Weekly Wire
Memphis Flyer Monstrosity

By Susan Ellis

NOVEMBER 9, 1998:  Did you hear the one about the priest, the vampire slayers, and the hooker? It’s no joke; it’s John Carpenter’s Vampires. Now, it would be easy to say that watching John Carpenter’s Vampires is like having a stake driven into your skull, but that would be giving this movie a tad too much credit, and would imply that it has some impact when it is, in fact, pretty dull.

The film is based on the novel Vampire$ by John Steakley and adapted by Don Jakoby. It centers around a group of Vatican-sanctioned vampire slayers led by Jack Crow (James Woods). In the first scene, the crew swoop onto a rickety old house in New Mexico and wipe away all the vampires, using guns to stun them, spears to stick them, and a pulley system to drag them bursting into flames into the sunlight. The slayers nab nine vampires on this run, but the master vampire eludes them.

A day’s work done, the group heads to a local motel for a night of booze and hookers. Just as the beer is running low and the women are loosening their tops, the master vampire descends upon them, leaving a bloody mess and only three survivors – Jack, Tony Montoya (Daniel Baldwin), and one of the hookers, Katrina (Sheryl Lee), who’s been bitten and is just days away from turning into a bloodsucker.

This master vampire, it turns out, is no ordinary master vampire but the master vampire; the one who started it all, the original vampire, Valek (Thomas Ian Griffith), who was the first to walk the earth undead. While the slayers have been looking for him, Valek’s been on a search for a religious relic that would give him the ability to work during the day, thus doubling his productivity.

Jack is determined to kill Valek, so he seeks guidance from Cardinal Alba (Maximillian Schell), who can give him no information but does saddle him with a wimpy priest, Father Adam Guitau (Tim Guinee).

Carpenter, who made a name for himself with such films as the original Halloween and Escape from New York, specializes in the chase and the hunt and made a mint from startling his audience. This gift earned him the right to tag his name to his films, though sometimes, in the case of this film and his remake of Village of the Damned, it doesn’t really matter what words you put in front of the title.

In Carpenter’s take on the vampire legend, he concentrates more on the slayers than on the creatures themselves. He was going for a Western feel. The church being the law here, Valek the outlaw. He relies on the showdowns to be the pulse of the film, but in following the storyline of methodically offing the vampires – the suiting up, the same weapons – the action is, well, methodical. So the film must ride on its players, and they don’t have much to work with. The slayers are supposed to have a sort of dusty renegade coolness. Baldwin’s main duty is to stand around in too-tight pants and a bad dye job working a winch. He also falls in love with the bitten hooker, which is a little bit more than creepy since she spends most of the time passed out. Woods’ character is a nerves-of-steel tough guy. He comes off as a high-school wiseguy bully who only thinks he’s cool. His version of the wedgie is hassling the priest by asking him if he’s got an erection.

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