(John Carpenter, USA, 1998)
I used to be an avid Carpenter fan, impatiently awaiting his every film. But, sad though it is to admit, he's never really managed to maintain the heights of his early work, and some entries from his more recent output, such as the dire Escape from L.A., have been simply awful. It comes as no surprise to me then that it has taken me three years to get around to seeing his last film, Vampires. I'd love to be able to say the wait was worth, but I cannot.
Based upon the John Stakely novel Vampire$, Carpenter's film has a staggeringly simple plot. Jack Crow (James Woods) leads a team of vampire hunters (for the Catholic church) who go around the USA finding nests of vampires and killing them. He discovers that the first vampire ever created, Valek, has discovered where to get his hands on a black cross which will enable him and his kind to walk in sunlight, and thus take control of the Earth. A prostitute (Sheryl Lee) is bitten by Valek and is used by Crow to lure the master vampire into a confrontation to the death.
Vampires displays his familiar disregard for religion, but Carpenter largely sleepwalks through the 'direction' and his attempts at humour are, as always, very hit and miss. He seems to have no conviction over the material and the film severely lacks tension, pace and scares. There are some memorable images, the team of vampire hunters (all in shades) standing outside a nest, silhouetted against the sun; the undead rising from the dusty ground and then marching towards the camera; Valek hanging from an apartment ceiling; and vampires being harpooned and pulled out of their lairs to explode in the sun, but too often that's all this film really offers: some nice visuals.
Although well cast, most involved simply fail to register as their characters are so poorly developed. Oscar winner Maximillian Schell, for example, is remarkably forgettable. Thomas Ian Griffith makes a good Valek but again is undermined by the often crass script which, combined with Carpenter's weak direction, means his character as the master of the undead is far too one dimensional.
It should come as a surprise to nobody that James Woods is the major saving grace for Vampires. He clearly relishes the chance to play the action hero for a change and he, better than anyone else, comes across probably as the script intended, which is as a wise-cracking, tongue-in-cheek, vampire ass-kicking dude. From the theatrical trailer for Vampires this is clearly what Carpenter had in mind. But the flimsy storyline and poor directing only serve to emphasis the film's many shortcomings. 6/10
Rob Dyer (2001)
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