Sunday, July 31, 2022

John Carpenter's Vampires

Movie Name:
Year of Release: 1998
Director: John Carpenter
Starring: James Woods, Daniel Baldwin, Sheryl Lee, Thomas Ian Griffith, Maximilian Schell, Tim Guinee, Mark Boone Junior, Gregory Sierra, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Thomas Rosales Jr., Henry Kingi
Genre: Action, Horror
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 4
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review
The 90s were an interesting decade for the fantastic John Carpenter. While he managed to create some solid films for his cannon, including "In the Mouth of Madness", the underrated "Memoirs of an Invisible Man" and "Village of the Damned", he also released "Escape from L.A." and "Vampires", both of which were met with a tepid response. "Vampires" focuses its narrative on Jack Crow, a vampire hunter/slayer, whose activities are sponsored by the Vatican. He has assembled a solid crew which includes his good friend and second in command, Tony Montoya. After a particularly successful hunt and disposal mission, all of his team is celebrating, until they're caught by the Vampire leader, whom up until that moment they had been unable to locate. That Vampire, by the name of Valek, kills everyone, save for Crow and Montoya who manage to escape, taking with them Katrina, a woman Valek had bitten, thus creating a psychic link with him. Crow meets with his superior, Cardinal Alba, who explains Valek is in reality a disgraced priest who led a rebellion against the church centuries ago, which eventually led to his execution and transformation into the first vampire. Crow goes on the hunt once again with the additional assistance of Father Guiteau, and soon they reconnect with Montoya and Katrina, leveraging her link with the master Vampire, to locate him. Valek however has been recruiting and all is not as transparent as Crow has been led to believe. 
"Vampires" most interesting aspect lies in the perspective John Carpenter brings into the film, shooting it very much like a B-movie western (with faint traces of Sam Peckinpah's "The Wild Bunch"). Characters are economically established with bare dimension to them, with the single purpose of getting the action going. Something John Carpenter has always been able to successfully do, even with low budgets, is effectively create a context in which his characters live, making the narratives all the more consistent and enthralling. "Vampires" brings to mind Robert Rodriguez's "From Dusk till Dawn", which in itself isn't that memorable, without ever truly establishing an identity of its own. It's a film that lacks some of the visual inventiveness of the director, something that may be tied with some issues he encountered while shooting the film. The cast is also not as compelling as his previous features, with Sheryl Lee and Maximilian Schell being the highlights of the film, whereas the lead character needed someone who could marry grit, charisma and resourcefulness, something James Woods sadly is unable to properly translate (he plays the character very similarly to the work he did in Luis Llosa's "The Specialist" or even John Badham's "The Hard Way"). Thomas Ian Griffith sadly also does not bring much to the role of Valek, making the central villain an anemic one. In the end, while not a dreadful film, it's not one of the most memorable endeavors from the always compelling John Carpenter.