Sunday, 20 January 2013

Vampires (1998)

"Well first of all, they're not romantic. It's not like they're a bunch of fuckin' fags hoppin' around in rented formal wear and seducing everybody in sight with cheesy Euro-trash accents, all right? Forget whatever you've seen in the movies: they don't turn into bats, crosses don't work. Garlic? You wanna try garlic? You could stand there with garlic around your neck and one of these buggers will bend you fucking over and take a walk up your strada-chocolata WHILE he's suckin' the blood outta your neck, all right? And they don't sleep in coffins lined in taffata. You wanna kill one, you drive a wooden stake right through his fuckin' heart. Sunlight turns 'em into crispy critters." 

Many point to Vampires as "Evidence A" in the case against John Carpenter having any kind of film-making talent left in him (with Ghosts Of Mars, of course, being "Evidence B") and there was a time, not too long ago, when I would have agreed with that. It would have saddened me, as I'm a huge Carpenter fanboy, but it would have been impossible to argue against.

Not any more.

Vampires is a messy movie with plenty of failings, but it's far from the unwatchable mess that many people try to label it. In fact, it's actually a lot of fun in places and benefits from an enjoyable opening segment and a grand finale bookending the weaker content in the middle.

James Woods stars as Jack Crow, a tough and skilled vampire slayer who works for the Catholic Church, leading his team into dangerous places to stake bloodsuckers and rid the world of the vampire menace, one nest at a time. Unfortunately, a particularly powerful master (Valek, played by Thomas Ian Griffith) doesn't like that situation and he turns up to spoil the party, killing the vast majority of Crow's group in one sequence of entertaining carnage. Crow is even more motivated than he was before to kill off every single vampire that he can, for his own revenge and also to stop Valek in his quest for . . . . . . . . . whatever it is that he seems to be looking for. Perhaps the church knows more than it's letting on. With the help of his colleague Anthony Montoya (Daniel Baldwin) and a young woman (Sheryl Lee) who was bitten by Valek, Crow sets out to destroy the biggest threat that he's yet faced.

It's got music by John Carpenter, there's a Western vibe to the whole thing and a couple of scenes feature a number of practical gore effects that work really well (including, most notably, a great kill within mere seconds of Valek crashing the party being held by Crow's group). It's far from classic Carpenter - the cinematography isn't as gorgeous, for one thing, and there's far too much crossfading - but it's a solid bit of fun.

Don Jakoby adapted the novel by John Steakly. Many who have read the source material say that it's much better, and I can't help feeling that Carpenter missed a chance to really mix things up a bit and bring a fresh spin to the vampire sub-genre, but the film has enough decent moments and good one-liners throughout (spat out by Woods, for the most part) to raise it just above average.

James Woods chews up every line and spits it out with hilarious effect and the movie is all the better for it. Daniel Baldwin may spend the entire movie reminding viewers of why he's not the A-list star that Alec is, but he does okay. Sheryl Lee isn't the best actress in the world, but she tries her best in a pretty thankless role and she's certainly easy on the eye. Tim Guinee is a lot of fun as Father Adam Guiteau, the priest who will help Crow on his quest when Crow isn't trying to beat up on him and find out just what secrets the church is keeping. People playing the bad guys often have the most fun and Thomas Ian Griffith certainly seems to be enjoying himself each time he appears to cause some death and destruction. Maximilian Schell plays Cardinal Alba and other small roles are filled by Mark Boone Junior, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Gregory Sierra and other people with names less familiar to me.

Don't expect anything like classic Carpenter, that pretty much goes without saying, but give this a watch (or a re-watch) at some point and you might be surprised to find that it's fairly enjoyable. If you think I'm mad for holding that opinion, just wait until I finally revisit Ghosts Of Mars and try to defend that.


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