‘Prepare for the dawn.’
Vampires – also known as John Carpenter’s Vampires – is a 1998 American independent horror western film directed and scored by John Carpenter and starring James Woods (Cat’s Eye; Videodrome). It was adapted from the novel Vampire$ by John Steakley by screenwriter Don Jakoby.
The film was followed by two direct-to-video sequels, Vampires: Los Muertos (2002) and Vampires: The Turning (2005).
In the UK, Powerhouse Films released the film on Blu-ray and DVD on 23 January 2017.
A team of Vatican sponsored vampire hunters led by Jack Crow (James Woods) rids an abandoned house of vampires in the middle of New Mexico, only to be wiped out by a master vampire called Valek (Thomas Ian Griffith).
Only two members of the team survive, Jack Crow and Tony Montoya (Daniel Baldwin) as well as a prostitute named Katrina (Sheryl Lee) who was bitten by Valek. Crow later meets his boss, Cardinal Alba (Maximilian Schell), who introduces him to Father Adam Guiteau (Tim Guinee).
After Crow reluctantly allows Guiteau to come along with him, he tells the priest some of his past, about how his father was bitten by a vampire, killed his mother, came after Jack and that he killed his own father. He then asks what it is Valek is after and Guiteau tells him that Valek is seeking an ancient relic called the Black Cross of Berziers and that Valek was once a fallen priest who was thought to have been possessed by demons. The Bérziers Cross was used in an exorcism that was cut short but the result was that Valek was forever changed into the first vampire.
Using the changing Katrina’s mind, Jack, Montoya and Guiteau find out that Valek has seized the cross and they arrive at an old church to kill more vampires but they are soon set up as Cardinal Alba sides with Valek and kidnaps Crow, revealing that his plan all along was being turned into by Valek so he can too become immortal. Katrina turns into a vampire and allies herself with Valek after biting Montoya.
Cardinal Alba agrees to perform a ritual using the cross which will allow vampires to walk in sunlight and be invulnerable, but Guiteau, who was in hiding, appears and kills him before he can finish the ritual. Montoya and Guiteau then rescue Crow as the sun rises, and Crow heads off to confront Valek, whom he kills by ramming the Berziers cross into his chest and exposing him to sunlight, which causes Valek to explode.
Guiteau realizes that Montoya is about to turn into a vampire now that he has been bitten by Katrina, but Crow knows that Montoya has been loyal to him and so decides to take Montoya’s fate in his hands, telling Montoya that after two days he will hunt down and kill both him and Katrina. After Montoya and Katrina leave, Jack and Guiteau head off once again to kill the rest of the vampires that made it to shelter.
“In some ways, Vampires looks and feels different from other Carpenter movies it’s more frenetic, its visuals less studied than usual but its grimly relentless tone is perfect Carpenter. All the vampires do is kill. All the heroes do is kill vampires. In lesser hands, this could become repetitive and dull; Carpenter plays small, surprising variations throughout, as he does in his score for the film.” Rob Gonsalves, eFilmCritic.com
” …as for Don Jakoby’s script, well where to start. I am certainly no prude but by today’s standards it is an embarrassment, littered with casual misogyny and homophobia. Woods character utters the majority of it and whilst there is a certain irony that the villain Valek does indeed look European (“Eurotrash”) and dresses in effeminate (“fag”) clothing, I am not sure the film is meta enough to have made that connection.” Frank Turner, UK Horror Scene
“The story (based on John Steakley’s novel) offers some intriguing ideas, but it’s hard to muster up much sympathy or emotion when the humans are as repellent as those they slay. Sheryl Lee, Twin Peaks‘ Laura Palmer, does remarkably well with her paper-thin role as a bite victim who holds the key to Valek’s potential downfall.” Matt Brunson, Creative Loafing
“The movie has a certain mordant humor, and some macho dialogue that’s funny. Woods manfully keeps a straight face through goofy situations where many another actor would have signaled us with a wink. But the movie is not scary, and the plot is just one gory showdown after another.” RogerEbert.com
” …with poor staging that makes set pieces intended to feel grand instead feel rushed and underwhelming, along with a mixed bag of a cast with some pretty bad supporting roles, Vampires has enough problems to really hold it back from being a significant entry in the vampire subgenre.” Ed Travis, Cinapse
“Rarely has a Carpenter film been this regressively boorish, as well as unjustifiably taken with its smart-ass sense of humor. Even more stunning still, though, is the pedestrian blandness of the director’s widescreen cinematography, which largely involves framing the hammy Woods in faux-tough-guy stances, and which – when married to mind-numbingly repetitive southern-guitar musical themes – helps render the undead action inanimate.” Nick Schager, Lessons of Darkness
Director John Carpenter talks to Jim Hemphill for Filmmaker
Cast and characters:
- James Woods as Jack Crow
- Daniel Baldwin as Tony Montoya
- Sheryl Lee as Katrina
- Thomas Ian Griffith as Jan Valek
- Maximilian Schell as Cardinal Alba
- Tim Guinee as Father Adam Guiteau
- Mark Boone Junior as Catlin
- Gregory Sierra as Father Giovanni
- Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa as David Deyo
- Thomas Rosales, Jr. as Ortega
- Henry Kingi as Anthony
- David Rowden as Bambi
- Clarke Coleman as Davis
- Marjean Holden as Female Master