Powerhouse Films’ Indicator range debuts John Carpenter’s Vampires on Blu-ray in the UK. Martin Carr discusses the pros and cons of this 1990s action-horror.
What Vampires lacks in production value it makes up for in other areas. People have rightly pointed out this was not one of John Carpenter’s better efforts, but retains a certain kitsch quality held together by James Woods and Tim Guinee. We really are in B-movie territory with a story revolving round vampire hunters, ancient evil and indestructible foes hamming it up.
In a plot concerning itself with retribution after mass slaughter, Woods delivers bad attitude and bad dialogue with the self-awareness of someone paying the mortgage. His performance may be the right side of caricature, but everyone else involved plays it straight and earnest which is not always a good thing. Vampires pulling themselves out of the ground and advancing on religious retreats and hissing through too much latex is distracting, while Thomas Ian Griffiths’ Valek feels like Kiefer Sutherland’s vampire bad boy without the charisma. It is a situation not helped by writer Don Jakoby who hampers him with convoluted backstories and uninspired dialogue.
Redeeming qualities come in the shape of Guinee’s renegade priest, who joins this band of vampire hunters providing gusto in the process. Doing no more or less than Woods but with a tad more commitment, Guinee pulls out all the character stops to engage his audience, unaware that Baldwin and Sheryl Lee are stuck on hold trying to phone in their performance long distance. She either spends time being bitten, tied to a bed, or engaged in the most unconvincing love story since Sharon Stone and Billy Baldwin got busy in a public lift. At least with Sliver we had UB40 in there with them distracting us for a little while. There are unfortunately no such diversions in Vampires, which remains formulaic, savagely tongue in cheek, but gloriously over the top on occasion.
Perhaps then my issue is not so much with the film itself, but rather the unavoidable fact that Vampires has aged badly. You might say the same about similar films including From Dusk Til Dawn, but at least with that you had Quentin Tarantino’s dialogue and some sharp direction. Unfortunately Carpenters’ visuals combined with Don Jakoby’s writing have an adverse effect on Vampires from the outset. In my opinion the last time that worked for him was with Big Trouble In Little China, a film which bent the low fi aesthetic as successfully as possible without breaking it.
Written by Martin Carr
Directed by: John Carpenter
Written by: Don Jakoby
Starring: James Woods, Daniel Baldwin, Sheryl Lee, Thomas Ian Griffith, Maximilian Schell, Tim Guinee
Released: 1998 / Genre: Horror
Country: USA / IMDB
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Top 10 Films reviewed Vampires on Blu-ray courtesy of Powerhouse Films’ Indicator Series. The film was released on Blu-ray January 30, 2017.