A few reviews back I said the summer of 92 was one of my favorite of any. The fall of 98 may hold that title for my favorite season of the year. I was gifted with two films I love for vastly different reasons. One tells the tale of a family of witches in a small town on some indeterminate coast. The other creates a genre unto itself, the Vampiric Spaghetti Western. A cowboy movie where the white (ish) hats are the hunters and the vampires are the outlaws. While not literally a western in the John Wayne, Eastwood or Leone it has all the vibes and beats of one, including musical queues. The movie of course is John Carpenters Vampires.
Arguably one of the great masters of modern horror, with 38 writing credits and 28 directing credits to his name John Carpenter (Halloween, The Thing, The Fog) decided to take on the Vampire genre since he had hit everything else over a 40 year career. He decided to direct whilst letting a writer by the name of Don Jakoby (possibly an Alias for someone else) adapt John Steakleys novel Vampire$. In typical studio fashion they interfered with production by cutting the budget by 2/3 just before filming, nice eh?
What ends up on screen however is one of the more pure, entertaining and utterly ridiculous vampire films of the past twenty years. James Woods plays Jack Crow, a vampire hunter on the churches payroll. It’s like Boondock Saints with fangs. That should give you an interesting visual. He and his partner Anthony Montoya (Daniel Baldwin – the one not on 30 rock or Serenity), are tracking down an ancient vampire looking for a relic that will enable him to walk in the sun.
The plot itself, which has nothing to do with the books, isn’t particularly inventive or creative. It does however have some dialogue choices and banter in it unlike anything I’ve heard in a mainstream film then or really since. Woods carries the movie like some sort of Vampire himself, with scenery as his diet. I think he was specifically told to ham it up and just find the top and go a few miles over it. It works. It shouldn’t but because it is Woods it does.
The bad guy has a total of 14 lines of dialogue in the movie. I counted. Its a breath of undead air for a villain to not truly monologue or just talk so much as to lose their menace. A scene with him versus a few hunters is beautifully one sided and executed to a Tarantino/Rodriguez like perfection.
Make up and gore were brought to you in this film by the masters of such work at KNB studios with Berger, Kurtzman and Nicotero being directly involved with the film. You may not know them like I do, but their work is some of the best practical effects in the industry.
There IS a sequel to this one which stars Jon Bon Jovi.
Ok now that you’ve stopped laughing; I have to say while not nearly as ridiculously over the top it is entertaining. JBJ himself is one of the best things in it and they maintain the bad guy of the piece having minimal dialogue (4 lines, just above SAG minimum).
I saw this one three times in the theatres that fall and at least a dozen times since. It is pure unadulterated vampiric fluff and I love them for it. Some movies are bad because they had no love, others are bad on a level that makes you love them. This is the second. It looks and feels like Segio Leone was ghost directing with Carpenter and quite honestly it’s better for it.
My vote, if you have a couple of hours to kill and are in the mood for a non scary vampire film, put this one in. You can pass on the second unless you are really bored.
Tomorrow’s review knows how to make flapjacks in the shape of a saguaro cactus.