Vampires films that don’t suck: John Carpenter’s Vampires

When I originally started doing this series, I was intending to do actually “good” vampire movies that have been mostly either overlooked for that drippy menstrual dreck Twilight and it’s equally dismal psuedo-romantic ilk or crapped all over due to some sort of bullshit postmodernism (you know the type- Vampires are immune to fucking everything yada, yada yada). However, in my travels, I have to say that I’ve seen a lot of Vampire films that, while they don’t blow completely, and couldn’t ever be considered part of the whole “twat mooning after undead paedo” genre, just aren’t very good (in some cases are actively bad- scathing review of Fist of the Vampire coming soon). John Carpenter’s Vampires is one of this batch.

This is comfortably Carpenter’s best film since In the Mouth of Madness. However, that is not particularly an endorsement of it, because that would be folly when you look at his post 90’s career- and don’t give me that rubbish about Escape from LA being good. It’s a strange film, sure enough, in that it doesn’t really feel cinematic. I’ll come back to this later, but I think a lot of the hatred that Vampires attracts is because of this.

James Woods plays the splendidly psuedo-macho named Jack Crow. He’s the leader of the Vatican’s crack commando Vampire killing team. His number 2 is Montoya (played by Daniel “fattest of the” Baldwin). While on a mission to wipe out a nest they provoke Thomas Ian Griffith’s master vampire “Valek” who retaliates by wiping out Woods’ entire crew and chomps on Sheryl Lee’s hooker. The rest of the film meanders about before a big showdown in a dilapidated monastery in the ass end of nowhere.

Woods is on fine form here. He barks out orders, wonders around with a cigar in his mouth, is consistently rude to priests (I’ll also come back to this in a minute), and gives a good impression of a hard-as-nails single-minded Crusader. Griffith is also excellent as Valek. He’s a big brooding bastard and an intimidating presence on-screen. Lee reprises a sort of watered down version of Laura Palmer as the hooker and she’s OK, while fatty Baldwin is also OK as Montoya. Finally, Tim Guinee is reasonably amusing as the supporting padre. Really, the acting is pretty solid all round, with only really Woods and Griffith standing out.

The writing, however is extremely problematic. Vampires is intentionally funny on occasion (Woods asking the Padre if he “got wood” when being beaten up, for example) but for the main part it is the weakest aspect of the film. The problem being that Vampires is both deeply predictable, and staggeringly disjointed. It opens with a bang- the cleaning out of the nest and the slaughter of the crew- and then limps along through a shit-load of exposition and pointlessness before the big showdown at the finale. If you can’t see the end coming, and particularly who the traitor is from his first appearance then, frankly, you’re a moron. Lee’s character in particular is an exercise in redundancy, almost as if they thought “shit, we need a female character in this film to prevent a complete sausage fest, so we’ll pretend she has a telepathic link with Valek- even though there are countless easier and more coherent ways of getting Crow to the showdown- because that won’t be lame”. I don’t particularly mind watching Lee in hooker clothing writhe around on a bed as she’s did funny things for me when I was a teenager watching Twin Peaks, but I did wonder consistently what the fuck she was doing in the film.

To some extent, the same’s true of Baldwin’s character. Carpenter recycles the hackneyed “concealed bite” plot device, but for no purpose. It doesn’t matter a fucking jot that he’s been bitten- he doesn’t turn, so why do it? I appreciate that Crow needs a more calm “straight man” (Or in fatty’s case “round man”) sidekick, but almost everything he does is an exercise in pointlessness.

And don’t get me started on the fucking huge Murphy sized plot holes in this film.

I’ve read Carpenter described as the last of the great B-movie directors, (he isn’t- Neil Marshall will take that crown if he keeps going as he is) and one thing he seems to have a real love for is the Western. Vampires feels like a proper western in that it has the same colour palette, a nice cowboy type score and so forth. However, that doesn’t really fit a film about vampires, simply because the vast majority of action in Westerns takes place in daylight, and coupled with the disjointed narrative this means that Vampires feels like two episodes of a miniseries bolted together. Personally, I like the modern reinvention of the undead here, and there clearly was enough material for a good film, but this just feels lacklustre and unsatisfying.

Having said all that, though, the opening half an hour is rip-roaring stuff. It’s great fun and clips along at a fair old pace. The rest of the film doesn’t live up to this, and it is hard to see how it could, but as Vampires is a short film, when I watched it recently I had enough good will stored up from the first scene that I kind of enjoyed it. It doesn’t hang around, which is a good thing, because every passing minute reminds you of how good the beginning was and how it is getting further away.

Overall, Vampires is a thoroughly mediocre film. I don’t think it deserves a huge amount of hatred, but by the same score it certainly doesn’t deserve any real praise. I don’t really recommend going to the bother of digging up a lesser Carpenter (particularly not a 90’s Carpenter), as it isn’t worth it, but at the same time if it’s on the box and you blunder across it then it isn’t a bad way to spend 90 minutes. I give it a pretty unimpressed 1 and a half Changs.

