Hot on the tail of “Blade,” “John Carpenter’s Vampire” comes at the perfect time of year, Halloween. Unfortunately, this anemic horror-thriller is less than perfect, a vampire film that suffers from iron poor blood.

Remember, these aren’t just any vampires, they’re “John Carpenter’s Vampires.” Does that association give them any more bite? Not in this day and age.

Remember when Carpenter was a good director, who turned out fun films like “Halloween,” “Starman,” “The Thing,” “Escape from New York” and “The Fog”? Carpenter’s recent output has been disappointing to say the least. “The least.” “Vampires” isn’t going to change that outlook.

If ever a vampire film was in need of a transfusion, it’s this one. “Blade” proved that you can pump new blood through an old vein. “Vampires” just sucks the living daylight out of every possible cliche screenwriter Don Jakoby can muster up. If you look close enough, you can see star James Woods trying to keep a straight face while muttering this silliness.

Woods doesn’t invest heart and soul into the role, but he’s pretty decent as vampire hunter Jack Crow. It’s a paper-thin role, yet Woods manages to get through it would a paper cut. He has bigger fish to fry.

He and his merry band of vampire hunters (they’re called Slayers) roam the dusty streets of the Southwest looking for lairs of vampires. They have been commissioned by the Vatican (yeah, right), and drive around in steel-plated vehicles and carry high tech vampire weapons.

Crow is the leader because as a child he was forced to kill his parents, who turned into vampires. Hey, all families have their black sheep. Taken in and trained by the church to hunt down the vampires, Crow takes his job very seriously.

He’s joined by his right hand man, a charmer named Montoya (Daniel Baldwin), and a team of professionals who look like they came from Central Casting. Doesn’t matter, because after a bloody prologue showing the team members eradicating a lair of vampires, most of the team is slaughtered by the vampire master during a “fangs for the memory” party.

I liked this scene because it was vicious and bloody. One guy gets ripped in half. People get their heads ripped off. People get their entrails ripped out. It was the only scene where I felt like I didn’t get ripped off.

The rest of the film follows survivors Crow, Montoya and infected prostitute Katrina (Sheryl Lee) as they track down the head vampire, a tall, creepy dude named Valek (Thomas Ian Griffith), who legend has it is the original bloodsucker from way back. It’s nice to have roots.

It’s also nice to bring something fresh to the party if you’re going to tread over familiar holy ground. Oh sure, blood and guts is fine or a while, but “Vampires” amounts to nothing more than one slaughter after another. Carpenter’s idea of suspense is to have people jump out of the shadows and go boo. What, they couldn’t round up a black cat to jump out of a trash can?

The film has no sense of dread or doom. Shot and played out as a modern day western, “Vampires” is no more inspired than saddle sores. The scenery is nice (New Mexico never looked better), and the make-up people seem to have a good time filling the frame with one splashy moment after another, but the rest of the film lacks focus.

Jakoby’s script can’t make up it’s mind if it wants to be an all-out horror film, or a tongue- out-of-cheek horror-comedy.

The cast is okay, but there’s not much for them to do except walk around in dark buildings and carry shiny weapons. I’m sure Lee Strasberg would be very proud.

In the press notes for the film, Carpenter admits that he has always wanted to make a vampire film. Too bad he didn’t say he wanted to make a “good” vampire film.



James Woods, Daniel Baldwin, Sheryl Lee, Thomas Ian Griffith, Maximilian Schell, Tim Guinee, Gregory Sierra in a film directed by John Carpenter. Rated R. 107 Min.


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