Review: Vampires

[Originally written for Seattle Weekly, November 4, 1998]

Set the wayback machine to 1998. Parallax View presents reviews of films released 20 years ago, written by our contributors for various papers and websites. Most of these have not been available for years.

John Carpenter has wanted to make a western for years. Now he’s finally made it—as a vampire film. It’s not simply the dusty, dusky southwestern setting or the Ry Cooder twinged country blues score. Carpenter turns John Steakley’s novel “Vampire$” into a perverse remake of Howard Hawks’ Rio Bravo by way of Sergio Leone, with James Woods as a foul mouthed, hard drinking, whore-mongering John Wayne leading a wild bunch of vampire hunters. It’s machismo run amuck and Carpenter loves it.

The film kicks off with an attack on a vampire nest, a SWAT team-like operation turned gory spectacle punctuated by the fiery explosions of bloodsuckers yanked into the light of day. But as Crow’s Vatican sponsored team celebrates victory with hookers and booze that night, retribution visits in the form of Valek (Thomas Ian Griffith and his imposing 6’5” frame), a powerful vampire master who takes prostitute Katrina (Sheryl Lee) as his next lady of the night and slices and dices the rest of the partygoers with his Ginsu fingernails. Crow and his sole surviving team member Montoya (Daniel Baldwin) grab Katrina, whose fresh blood ties have established a psychic link to Valek, and get the hell out of Dodge to regroup. Team Crow inherits a rookie priest (Tim Guinee) who provides clues to Valek’s master plan and the motley crew plans their attack.

After a string of misfires it’s a pleasure to see Carpenter back in form, and he’s back with a vengeance. His unrepentant misogynist macho warriors are sure to offend audiences not already turned off by the gory bloodshed. But there’s a perverse comic book irony in such extreme characters as emissaries of the Vatican, with Woods playing Jack Crow with the glee of a choir boy gone bad – he’s been raised by Catholic church but he’s not above beating the shit out of a priest to get information. It’s the kind of conundrum that exists only in the movies and Carpenter plays it for all it’s worth.

The film slows for an exposition heavy second act and Montoya’s increasing affection for vampire-to-be Katrina (who spends the film a tied up captive) has to be taken on faith, but Carpenter’s sleek, stark images and stripped down, no-holds-barred action is pure pulp glory. It’s likely too vicious to engender new Carpenter fans, but it’s the most fun I’ve had at the movies for some time.


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