A Church-sanctioned vampire slayer is on the hunt for Valek, the original vampire, who is on a crusade to find a special cross that will allow him to walk during the day.
Judging a Book by its Cover
-Oh there’s a scary face in the clouds! Or maybe it’s Mufasa?
-What are the odds any of the other guys who aren’t named James Woods don’t survive until the end?
-“Prepare for the dawn.” Of what? Or who? Is it Jesus!?
From the master of terror comes a new breed of evil.
Directed by John Carpenter
Starring James Woods, Daniel Baldwin, Sheryl Lee and Thomas Ian Griffith
The film opens with a twangy, western tune and Jack Crow (Woods) and a team of vampire slayers, and a priest, checking out a possible nest in New Mexico. The chances of a “master” vampire nearby is high so everyone is amped for a fight and eventually get one! After clearing out the nest without finding the master, the team heads back to their motel for one last night of boozing and whoring before going back to the Vatican.
Uh-whaaaaa? Yes, the Catholic Church has several teams of vampire slayers who are sent worldwide to deal with the creatures. Probably because they created the original vampire which is explained later on through tons and tons of exposition. That very vampire, however, shows up at the motel and eviscerates the entire team with only Crow, his second in command, Montoya, and prostitute Katrina (Lee) that was bit by Valek survive. Crowe uses the telepathic link she has with Valek to track him even though the Cardinal who runs the whole vampire-slaying division would rather Crowe rebuild a new team, giving him young Father Adam in the process.
Crowe coaxes information from Father Adam to learn more about Valek’s association with the church and what exactly he’s looking for. Valek is a creature of the night because he was interrupted during a Satantic ritual against the church; unable to finish the ceremony, Valek has been damned to walk only at night. He’s looking for a special relic that he can use to finish the ceremony and be able to be out during the day. I don’t think he’s missing out on much but that’s what they have to stop happening, dammit. Meanwhile, Montoya and Katrina get close, especially after she bites him and he hides it from Crow, knowing he’d spout a rule from the “rule book” and shoot him in the face. Yes, there’s a rule book and it’s quoted often.
Vampires is John Carpenter’s vision of the title characters set in a Western-style horror film and it mostly works out well. James Woods is often fun to watch in the first place but seeing him as such a bad-ass vampire killer is one of the highlights of the movie. Thomas Ian Griffith, as Valek, on the other hand kicks ass better than his grunt vampires but he doesn’t have a lot of dialogue so he’s often mumbling something after Crow verbally rips him a new one. The love story between Montoya and Katrina seems a bit forced, even after the bite, but at least it gives Daniel Baldwin something to chew on when he’s on screen.
I always crack a smile when I see KNB Effects show up in the opening credits, I just know the movie is going to deliver the gory goods. Valek’s slaughter of Crow’s team is fantastically gruesome to watch including a dude getting split in half and a shotgun blast that paints the ceiling with a bit of grey matter. The vampires get it good as well in the usual ways, just done really well.
I think Vampires is probably Mr. Carpenter’s last good movie and arguably his best film of the 90s, (In the Mouth of Madness was good, Village of the Damned not so much, and Escape from L.A., you broke my heart.) It’s an interesting combination of vampires with a Western feel to it. The vampires aren’t the romanticized versions you’ve seen so often before; James Woods’ high-energy and very non-PC explanation let’s us know exactly what evil creatures they are and how to deal with them — which apparently involves shoving a stake up their asses. It’s far from perfect and what Carpenter had done in the 80s but it’s a fun effort with a willing cast and some wildly bloody effects to keep everyone happy. I hope.
Story: 7 – Vampire killer James Woods seeks vengeance on the vampire that killed his crew and finds out it’s also the original vampire so hey, still gotta kill him.
Blood: 8 – A sufficiently bloody affair thanks to the KNB team.
Nudity: 7 – Some boobage early on at the motel and Sheryl Lee showing off her butt (while tied to a bed.)
Overall: 7 – While it may not rank amongst the best of the best the Master has delivered, there’s more than enough to recommend Vampires because it’s ultimately a fun watch.
-Just before filming began, the production company cut the budget by 2/3. Why must they hinder the Master, dammit?
-Alec Baldwin was initially set to star but passed it onto his brother, Daniel.
-An early 90s attempt at an adaptation of the novel, “Vampire$,” was set up with Highlander director Russell Mulcahy and Dolph Lundgren as the star.