The Movie Waffler Blu-Ray Review - VAMPIRES (1998) | The Movie Waffler

Blu-Ray Review - VAMPIRES (1998)

Vampire slayers attempt to retrieve a relic that will allow vampires to walk in sunlight.

Review by Jason Abbey

Directed by: John Carpenter

Starring: James Woods, Daniel Baldwin, Sheryl Lee, Thomas Ian Griffith, Maximilian Schell

On the surface, a John Carpenter directed modern day horror movie with James Woods as a Vatican-raised slayer of vampires sounds like perfect Saturday evening entertainment from a filmmaker who knows the genre and understands pacing and tension like no other. Why then is it such a dispiriting and largely plodding exercise?

It could be partly down to the script that like most updates of classic monsters during this dank period for horror, seems to think it's ripping up the rule book and turning the seductive power and melancholia of the vampire affliction into something new and brutal. Instead what you get are zombies with fangs who have had a makeover from a costume designer on a Duran Duran video. It also doesn’t do a whole lot with the premise - a bunch of reprobates on the payroll of the church could have raised some interesting ideas about faith and the corrupting power of religion and how good and evil need each other for faith to survive.

The biggest let down though is Woods as Jack Crow. Always a capable and intense presence, here you get the feeling that despite a rare leading man turn, he's slumming it. Kurt Russell is the kind of actor that can toss one liners out with ease and be aware of the absurdity at the same time while always having fun. Woods feels as though he has one eye on the pay cheque, and plays it like he is sexy hot shit. It’s a vain, boorish performance in a film with a vaguely unpleasant feel to it (that said, as he was raised by the Catholic Church, it may be a stunning performance of post traumatic abuse, a man unable to make connections with people who can only talk in the language of violence). That he is paired up with the charisma free Daniel Baldwin (the chubby Baldwin back in the day when there was only one of them), giving it the full pound shop Michael Madsen, also doesn’t aid matters.

Sheryl Lee has the most thankless task as a hooker turned by the head vamp big bad, who wants to get his hands on a religious artefact that will allow him to live in daylight. She plays Katrina, although you could be mistaken and think her first name is 'bitch' or 'whore'. There is a weird, underlying misogyny to the film, as though the creators have never seen a woman before, let alone interacted with one. At one stage Katrina is tied naked to a bed for no other reason than so the camera can leer at her ass (even Carpenter joins in on the commentary).

Carpenter loves a western, and here he is doing his Peckinpah horror movie. Unfortunately he has also adopted the uncomfortable attitude to women that was also that director's hallmark. As a director who has always handed women strong roles in his earlier work, it is doubly disappointing from Carpenter.

In the plus column it does boast some nifty gore effects from KNB, Carpenter seems to be enjoying playing blues on the score, and it has a nice ochre visual aesthetic. But there are slim pickings here. Thomas Ian Griffith, as head vampire Valek, is a charisma free variant of the '80s/'90s strain of vampirism, all long hair and bad skin, while Maximilian Schell is wasted as Cardinal Alba.

If you're a Carpenter completist, you'll have to own this. If you're a fan of From Dusk to Dawn you may get something out of it. For my money this is still the director's most uninteresting work. Fortunately, the direct to video sequel starring Jon Bon Jovi has not been included as an extra on this release.

As usual with the Powerhouse Indicator label, this disc comes festooned with extras. A director’s commentary, which is slightly less interesting than the ones he does in groups, is at times just a list of shots on the day and what is happening on screen. Still interesting, but not up there with The Thing. An electronic press kit that repeats the same basic info about five times over a 25-minute period, although the b-roll shows the vampires coated in asbestos!

The real meat is part 1 of a Guardian NFT lecture with Nigel Floyd. Recorded after a screening of In the Mouth of Madness, the director doesn’t look entirely like he wants to be there, but is both forthcoming and taciturn in places. The second part is on the release of Ghosts of Mars. An isolated music score and a booklet with writing from Kim Newman, who is more generous to the film than I have been, and an interview with Carpenter as well as a trailer and subtitles for the deaf/hard of hearing.

A worthy array of extras for an inessential work that has been scrubbed up nicely for this release.

Vampires is available on blu-ray now from Powerhouse Indicator.