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Wednesday 5 April 2023

Burl reviews Vampires! (1998)


Bluh bluh and again bluh, it’s Burl, here to review vampire antics gone southwestern! It’s a picture from what can only be considered John Carpenter’s declining years as a director (though not as a composer of course!), by which point he had only a picture or two left in him, and one of them was The Ward! Ha ha! But this one has still some Carpenterian touches, and if you ask me he never made an unwatchable picture! The movie I’m talking about here is Vampires!

It’s based on a novel, which I suppose accounts for the rich backstory that is implied and/or spelled out as the picture goes along! We open with a Vatican-funded vampire-killing team run by Jack Crow, played in very James Woods fashion by none other than James Woods from Videodrome! This well-equipped posse includes second-in-command Montoya, essayed by Daniel Baldwin from Nothing But Trouble, and familiar faces like Mark Boone Junior from The Quick and the Dead and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa from Big Trouble in Little China, and there’s also a ridealong priest played by Gregory Sierra from Pocket Money and The Towering Inferno!

Well, they clear out an old farmhouse full of vampires, but don’t find the leader of the bite 'ems: the master vampire! They hold a motel party anyway, and of course the master vampire, played by a tall drink of water named Thomas Ian Griffith, shows up and slaughters everybody! Well, everybody but Jack Crow, his buddy Montoya, and a hired evening-lady called Katrina, played by Sheryl Lee from Wild at Heart! Meanwhile a scarlet cardinal essayed by Maximillian Schell from St. Ives sits at home until the surprise at the end!

Montoya takes charge of Katrina and hotel-rooms her, while Jack Crow and a new ridealong priest, a young beard played by Tim Guinee (who encountered vampires again that same year in Blade), track the master vampire! The rest of the movie almost manages a Phantasm II vibe as they follow the fearsome hemogobbler across the country, evade his traps along the way, and finally confront him at the old mission as he’s about to enact his master-vampire plan! Much baring of fangs ensues, ha ha!

Well, I’ll admit it’s a far cry from the glory days of Carpenter – Halloween, say, or The Fog, or The Thing, or Prince of Darkness! But as I say, there are a few moments here and there which remind you this is indeed a movie from that singular Kentucky-born picturemaker – some characteristic framing, camera moves, Hawksian themes, and of course the score, which is much in the mode of his music from They Live! There’s some nice vampire gore and a performance by Woods that’s so hard boiled it seems demented, but, ha ha, that’s Woods for you!

On the frownier side, the picture has kind of a bad script! There are some bon mots, and Woods elevates it all quite a little bit, but there’s no getting around that this is a simplistic and unfulfilling narrative without much in the way of interior logic! The master vampire is fairly boring, too – he’s just a tall guy who glowers a lot! Much more energy should have been spent on every aspect of this guy: his dialogue, his look, his performance, his pep! He should be a memorable and frightening presence, but he’s just not! He seems more like a local longuebönes recruited for a vampire movie mostly because he’s tall!

There’s fun to be had with the movie, make no McSteak™, but potential-wise I think it leaves a lot of good stuff on the table! While I appreciate the unexpected destruction of the team from an unpredictable, Psycho-inspired narrative point of view, at the same time the movie never really recovers from their loss! The picture tries to make the friendship between Crow and Montoya the emotional centrepiece, but that doesn’t work terribly well, and certainly not well enough to revitalize the Hawksian energy of the opening reel! It’s not too scary and it's too often silly, but après tout it remains a John Carpenter movie! I recall going to see it with my dad back in the day, and it was the perfect sort of movie to see with him, so I have that extra affection for it too! I’m going to give Vampires two hardworking winches!

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