John Carpenter's Vampires (1998)
Starring: James Woods, Daniel Baldwin, Sheryl Lee, Thomas Ian Griffith
Writers: John Steakley (novel), John Carpenter (adapted)
Director: John Carpenter
Jack Crow leads a band of vampire slayers funded by the Vatican. After destroying a nest of bloodsuckers found at an abandoned house in New Mexico, they shack up at a nearby motel to celebrate their victory with booze and boobs galore. One major problem: they did not find the vampire clan's master, Jan Valek, who is more than a wee bit irritated when he wakes up. A single beast armed with the strength of a hundred men, Valek shows up to the motel to rip Crow and his crew a new asshole. Barely escaping the surprise attack, Jack and his main man Montoya get the hell out of dodge, taking a freshly bitten prostitute with them, planning to use her as a vampire surveillance camera. When Jack returns to the Vatican to report the slaughter, he discovers that Valek has been around since the 1300's, and is in pursuit of an ancient relic that could strongly benefit vampires and lead to the extinction of mankind.
After Escape From L.A., John Carpenter had planned on leaving the film business as he just simply didn't find pleasure in it anymore. About this time, Largo Entertainment gave him two screenplays based off of a book titled Vampire$, by the now late John Steakley. Carp immediately took a liking to the story's western sensibilities, so he kinda fused elements of the two screenplays together, as well as taking things from the book, and wrote his own version. Ultimately, author John Steakley noted that it takes little from his book in terms of story, but much by way of dialogue. Regardless, I'm glad John Carpenter decided to take this under his wing and to not give up. Vampires foams out the mouth with his old school atmosphere, and aside from In the Mouth of Madness, I feel it's his best offering from the 1990s.
There's all kinds of brilliant style camera work to feast your eyes on. Early on, after the crew of vamp slayers are slaughtered by Valek, there is a chase scene with Crow, Montoya and Katrina fleeing from the scene in a truck. A shot of the vampire swooping in and onto the truck bed is fantastic. Every moment shown of the vampires carries so much eerie style, and the scenes of them digging out of the earth at sundown are unforgettable.
James Woods (Cat's Eye, Contact) is an absolute beast in his role of main vampire exterminator, Jack Crow. He brings a form of ruggedness like no other persona he has ever played. Said to be hard to work with, he and Carpenter got on real well with a deal that Woods could improvise in some scenes as long as he agreed to do others by the books. Smart move, because he rips the shit up and births a character that is every bit as brutal as the beasts he hunts down and slays. Crow has a strict no bullshit attitude, and I can't help but think anyone else in the role would've weakened the awesomeness of the final product.
Never been a big fan of Daniel Baldwin, or really any Baldwin for that matter. I think I liked Stephen for an hour and forty minutes when he was in The Usual Suspects, but that's about it. In Vampires, Daniel portrays Jack Crow's main go-to guy, Anthony Montoya. He carries the responsibility of reeling vampires out into the sunlight after Crow and the gang harness them by way of a crossbow. It's a brilliantly morbid form of fishing. Anyway, Baldwin does good here, he's just what the character needs to be as the sidekick.
Sheryl Lee (Twin Peaks) plays Katrina, a prostitute who is bitten by the master bloodsucker. She spends the duration of the film slowly turning, and in the process, has a psychic link to Valek. She sees everything he does and everywhere he goes. Jack Crow and Montoya keep her around basically to use her as a vampire GPS tracker. Unfortunately, Lee has not a whole lot to do in this role, except look insanely hot during her deterioration into the domain of the undead. She is convincing in her reactions to seeing Valek's vicious acts of murder in first person perspective via her own eyes, though.
Thomas Ian Griffith (The Karate Kid III) is awesome as Jan Valek, a 600+ year old master vampire. He's a creature of few words, somewhat attractive and heavy on brutality. Carpenter wanted the vamps in this film to be less conventional; they aren't really enticing, nor about fashion or sex. They also are unaffected by crosses and garlic. Simply put, they are just different monsters, and Griffith was perfect for establishing this element.
K.N.B. gets nasty as shit with the gore here! Upon the theatrical release, the fucked up MPAA system of course had issues with the violence in the film, threatening to tag Vampires with an NC-17 rating, leaving no choice but to cut short some of the more explicit savagery. I must confess all I have ever seen is a 108 minute run-time version of this film, but have heard there is a cut version that finishes up at 102 minutes. All I know is that K.N.B. is at their bloody best. The hotel scene towards the beginning is an extermination, with Valek splitting a man in half, punching through a dude's chest and out his back to choke a woman... it's gleefully over the top disgusting. There's also a ton of decapitations, throat slashings, a vampire being staked in the forehead, wow! The effects of the vamps bursting into fire under daylight are awesome, too. Loved it!
I'm a big fan of Carpenter's film scores. When I think of the practice sessions, I picture Carp with a joint hanging out of his mouth, just jamming the hell out with a few other dudes with the volume turned up so high that packs of cigarettes are literally reverberating off the tops of amplifiers. There's always a distinct sound to his music, and it epically intensifies the scenes of his films. The music provided for Vampires has a heavy amount of blues riffery going on, very much in the vein of the score for They Live. It adds so much to the film's tone, giving it the hard-boiled attitude that it needs.
Vampires was originally to be directed by Russell Mulcahy (Highlander, Highlander II, Resident Evil: Extinction) with Dolph Lundgren (Rocky IV, I Come In Peace, Masters of the Universe) in the starring role. I can't imagine much more than a pile of shit when I contemplate that. Both are pretty hit and miss, with more misses than hits, if you ask me. I love Highlander, can't even believe it's the same guy behind Highlander II, and Lundgren is great to watch purely on a hilarity level. Naw... glad it ended up being John Carpenter and James Woods, for sure. This movie is criminally underrated, and sportin' a 5.9 overall rating on IMDB... seriously? I just can't pass this off as average, it's awesome for what it is.