations for killing vampires, but he mainly does it for the money, and some of the book is set in his beach-front California mansion. We get none of this in the film. (Rumor has it that Carpenter's budget was cut by as much as 60% just before filming.) In the film, the vampire-hunters only wear chain-mail collars. There are crossbows, but they are normal size. All of the film's action takes place in the southwestern desert. (Although, the house in Monterey is mentioned.) Thus, the broad scope of the book has been diminished.
But, many films survive outside of their source novels. Unfortunately, Vampires is riddled with other problems. For one thing, save for the scenes in the nest and in the jail, this doesn't look like a John Carpenter film. His film's have a signature look, and that's missing here. Also, the movie certainly isn't scary, nor is it particularly suspenseful. Carpenter has made a career out of creating suspense, and there's little to be had here. In the movie, Jack Crow makes a speech about how vampires aren't the Euro-trash that we see in movies. Yet, Valek, looking for all-the-world like Trent Reznor and dressed head-to-toe in black, is the epitome of gothic vamipre Euro-chic. The action scenes aren't very exciting, and there's very little back-story to any of the proceedings. The one saving grace in the film is James Woods, who shouts nearly constant profanities (much of which he seems to be making up) and is so over-the-top that he's in his own little movie. Vampires takes a unique novel and transforms it into a run-of-the-mill vampire story.
John Carpenter's Vampires tries to not suck on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Twilight Time. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 25 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, showing a mild amount of grain in the daytime scenes and no defects from the source materials. The colors look good and the image is never overly bright or dark. (Carpenter's films always get dark, but the action is visible at all times.) The level of detail is notable and the depth looks very good, most notably in the daytime action sequences. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.7 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. This is a muscular track which contains a nice blend of stereo, surround, and subwoofer effects. The track really comes to life during the action sequences as the stereo effects highlight sounds coming from off-screen (very important in the nest scenes) and the subwoofer enhances the gunshots. The score sounds fine as well.
The John Carpenter's Vampires Blu-ray Disc contains a few extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Director John Carpenter. "The Making of John Carpenter's Vampires" (6 minutes) is an EPK from 1998 which features some on-set footage and comments from Carpenter and Woods, and then brief quotes from Sheryl Lee, Thomas Ian Griffith, and Daniel Baldwin. The piece also looks at the stunt work and special effects makeup. Fans of the music from Carpenter's films can listen to an "Isolated Music Track". The final extra is the ORIGINAL THEATRICAL TRAILER for the film.
Review Copyright 2015 by Mike Long