I should have called this series: Vampire movies that aren’t completely dismal and don’t feature anaemic looking English teenagers.

Until next time,

Jarv

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About Jarv

Workshy cynic, given to posting reams of nonsense on the internet and watching films that have inexplicably got a piss poor reputation.

32 responses to “Vampires films that don’t suck: John Carpenter’s Vampires”

  1. Jarv says :

    Well,

    I’ve been completely blocked over this review, so it’s good to get rid of it.

    Anyhoo, we needed new content.

  2. xiphos0311 says :

    there clearly was enough material for a good film, but this just feels lacklustre and unsatisfying

    The reason that it feels that way is becasue they made a very very superficial version of the book. They used some characters names, a few set pieces changed dramatically, characters motivations altered tremendously and changed around all while trying to tie it all together in a new story or one altered so much as to be unrecognizable from the source.

    It’s to bad they went with the choice to depart from the book so far. It could have been an epic movie if they had stuck closer to the book.

    Now with that being said the movie wasn’t unentertaining in and of itself but I shake my head when I watch it becasue of what it could have been.

    • Jarv says :

      That’s pretty much how I feel about it.

      Could have been better.

      • xiphos0311 says :

        Man Vampires could have been spectacular if only they didn’t decide to make a new story. It’s so goddamn frustrating for me to see the movie

        Here’s an example. In your review you said something to the effect that some movies make Vampires so powerful and otherworldly that they really lose all connection to well anything(paraphrase). It’s not like that in the book. If anything Steakley went the other way and demythologized the undead and turned them into a more or less super powered mob family(kinda, more Russkie then Italian really since they poach off of each other).

        The younger vamps were con men and pimps that had to kick upstairs to the older vamps. The Cheryl Lee character, in the book, came to Crow and his boys becasue of being turned out by vampires.

        If you ever come across the book I suggest you give it read it’s fun and Steakley takes the whole vampire concept in an interesting direction. Both the vamps and the hunters are more Near Dark then Twilight.

        Also a suggestion that doesn’t have anything to do with anything but Steakley’s take on Starship Troopers called Armor, is a pretty good read, as long as you can get over the liberty he took with some characters name and relationship.

  3. Droid says :

    You’re right, Escape From LA isn’t good. IT’S AWESOME!!!

    I watched this one when it first came out on video, which was a long fucking time ago *sigh* and I remember absolutely nought from it. I’m pretty sure it was all a bit crap except for Woods hamming it up.

    I remember that Thomas Ian Griffith bloke from some dtv Die Hard ripoff set in some ski resort… Christopher Plummer was the bad guy… What the fuck was it called? I need to know! To the IMDB!!!

  4. Spud McSpud says :

    I vaguely remember Jarv and I extolling the virtues of Thomas Ian Griffith – or TIG as I’m gonna call him now – on AICN some time ago. Glad to see you giving him props here, Jarv!!

    VAMPIRES is a thoroughly frustrating movie. The book is a fantastic pulp read, and leaves you wanting way more – and then John Carpenter ill-advisedly gives the movie a completely unwarrented twist (which doesn’t work – it’s a hackneyed, over-used cliche which the book was ironically getting away from, not towards) and makes the rest of Crow’s team virtually pointless in their ineptitude, where the book has a bunch of stone-cold badasses led by the most badass of the bunch – Jack Crow. Woods absolutely NAILS the character down – he’s awesome as Crow – but those of us who’ve read the book are left wondering why the fuck the screenwriters jettisoned such an interesting, fresh take on the vampire/western hybrid genre for this meandering cliche-fest, almost none of which is completely original.

    It has its moments – a guy gets ripped in half BY HAND – that Valek is fucking solid! – and Sheryl Lee gets to writhe around and moan a lot, but Fat Baldwin sucks the awesome right out of the movie (along with all the pies) and even the combined awesome of Woods and TIG cannot save this dreck.

    Jarv, right again – VAMPIRES has enough good stuff to earn it goodwill, but great it ain’t. (There’s a title for your next batch of movies-that-aren’t-quite-awesome: GREAT IT AIN’T. you’re welcome!).

    However, Jarv, I must take issue and side with the Xi on this one: I fucking LOVED ESCAPE FROM LA!! Yes, the surf SFX are shite, Peter Fonda – WHY?, it’s a lazy retread etc. Why do I love it??

    Bruce Campbell. Steve Buscemi. The surf scene in all its deluded glory. That fucking ending – the fucking nerve of it!. The World Code. Stacey Keach – again. Bruce Campbell. The daughter from PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS as the President’s Daughter! Snake’s new outfit. Bruce Campbell. And the crowning glory:

    MICHELLE FUCKING FORBES.

