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movie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Vampires

Starring: James Woods, Daniel Baldwin
Director: John Carpenter
Rated: R
RunTime: 107 Minutes
Release Date: October 1998
Genres: Horror, Action, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Thriller

*Also starring: Sheryl Lee, Thomas Ian Griffith, Maximilian Schell

Review by Walter Frith
1 star out of 4

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

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