John Carpenter's vision of the undead is very lively in his latest film
entitled 'Vampires'. The film is based on the novel 'Vampire$' by John
Steakley and is written for the screen by Don Jakoby. In the ads for
the film, it is labeled John Carpenter's 'Vampires'. It is admirable
for a director to want his name on the head of a film because after all,
he IS supposed to be proud of his work but what puzzled about the film
was Carpenter's lack of restraint which is filled with an unusual amount
of gore for a John Carpenter film. For a vampire flick, the film looks
heavily influenced by 1996's 'From Dusk Till Dawn' which had enough wild
bloody gore to fill a dozen movies.
James Woods, who likes to make up many of his own 'in your face' remarks
in improvised dialogue, stars as a vampire killer, raised and trained by
the Catholic church to destroy vampires moving around all parts of the
globe. The film tries to cast off stereotypes that have carried
vampires throughout film history. Woods says that crosses don't work
and other stereotypes are cast off as well. There is a new breed of
vampire on the loose that can walk around in the daylight.
Traveling through New Mexico as the film opens, Woods and his gang of
vampire killers include an army of "soldiers" and Daniel Baldwin plays
Woods' right hand man and Gregory Sierra plays a priest re-cruited by
the church to aid Woods on his hunt to destroy the unholy beasts.
Thomas Ian Griffith plays Valek, the First Vampire who has lived for 600
years and who has been the influence for all vampires created throughout
history. No vampire film I've ever seen has taken on such a powerful
presence of the villain's profile as this film does. Valek and his army
of the undead are after a relic in the form of a black cross that will
give them special power. The vampires in this film are extremely hard
to kill and Valek is practically invincible.
One night, at a victory party of sorts after Woods and his army destroy
a nest belonging to Valek, Valek rises to literally crash the party and
kill almost all the vampire slayers. Valek sinks his fangs into a young
prostitute at the party played by Sheryl Lee and her transformation will
not take place right away and Baldwin sort of falls for her and tries to
protect her from the transformation.
Two other characters are key to the film's outcome and wild but
predictable climax. Maximilian Schell plays a high ranking Cardinal in
the church who oversees Woods' assignment and Tim Guinee plays a priest
who is rather timid in his initial work with Woods.
'Vampires' uses an over-the-top approach to win over the audience and
its timing to open at Halloween is no doubt a good marketing strategy
but the film comes up short. Its problem is that it's static and
suffers from a one track mind in its approach to the subject matter.
Francis Ford Coppola's vision of 'Bram Stoker's Dracula' in 1992 was
stunning and captured an enormous amount of erotica contained in the
novel. Even Robert Rodriguez's 'From Dusk Till Dawn' used its first
half as a crime drama and took a bizarre turn in the second half. A
young person's vampire flick in 1985 called 'Fright Night' had Chris
Sarandon as a ghoulish type of vampire who wore designer clothes and
romped about with an obnoxious personality.
'Vampires' becomes very tiresome after its first 45 minutes and it
eventually runs out of steam and its lack of good character development
is further complicated by repetitive scenes of visual gore and Carpenter
has always been a visual director whose talents, like Brian De Palma and
Peter Hyams, might have been better served on weekly formula television
shows or the world of music videos because these directors and their
lack of sub text are below average at best.
Copyright © 2000 Walter Frith