Retro Rewind (Horror Edition): Going Back to 1998 for ‘John Carpenter’s Vampires’

Posted in Blu-Ray/DVD, Movies by - October 28, 2015
Retro Rewind (Horror Edition): Going Back to 1998 for ‘John Carpenter’s Vampires’

You’ve got to appreciate it when a horror movie isn’t afraid to get a little gnarly.  New to Blu-Ray from Twilight Time we dial it back to 1998 for John Carpenter’s Vampires, an action filled romp that boils it down to basics as it isn’t afraid to kick some ass while spraying blood all across its path.

Jack Crow (James Woods) is a wise cracking, ass-kicking vampire slayer, sanctioned by the Vatican to slay the undead by any means necessary.  With his world weary sidekick (Daniel Baldwin) and a naive young priest (Tim Guinee) he is tearing a path of destruction against anything that sucks blood and has a severe allergy over sunlight.  They’re pitted against a centuries old master vampire (Thomas Ian Griffith) named Valek in search of a religious relic that will allows these nightwalkers to reek their special kind of havoc during the daylight hours.


Coming off the essential failure of Escape from L.A., John Carpenter’s Vampires is a back to basics grind house ride that isn’t afraid to throw some sex and some blood around the screen while chewing up the scenery with dialogue that while clichéd, certainly gets the job done and puts us as audience members on the intended ride.

With this film Carpenter was really trying to get back to brass tacks and keep it simple.  Capping off what could best be described as an uneven decade; John Carpenter goes back to basics by kicking ass with attitude and giving us the a-typical alpha male hero to get behind as vampires get slaughtered in his wake.  It’s a well directed and fast moving affair as the script by Don Jakoby adapted from the novel John Steakley doesn’t drown us in exposition and needless complicated plot points.  It’s not high drama, in flowing ornate robes, it’s creatures that are leaving death and destruction their wake and we are following a foul mouthed servant of god who isn’t afraid to kick a little bit of ass.  Carpenter isn’t afraid to just go full on action romp with it; we don’t care about the why of it all…it’s just good versus evil, because that’s all they know how to do.  The ride is already set from minute one; we just have to go with it.

I am more than a little surprised that this is the only time that James Woods and John Carpenter have ever worked together as this teaming seems tailor made and they both fit together like a glove.  Carpenter needs an anti-hero who can command the frame by simply being an attitude filled badass and Woods manages that on pure attitude alone.  Daniel Baldwin matches his tone opposite him and it makes for a duo that works pretty well.

Nobody in this film takes anything all that serious and it works as Thomas Ian Griffith makes you want to climb the walls as his sinister Valek only wants anarchy at every destination he tends to hit.  Sadly Sheryl Lee is a little forgettable as the freshly bitten call girl that is going to lead the vampire slayers to their prize while Tim Guinee didn’t get to run with what could have been a fun role and Cary Hiroyuki Tagawa and Maximillian Schell were seemingly there to get a paycheck as they didn’t do anything to add to the proceedings.  The movie rests with Woods and Baldwin…thankfully at the end of the day that was enough.

john-carpenters-vampires-30434528-989-426Ultimately, John Carpenter’s Vampires is only a movie that will ever land in the middle of the man’s collective canon of work since you can’t help but shake some of the beats that Carpenter lifted from Robert Rodriguez and From Dusk ‘Till Dawn a couple of years eariler, but it is a significant and important one because when the man was dipping low on the success totem pole and veering away from his bread and butter, he showed that he still had what it took to make a raw, blood and guts action film.  It’s hardly essential cinema, but it’s too damn fun to turn off.

Picture and sound quality on the BD transfer are very solid and the special features include an Isolated score track, a feature length audio commentary with John Carpenter, a making of featurette and the original theatrical trailer.

This post was written by
David Voigt is a Toronto based writer with a problem and a passion for the moving image and all things cinema. Having moved from production to the critical side of the aisle for well over 10 years now at outlets like, Criticize This, Dork Shelf (Now That Shelf), to.Night Newspaper he’s been all across his city, the country and the continent in search of all the news and reviews that are fit to print from the world of cinema.
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