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  Vampires Hiya SuckersBuy this film here.
Year: 1998
Director: John Carpenter
Stars: James Woods, Daniel Baldwin, Sheryl Lee, Thomas Ian Griffith, Maximilian Schell, Tim Guinee, Mark Boone Junior, Gregory Sierra, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Thomas Rosales Jr, Henry Kingi, David Rowden, Clarke Coleman, Mark Sivertsen, John Furlong
Genre: Horror
Rating:  5 (from 4 votes)
Review: Jack Crow (James Woods) is good at his job and that's fortunate for the rest of us because what he does is kill vampires. Today he is out in the New Mexico desert with his team of experts, and they have tracked a nest of the bloodsuckers to a farmhouse in the middle of nowhere, but what they really need to find is the location of their Master, six hundred-year-old Valek (Thomas Ian Griffith). Regardless, they forge ahead, breaking into the house and immediately being set upon by two of the undead, but with their modern tools and weapons the team are able to take care of them with efficiency. Yet Valek will have his revenge...

This venomous vampire thriller took the stance that if you were not with the good guys, then you were against them and therefore easy pickings for the ultra-macho heroes. Or indeed the vampires, for that matter. Leading them was Woods at his most foul mouthed, relishing the profanity-laden dialogue but falling down somewhat when he had to deliver the clunky exposition. So these bad guys may not be bothered by crosses or garlic, but they are still led by a Goth-look villain who would appear more at home in a heavy metal video than a horror film.

But is this really a horror film or is it something else? Because although there are people getting munched in the neck, not to mention having their heads torn off or split in two, what Vampires really is is the western that director John Carpenter always wanted to make. Or rather, it's an approximation of it, loosely adapted by Don Jakoby (who also penned that other kind of vampire movie, yes, the classic (?) Lifeforce) from John Steakley's novel. Originally supposed to be one of Russell Mulcahy's ultra-slick action movies, it wound up with Carpenter on a seriously reduced budget and much rescripting as a result.

This is probably the reason that the threat of the supernatural seems more of a skirmish than an all out war with the undead, noticeable in the way that Crow's team are wiped out pretty early on by the vengeful Valek during a party to celebrate their victory. Crow and his right hand man Montoya (Daniel Baldwin) happen to be out of the motel room so avoid the carnage, but they get the message that Valek means business. Also along for the ride is hooker Katrina, who is vampirised but can come in useful as she turns, for now she has a psychic link with the main villain.

Katrina is yet another of Sheryl Lee's much-abused women, and the manner in which she is treated is only excused by the fact that she's going to be very dangerous in a couple of days, but nevertheless her beatings by the supposed good guys leave a bad impression. Not that the others escape without their own bruises and worse, as Crow visits a Cardinal (Maximilian Schell) to hear the news the European wing of killers has been wiped out too. He also gets a new sidekick in the meek Father Guiteau (Tim Guinee) who is present simply to be smacked around and insulted by Woods to prove his masculine credentials. With Carpenter, at least you know the mayhem will be well-staged, but there's little likeable here, and aside from a handful of laughs the film is a sour experience. Music by Carpenter.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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John Carpenter  (1948 - )

Skillful American writer-director of supense movies, often in the science fiction or horror genres. Comedy Dark Star and thriller Assault on Precinct 13 were low budget favourites, but mega-hit Halloween kick-started the slasher boom and Carpenter never looked back.

The Fog, Escape from New York, The Thing, the underrated Christine, Big Trouble in Little China, They Live and Prince of Darkness all gained cult standing, but his movies from the nineties onwards have been disappointing: Escape from L.A., Vampires and Ghosts of Mars all sound better than they really are, although The Ward was a fair attempt at a return, if not widely seen. Has a habit of putting his name in the title. He should direct a western sometime.

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