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John Carpenter's Vampires

"John Carpenter's Vampires" on DVD

The Horrormeister Goes for the Jugular

John Carpenter is a director who knows how to make a horror flick.

With "Halloween," Carpenter was unfairly credited with spawning the entire genre of "slasher films" - even though his film relied more on suggestive violence than the overtly violent gorefests of the "holiday horror films" (Friday the 13th, Prom Night, etc. etc.) that followed.

With "John Carpenter's Vampires," however, he has opened up the red sluices in what's probably his most graphically violent movie to date. The gore doesn't get in the way of what's a nifty yarn, though, and Carpenter once again shows he can handle a scary story as well as anyone.

"Vampires" revolves around Jack Crow (James Woods) and his Catholic Church-mandated team of vampire killers. This group hunts nests of vampires and cleans them out of their undead population. The movie opens with just such a "cleansing" - a well-staged effort in which they enter the nest and drag the vampires out into the sunlight - which destroys them.

But this nest is different, in that there's no "master" in evidence, and before long this omission comes back to haunt them. Crow's team is virtually destroyed when the master catches up with them and Crow realizes that he has not only been set up, but that this was no ordinary vampire master he was fighting.

And, of course, he's right on both counts. It turns out this vampire is "the mother of all vampires" and the rest of the movie is spent with Crow and his sole surviving associate Montoya (Daniel Baldwin) tracking the master Valek (Thomas Ian Griffith) down with the help of a prostitute (Sheryl Lee) he infected.

Carpenter does a great job of building the mood and the suspense. The film, set in the Southwestern United States, looks great - and Carpenter's musical score blends in perfectly with the setting and the mood. He also mixes a lot of the music (which he also composed) through the rear channels. This is unusual, but it works very well.

Most of the film takes place during daylight hours (when it's safe to face a vampire) and even in broad daylight it's as creepy a film as only Carpenter can make. Sure, it's violent as hell, but with Carpenter's hand at the helm it never seems gratuitous .

The DVD gives you both widescreen and pan/scan versions on opposite sides, which is as it should be. Audio and video quality are nothing short of superb, and Carpenter makes very good use of Dolby Digital's stereo surround capabilities.

Extras include a generous liner essay, and you get a John Carpenter commentary audio track as well. There's also the usual theatrical trailer, chapter stops, etc.

If you're a fan of John Carpenter's "body" of work (we think he's only made one stinker in his life: "Prince of Darkness"), we think you'll enjoy the way he goes for the jugular in this outing.

John Carpenter's Vampires, from Columbia Tristar Home Video
108 minutes, Widescreen (2.35:1)/Pan and Scan, Dolby Digital
Starring James Woods, Daniel Baldwin, Sheryl Lee, Thomas Ian Griffith and Maximilan Schell
Produced by Sandy King, Screenplay by Don Jakoby, based on the novel "Vampires" by John Steakley
Directed by John Carpenter


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Updated May 13, 2006