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Vampires (1998) – Carpenter countdown #13

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Back to the 90s, but this is the last (best? least worst?) of them.

Concept: The Wild Bunch meet Vlad the Impaler.

A team of armed men lead by master slayer James Woods arrive at an old farmhouse in New Mexico. It turns out that they're hunting wabbit vampires and have a priest in tow. Several vampires are indeed inside and, after a fight, are exposed to sunlight, catching fire. That night, the team are at a motel, celebrating with drinks and hookers, when the master vampire they have been looking for turns up. He slaughters all but two of them. You can guess one of them, and the other is Daniel Baldwin. They have Sheryl Lee with them, but she's been bitten (on the thigh) by master vampire Thomas Ian Griffith and will soon have a psychic link with him, so she's taken along as bait. After cutting heads off and staking the bodies of the team, they head off for a meeting with Catholic cardinal Maximilian Schell (Woods) or a hotel (the other two). It turns out, as it so often does, that the church knows a bit more than it is saying and that, having created the master vampire with a botched execution for heresy in the Middle Ages, they've spent the past few hundred years trying to wipe out vampires. Except that if you no longer believe in the church's teachings, the prospect of eternal life another way would be awfully tempting, wouldn't it? So it becomes a race between Woods trying to find and kill the master vampire and its search for the cross to perform the ceremony that will enable it to survive sunlight. Who will win? Who do you think?

What’s good: The opening sequence is possibly his best work in the 90s and all the action sequences are handled well.

None of the good guys are nice. Woods is potty mouthed (as we now know Natasha Henstridge would say) and as dangerous as the vampires he's after. Baldwin is quite capable of hitting Lee, but also ends up falling for her, despite the consequences. About the only good thing the two of them have going for them is their relationship and you could read it as homoerotic quite easily. Woods will keep talking about other men's penises after all…

Most of the effects are good, particularly the fire and the splatter ones.

What’s not so good: The plot's got the huge problem of trying to explain why the oh-so-valuable cross is known to some, but not protected even half way decently by anyone. It doesn't bother.

The rest of the plot.

Music: It's not his best, but it's good enough to be one of the things that makes me rate this one above Ghosts. It's a collection of blues and Mexican themes, with guitar played by Carpenter successfully trying not to disgrace himself in a band featuring, amongst others, Steve Cropper and Donald 'Duck' Dunn, the legendary session players featured as part of the backing band in The Blues Brothers. Some of it is written by Cody Carpenter, John's son.

Miscellany: The DVD back cover says 'In the blood-chilling tradition of HALLOWEEN and VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED'. The first I can obviously understand wanting to reference, but I'd want people to forget the latter personally.

People who have read the book about a group of vampire-hunting mercenaries, Vampire$, that this was based on tend to like the film a lot less. There's a quote from its author, John Steakley, saying that they kept much of his dialogue and lost his plot, which may explain why. I haven't read it, but I wouldn't be amazed if its plot was better than the one we're given here.

Overall: Like Ghosts, a lot depends on your expectations on coming to this one. It's a low budget action picture rather than horror and if you treat it as such, it's ok.

If you're going to watch a John Carpenter vampire film, this is your only choice. I'm not sure whether that's a good thing or not. There are certainly a lot better Carpenter films and a lot better vampire films out there. But there are also a lot worse, including the first three films in the countdown and the two sequels to this one.

TL;DR Yet another disguised Western from Carpenter, with a reasonably interesting twist

Film: 3/5
DVD: 3.5/5

Solo commentary, quite a thoughtful one, plus trailer and 'making of' promo.

DVD, the trilogy, the better option of this plus Ghosts, and the soundtrack:

Written by Ian

June 14th, 2011 at 9:59 am

Posted in Cinema,Countdown,DVDs

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