Vampires (1998) — James Woods lowers the stakes

“A master vampire, able to walk in the sunlight, unstoppable. Unless we stop him.”

Justin’s rating: Sponsored by the Red Cross

Justin’s review: I had totally forgotten how obsessed ’90s pop culture was with vampires. Seriously, it was all the hot rage for a while there. Anne Rice made bazillions from Interview with the Vampire, Quentin Tarantino and George Clooney fought them in From Dusk ‘Till Dawn, Blade kicked off the superhero revolution with a half-vampire assassin, Gary Oldman inhabited Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and of course there was some Valley Girl named Buffy who wiped out 98% of the vampire population of California. So why wouldn’t famed cult horror director John Carpenter try his hand at crafting a vamp movie while the biting was good?

Like most of Carpenter’s films, Vampires didn’t exactly tear up the box office or command instant respect — but it was a decently good time that found its audience in the years to come. Carpenter’s take was more of a modern action western, complete with his signature synth soundtrack spicing things up.

The fun starts with the casting of James Woods, who plays vampire buster Jack Crow. Say what you will about Woods — I’m sure some of you do — I’ve always loved the guy, and he’s perfect for a no-nonsense hunter who totes around a crossbow and takes the fight to the undead with no reservation. Crow heads up a Vatican-sponsored (!) team that clears out vampire nests in the American west.

Unfortunately for him, his entire team gets wiped out at the very start of the movie by a master vampire, leaving Crow with a heap of survivor’s guilt and one heck of a grudge. He spends the rest of the movie hunting down this big baddie with the help of a second-tier Baldwin brother (Daniel) and a first-rate Twin Peaks star (Sheryl Lee). Lee is a prostitute who got bit, which apparently turns her into a human tracking device of a sort.

There’s a bit of a time crunch with this hunt, too, as the master vampire is after some sort of relic that will let him walk out in the sunlight without being harmed.

I haven’t yet done a John Carpenter movie ranking — which would be an interesting challenge, I think — but I’m guessing that I’d be putting Vampires somewhere in the lower half of that list. Woods is a great stoic hero to follow, but the entire movie is pretty much just a series of bloody fights against vampires with a slight tinge of humor and western vibes. Nothing more, perhaps a little less.

Carpenter does a whole lot with cinematography and tone, but I always felt that Vampires is struggling to be an action edgy take in a way that Blade actually pulled off. Of course, this could be personal bias talking, as I don’t really care for the vampire sub-genre in any media format. But if it’s your thing, this might be one to unearth.

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