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John Carpenter's Vampires

"John Carpenter's Vampires - The Superbit Edition" on DVD

The Horrormeister Goes for the High Resolution 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 of course 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 down the master Valek (Thomas Ian Griffith) 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 Superbit DVD takes an already visually great film and ups the ante in the usual Superbit tradition. The anamorphic widescreen picture is razor sharp with deep and rich color (wanna see real, deep reds?). Audio, which as usual with a Superbit titles is offered in dts and Dolby Digital 5.1, is also superb, and Carpenter makes very good use of the surround channels.

Naturally, there are no extras.

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 - The Superbit Edition, from Columbia Tristar Home Video
108 minutes, ananorphic widescreen (2.35:1), dts and Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
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