Vampires – John Carpenter – 1998

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I have a feeling that in any John Carpenter film that isn’t quite up to snuff you could replace one actor with Kurt Russell and all would be well. This is certainly the case with Vampires, a film I once reviled but have come to love nearly completely. If only Kurt Russell had played the Daniel Baldwin role, man this could have been one of the greatest Vampire films ever made. As it stands it’s a gory, sexy delight with all the most classic Carpenterisms.

James Woods plays Jack Crow: vampire slayer. In typical Carpenter fashion, he works for the Catholic Church who has been lying to the world about the existence of the undead for centuries. Not only are they hiding them, they are responsible for the first vampire as well, apparently.

Woods is a riot as Crow, with his every word cracking me up. He grins and spits and smokes and beats up a priest. Hilarious. When he asks the priest if he got turned on while he was kicking his ass back in the dirt back there…. that’s some funny shit.

So Crow and his team go vampire fishing and then at the celebration afterward, the big bad comes and kills everyone but Crow and not Kurt Russell. There is an amazing scene where the Vampire goes down on the prostitute. It’s quite shocking and sexy. These guys take the girl from Twin Peaks with them and get out of town.

Crow buries his men while Daniel Baldwin is munched by the vampire whore. This truth is hidden for most of the picture. So we have a compromised man who never leaves Woods behind. Daniel Baldwin in what should have been a much richer performance barely gets by with his lines. He seems to be in a completely different film than everyone else, and it’s pretty hard to get over.

The film is extremely profane, the joke being that Crow works for the Church and he has not a lick of respect for them. Much like Snake Plissken, he is trapped in his role in the world, a capable asset to be exploited.

Carpenter never lets the great imagery slow; he frames the whole story like a western, even using many desertscapes and the iconography of New Mexico throughout. There is an amazing scene of vampires coming out of the dessert earth at dusk that gives me chills every time I see it! The film has it all, a fun hero, an evil church secret, an awesome villain, tons of gore, some great sexuality, and another killer John Carpenter score.

What makes this film great is its filmic sense of fun. John Carpenter never forgets he’s making a John Carpenter film and there are scenes here that would be as easily found in Prince Of Darkness or Escape From New York.

Vampires is a classic, fun and violent. Just imagine if it had been Kurt Russell turning into a vampire at the end of the film and driving off with the lady. Imagine James Woods telling him he has two days before he chases him down and kills him. Ah, well, it’s pretty great all the same.       

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