    You can’t hate ESCAPE FROM LA. You just can’t…

    • xiphos0311 says :

      As much as I like getting sided with(it happens so very rarely) I said nothing about Escape From LA. I was blathering on about how Carpenter and the script writers missed the entire point of the Vampires book. Droid was the guy taking Jarv to task over Escape From LA.

      • Spud McSpud says :

        Hey, apologies Xi, sleep deprivation and alcohol is a vicious combination.

        Appropriate props to the Droid for championing Carpenter’s red-headed stepchild of a sequel…

    • Jarv says :

      You don’t want to be doing the catering at a Baldwin family reunion.

      Escape from LA is a film I’ve not seen in a long time, but which I remember being an unholy mess and killed by Pam Grier’s weird she-male voice.

      I shall rewatch it at some point.

      • Spud McSpud says :

        “You don’t want to be doing the catering at a Baldwin family reunion.”

        Talk about the gig from hell. Imagine that shit!! Truer words have never been spoken…

  5. Spud McSpud says :

    When Michelle Forbes yells “He’s got a hologram!” in ESCAPE FROM LA, she actually sounds tougher than Michael Ironside doing the EXACT same line in TOTAL RECALL. That’s how fucking hard Michelle Forbes is.

    That woman – she’d be the angerbang of a lifetime…

  6. Continentalop says :

    Good review. You summed up all the problems with Vampires nicely.

    And Jarv’s right, EFLA is a disappointment and a mess. And Basketball is no replacement for Ox Baker.

  7. Franklin Thomas Marmoset says :

    Yep, this is a pretty fair assessment. I remember really wanting to like this film – who wouldn’t want to enjoy a John Carpenter film where James Woods fights vampires – but it’s just not good enough.

    Bonus points for Sheryl Lee’s ass, though. That’s a nice ass.

  8. Stuntcock Mike says :

    God help me, I’ve been in love with Michelle Forbes since Kuntifornia and Swimming with Cunts.

    I like a girl who looks like she would bust my jaw in an argument.

    • Spud McSpud says :

      Hell yeah. And in that GLOBAL FREQUENCY unaired pilot – Michele Forbes IS Miranda Zero…

      There is something about a woman that could punch you like a guy. Not many broads like that around anymore…

    • Spud McSpud says :

      And as for SWIMMIMNG WITH SHARKS – it was on in the UK last week some time. I gave it some time, but MAN was that movie miscast – Michelle Fucking Forbes would have eaten Frank Whaley alive. Yes, even when he became a cunt at the end.

      Michelle Forbes is who Linda Fiorentino wants to be when she grows up…

  9. xiphos0311 says :

    Michelle Forbes is a hellacious piece of ass. She been stiffy inducing since Star Trek The Next Generation through that god awful True Blood. She was the only reason I ended up staying with the second season. Man oh man would she be a fun ride.

    • Tom_Bando says :

      Had forgotten about her. Did a quick Google image trick. I remember her now. Yes indeedie. I agrees w/ Noted_Sage Xiphos on this one. Nice.

      I like James Woods too–if you ever saw ‘Nixon’ he played Haldeman in that one, pretty well, too.

  10. ThereWolf says :

    Yeh, that’s pretty much how I view Vampires – an extremely middling film. I don’t dislike it, is the best I can say.

    But James Woods is top. He just keeps kicking the shit out of that priest, it’s hilarious. I love that bit in the hotel room, he takes the phone off Guiteau and beats him with it. Doesn’t Woods give him another whupping in the truck? Then there’s the whole “bend you over and take a walk up your strata-chocolata…” speech. Woods rocks, he’s having a great time.

    I’ve never rated Griffith in the vamp role, I always thought he looked like he’d just walked off a Duran Duran video. Valek should’ve been better, scarier.

    Nice one, Jarv.

  11. LB says :

    Ehhh-I’ve got to say that I detested this movie.

    And I buy the basic premise-and can’t fault the script.

    Woods just overacted in this perfomance, or something. I got the feeling that he got out of carpenter’s control-and over-hammed the role.

    I really,really didn’t care for this picture.

    But that’s just me.

  12. Chipps says :

    seen it. no thanks

  13. DocPazuzu says :

    Nope, sorry. Vampires is shit. I love James Woods and Thomas Ian Griffith but in this movie they constitute a lovely plate of ham and wood, respectively. Also, Carpenter succumbed to the “we’re vampires so let’s all walk around with our mouths half open like retards all the time so people can see our long, pointy teeth” schtick.

    No, fuck Vampires.

    • Jarv says :

      Oh, it’s not a good film- not at all.

      However, I found enough good will from the first half an hour to carry me through the film.

      I do agree about the open mouth thing

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