John Carpenter is a rare sort of filmmaker, who is still interesting even during some of his weakest points. Vampires, while a lesser Carpenter as some would say, still provides an enjoyable enough time while it still lasts as it continues to show the consistency of a filmmaker like him even if he is at a much lower point of his career. In Vampires, John Carpenter crafts some sort of a modern B-movie and exploits all of the glory that forms them on the screen. It’s certainly very cheap and dusty, but in turn that’s also a part of where all the fun comes in when watching Vampires. If this is considered to be lower-tier John Carpenter by many, then it only peaks more interest in said area for this can easily go alongside Prince of Darkness and In the Mouth of Madness as some of Carpenter’s most underappreciated films.
James Woods stars as Jack Crow, a man who is referred to as the “master slayer” by the Catholic Church that raised him after his parents were bitten by vampires. Adapted from the novel Vampire$ by John Steakley, there’s a sense of glorification present already from the premise alone, something which makes Vampires as effective as it stands – as it uses the ridiculousness of its premise in order to embrace the glory of a B-movie and exploit everything that we love about such, all in the best ways possible. In short, a summary of this premise can just read “Badass James Woods kills vampires” and it’s more or less fitting when talking about what is to be expected when watching the glory of Vampires on the screen.
Much like how John Carpenter is paying a tribute to the Stallone and Schwarzenegger action films of the 1980’s through his farcical Big Trouble in Little China, Vampires works in such a way that it is an homage to B-horror together with the western genre, and the experimentation that we are left with is something of its own kind. Carpenter revels inside of the glory that forms films of both sorts and what he churns out is only all the more pleasing from there. Stylistically, Carpenter’s aim with Vampires is only just all the more pleasing as everything keeps going and the appeal that is left behind never stops from there. Whether it be from the great visual effects to the beautiful cinematography, all the glory shines in the very best way possible, just as the best films of John Carpenter should go about.
It’s also worth noting how Vampires is doing a splendid job when it comes to how it handles the vampires, whether it be from their characterization and what aura they leave behind. Knowing Carpenter’s choices with the style, it is still just absolutely astounding what he creates in terms of atmosphere, a piece that embraces its western setting but also highlights so much of the dark glory that arises out of the horror genre. Like all of John Carpenter’s older films regardless of what genre they may be, what is created here is something of best suit with the director’s style. It shows how Carpenter has never let go of his touch no matter how far into his career he went, and it all adds up to the beauty that Vampires is presenting.
There’s a good amount of greatness that arises from James Woods’s performance as Jack Crow, for his presence emits an aura that just keeps every moment of Vampires just as pleasing as the last. Woods carries a sense of humour that only makes Vampires all the more entertaining as it keeps going, but he also revels into the film’s western influences by making Jack Crow a character almost like a spaghetti western protagonist. It would be easy to note that Jack Crow is a character written with clear influence arising from a Sergio Leone film, for James Woods’s performance recreates the posture they carry during some of their very finest hours on the screen, whether it be Clint Eastwood’s Man with no Name or Charles Bronson’s Harmonica – it can always be felt when watching James Woods in this film. Supporting cast members are impressive, whether it be Sheryl Lee or Mark Boone Junior, but there’s nothing that holds a candle to James Woods’s persona in such a fine-tuned piece.
While I certainly do appreciate the glory that Vampires revels in, there are moments in which I feel it can do without. One of said things coming to mind would be the gratuitous rear shots (especially from the female gender), something which takes up a good amount of the opening sequences. I understand that John Carpenter might have wanted to show how it was also a point of emphasis for B-movies, but it also ends up becoming one of the most distracting things that comes to mind while watching such a piece. I’m also not particularly fond of the story beats overall, because the moments of genuine suspense at points also feel as if they are just so contradictory especially when it comes to tone when looking back at just how ridiculous the overall premise is. It’s an interesting work at least with style, but when coming back substance-wise, it certainly is mostly compelling although it didn’t need to resort to playing ridiculous most of the time.
Vampires may be a lower-tier John Carpenter, but if that is the case, then it seems like it only excites me to check out more of what is viewed by others as “lesser Carpenter.” It’s a film that picks up on the glory of its influences, living inside of all their best moments and exploiting them, although certain moments of ridiculousness also distract from the overall experience. I wish that there could have been much more that John Carpenter had been willing to explore underneath the surface, but when the presence of James Woods is carrying a charm that is soon just indescribable, it’s hard to resist what Vampires is offering. An underappreciated film is what Vampires is, something quite criminal, I would also say.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Columbia Pictures.
Directed by John Carpenter
Screenplay by Don Jakoby, from the novel Vampire$ by John Steakley
Produced by Sandy King
Starring James Woods, Sheryl Lee, Daniel Baldwin, Maximilian Schell, Thomas Ian Griffith, Mark Boone Junior
Release Year: 1998
Running Time: 108 minutes