Sony // 1998 // 108 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // August 14th, 2003
From the master of terror comes a new breed of evil.
"Forget everything you've ever heard about vampires," Jack Crow (James Woods, The Hard Way, Ghosts of Mississippi) advises us. Apparently, the bloodsuckers in John Carpenter's Vampires are meaner, nastier, and harder to kill than those trite "fictional" ones in the movies. For Jack Crow, killing vampires isn't just a job -- it's a lifestyle choice. A ragtag group of mercenary hunters, Team Crow seeks out the vampire's nests and drags them into the sunlight to their doom. Financed by the Catholic church, Crow's crew succeeds where others have failed, until most of Jack's team -- save for his right hand man Montoya (Daniel Baldwin, Mullholland Falls) -- is killed in a violent set up with the head honcho master vampire, Valek (Thomas Ian Griffith, xXx). After a meeting with the high powered Cardinal Alba (Maximilian Schell, Deep Impact), who seems to head these vampire hunts, Crow, Montoya, and a young priest named Father Guninna (Tim Guinee, Blade) discover that Valek is attempting to retrieve a coveted black cross that will help aid him in becoming the most deadly of all vampires: a day walker. Aided by a bitten prostitute (Sheryl Lee, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me) who has a telekinetic link with Valek, Crow and company are about to fight for their very souls against an enemy more powerful than anything man has ever known.
For an in-depth look at John Carpenter's Vampires, take a look at our previous review of the original DVD release. As for this reviewer's two cents, for me Vampires plays better on the small screen than it did on the big one. When I initially saw it in the theater, I was disillusioned at how small it all seemed. My feelings were that for a movie touted as a "new breed of evil," this evil certainly looked like it had budget constraints. But like Carpenter's Ghosts of Mars, Vampires grew on me the second time around. Yes, the narrative is a bit flat -- the script by Don Jakoby (adapted from the novel "Vampire$" by John Steakly) never gives us any true insights into the characters or the vampires. Instead, we get a lot of scenes involving the creatures being dragged to their deaths into the sunlight. However, what shortcomings the film carries are often overcome by some well-filmed fight sequences and a fine performance by James Woods as the resident hero. Woods makes for a fun hero, all sunglasses and chomping cigar as he smacks around both vampires and prostitutes (he's an equal opportunity abuser). Woods is the heart of the movie -- without him, I fear this would have been a straight-to-video title of the highest degree. Sadly, Crow's nemesis isn't nearly as fun to watch -- Thomas Ian Griffith isn't given a whole lot to do as the main vamp baddie. He spends much of the movie licking his lips and talking in hushed monotones. The paunchy Daniel Baldwin and attractive Sheryl Lee offer little in the way of presence -- aside of looking at each other with doe eyes, they're not given a whole lot to do. However, horror/action fans should enjoy Carpenter's breezy direction and the multiple impalings / stabbings / bitings / explosions peppered throughout the film. If you're looking for a gory, fast paced vampire movie from the 1990s, check out the Tarantino penned From Dusk 'Till Dawn. As for John Carpenter's Vampires, it's many notches down from great, but should provide any Van Helsing fan with a few hours worth of mediocre bloodsucking entertainment.
John Carpenter's Vampires is presented in a shiny new Superbit edition. The film's original widescreen aspect ratio of 2.35:1 is intact (Carpenter's aspect ratio of choice), sporting an anamorphic transfer. Though I haven't seen the original Columbia DVD release of Vampires, I can safely say that this transfer is in great shape. The colors (lots of blood red tones and oranges) are full and vibrant, complemented by excellent looking flesh tones. The black levels -- especially the scenes that take place inside dank old houses and churches -- all appear solid and dark. Though I looked and looked, I didn't spot nary an ounce of edge enhancement or grain. The only minor flaw I could spot was a small amount of haloing in a few key scenes. However, even that was never intrusive to the viewing of the film. Fans of the film will certainly be happy that John Carpenter's Vampires is now a part of Columbia's coveted Superbit line.
The soundtrack is presented in two different options: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround and DTS 5.1 Surround, both in English. I wasn't quite as impressed with the soundtracks as I was with the video presentation. However, this isn't really Columbia's fault -- the original soundtrack just isn't as vibrant and exciting as it could be. This doesn't mean that there aren't instances where lots is happening, audiowise -- many scenes feature a rumbling bass (courtesy of a music score composed by -- who else? -- John Carpenter) and lots of screeching and whooshing effects from the vampires. There are some wonderful moments where all of the speakers are engaged, making for a soundtrack that, while good, could have been better. Also included on this disc are English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese subtitles.
Like almost all other Superbit releases, John Carpenter's Vampires is void of even a single extra feature. If you're more interested in high quality video and audio than supplements, this Superbit disc may just be something you'll want to sink your teeth into.
Review content copyright © 2003 Patrick Naugle; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* DTS 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 108 Minutes
Release Year: 1998
MPAA Rating: Rated R