John Carpenter's VAMPIRES

Directed by John Carpenter
Produced by Don Jakoby & Sandy King
Written by Don Jakoby
Director of Photograpy Gary B. Kibbe
Music by John Carpenter
Cast: James Woods, Daniel Baldwin, Sheryl Lee, Thomas Ian Griffith & Tim Guinee

1998/108 mins/Color/5.1 DD/DTS 5.1
2.35:1 anamorphic/English/USA/NTSC Region 1

Review from the Columbia/Tri-Star Home Entertainment DVD

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 innermotivations for doing 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 signtaure 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 suspsense, 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.

Technically, the SuperBit version of John Carpenter's Vampires is the fifth time that Columbia/Tri-Star Home Entertainment has released the film, as the previous DVD was released individually, and was then available as part of three different multi-packs. But, this new edition should provide the best audio and video presentation of the film. The DVD contains an anamorphic transfer and the film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1. The image is sharp, but the clarity is questionable. Much of the film takes place in the bright desert, and there is a noticeable amount of grain in these shots. Also, the bright image reveals black spots and dirt on the source print. When dealing with a SuperBit transfer, one would think that the cleanest source material would be used, but that wasn't the case here. On the positive side, the colors are good and Carpenter's signature dark photography looks fine, but this image is far from perfect. The DVD does much better in the audio department. The disc carries both a Dolby Digital 5.1 track as well a DTS 5.1 track. Both tracks sound fantastic, as they provide clear dialogue and make Carpenter's western score sound good. The tracks offer sumptous surround sound effects and a nice bass response. The best sound effect is the "woosh!" when the vampires are dragged into the sunlight. This provides a nice bass sound which then dissipates through the other speakers. The DTS track is slightly louder than the Dolby track and sounds cleaner. As with other SuperBit titles, there are no extras on this DVD.





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Review by Mike Long. All Right Reserved. 2003. ©