Columbia/1998/108m/ANA 2.35, PS 1.33

       Can you take Vampires seriously? Do the rhythms, pacing, script and acting add up to a horror movie or a send-up of horror movies? Listening to the John Carpenter audio commentary on the DVD, it’s clear that the writer/director considers Vampires an action/horror movie. So, while I watched it more as a comedy, a la Big Trouble in Little China, it appears I completely missed the creator’s intent. Either way, Vampires was a let down. As a comedy, it simply isn’t funny enough. As an action movie it is quite silly. And for a horror movie, the tone is horror deaf.
     Jack Crow leads a team of vampire slayers against the spiritual ancestors of Dracula and company. The team seeks out "nests" of vampires around the country. Financed by a branch of the Catholic Church, the slayers are provided with a hokey array of weapons for their fight against the powers of darkness. A pick-up truck and a van provide uncomfortable battle transportation. The rules of vampire engagement clearly state that where there’s a nest, there’s a master, or a stronger vampire that rules the nest. One might presume that the worker vampires even bring the master blood, but that may bee(sic) a stretch. God knows how these slayers have any idea where the nests are hidden. One supposes that reports of death by vampirical circumstance fill out the vampire map of the stars, a tour of typical vampire abodes laden with cobwebs and boarded up windows.     
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Jack Crow checks on his link to Valek ©Columbia

      In the opening sequence, Crow’s crew archly stalks and cleans out a nest of vampires in an abandoned southwest farmhouse. In creaky fashion accompanied by "clever" comments, the slayers do battle successfully. But a master fails to show up. This should give everyone a clue for what comes next, but only the audience seems prepared. During a motel celebration as carousing slayers play with local prostitutes, master vampire Valek appears out of the night. Valek is a master of unprecedented power. He destroys all the members of the slayer team except for Crow and his loyal fellow slayer Montoya. How they manage to survive the confrontation with Valek is beyond me, but the film later supplies a reasonable explanation. After all, what’s a great vampire without a great pursuer. After the motel massacre, Crow and Montoya flee Valek taking along one of the prostitutes who has been infected with a bite from Valek during a seduction scene of questionable taste. Crow then meets with the Catholic Cardinal in charge of operation vampire to determine to plan a strategy. Crow is saddled with a new, enthusiastic priest who tags along to make sure the Churches needs are protected. Vampires struggles on it’s route to final confrontation and the final scenes might have been lifted directed from the imagination of a Jodorowsky (cult classic El Topo) or even Luis Bunuel.
     James Woods plays Jack Crow with the all the dedication of vampire slayer lost in a bloody bad script. Daniel Baldwin is laughable as the love bitten Montoya. Sheryl Lee is lost in a vampire movie blood lust as the prostitute with a unique link to Valek. Thomas Ian Griffith gets to bare his fangs as Valek, salaciously salivating at the prospects of a bloody screen meal. 
     Vampires is a blood feast on DVD. Set mostly at night in deference to the vampire aversion to sunlight, blood colors are richly served up in this sharp anamorphic transfer. Hues are slightly hot, but this seems intentional. In fact, Carpenter mentions use of red filtering in the early scenes. Shadow detail is well rendered is difficult lighting circumstances. The Dolby Digital 5:1 surround is active, accurate and packs a wallop. Carpenter’s unoriginal score drones on with a nice twang.
     This special edition DVD features John Carpenter’s audio commentary. It is friendly and casual, noting performers and locations, but it’s best when it focuses on technical detail. Seems like Carpenter has more elements of cinematic homage in the opening sequence than viable content. Influences from Peckinpah to Leone are happily acknowledged. Still, Carpenter spends far too much time telling the viewer what he is seeing or is about to see. Truth be told, Vampires is a lot more enjoyable listening to Carpenter talk about the film than watching it without commentary. In the end, the script is a whole lot of "straw da chocolata wally"(listen to the commentary 44-45m).