A few days ago I once again watched John Carpenter’s Vampires (if you can find it in Bluray buy without hesitation, it’s a fantastic edition), so I decided to write about it.
But first let’s talk for a moment about the 1998 John Carpenter. The 80s began well for the American director thanks to the overwhelming success of Halloween (1978), but ended with his disillusion for big Hollywood productions: after the failure of Big Trouble in Little China (1986), Carpenter made two of his most angry films, Prince of Darkness and They Live in 1987 and 1988, respectively. Four years later he started working again with mixed results: the splendid Body Bags (1993) and In the Mouth of Madness (1994) were accompanied by the dull Memoirs of an Invisible Man (1992) and Escape from Los Angeles (1996).
But then, in 1998, something happened: John Carpenter decided to make the western film he had never done before, despite his love for the genre and having declared that practically every one of his films was a tribute to Rio Bravo by Howard Hawks (1959) and Stagecoach by John Ford (1939) – this is particularly true for his debut Assault on Precinct 13! Of course, Vampires is a vampire movie, but the vampires imagined by John Carpenter are far from those of Twilight! As the director himself said, they have nothing romantic: they are too busy dismembering human beings to be romantic!
So let’s talk about the plot (no spoilers, as usual): Jack Crow (James Woods, who was delighted for once not to play the usual lawyer character which he was always paid to do) leads a group of vampire slayers working for the Vatican in New Mexico. After a successful raid, during the inevitable alcohol and sex-fueled party, the Master of the group that they just eliminated storms the party killing all the slayers except for Crow and Montoya (Daniel Baldwin). Shortly afterwards, the two find themselves alone with one of the prostitutes (Sheryl Lee, you surely remember her in Twin Peaks) who’s been bitten by the Master and therefore has a telepathic connection with him. Jack Crow’s idea is simple: revenge. And he will never give up!
Why is Vampires a splendid movie? First of all because it works great as a vampire movie: it’s dark, vampires are truly evil, and there are tons of blood. Second, because it works as an action movie, and even as a Western: Jack Crow is the classic, gross Carpenterian antihero with dubious morality, not unlike Clint Eastwood’s character in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. And then because it is a splendid film to watch: the special effects (courtesy of the legendary Greg Nicotero) are practical and effective, and the cinematography is spectacular: both the dark interiors and the New Mexico desert at sunset and dawn are photographed extremely well. Plus, John Carpenter composed a killer soundtrack for this one!
No scene is redundant. The plot, although fairly linear, has a couple of interesting twists, and the movie literally flies by. Obviously Carpenter had a lot of fun making it, and the as a result the movie is fun to watch. In fact, making this film convinced the horror master to continue working as a director, as he was thinking of quitting because it had stopped being fun. Among other things, this was also his only 90s’ movie which managed to exceed its budget at the box office! Too bad that his next film happened to be Ghosts of Mars… but let’s not digress!
In short, if you haven’t got it already: I recommend seeing (over and over again) John Carpenter’s Vampires! Ciao!