As the works of John Carpenter, especially his wrongly maligned late-period films, have undergone a critical reevaluation, Shout! Factory, through their horror imprint Scream Factory, have been at the forefront by continually reissuing films from the director’s vast filmography. It’s a company-wide dedication to a filmmaker that you don’t see from too many companies for any number of reasons, most of which would be distribution rights. Their latest release from Carpenter’s oeuvre is John Carpenter’s Vampires, the 1998 horror-western which was the director’s last film to open number one at the American box office upon its release. Vampires is unmistakably the work of Carpenter, full of gory action and gruff characters. Once again Scream Factory pulls out all the stops in another fantastic edition that honors an overlooked film from one of genre’s master filmmakers.
James Woods stars as Jack Crow, and it does seem like the actor is channeling the darker aspects of his personality for this anti-hero. Jack Crow is an unlikable character. He’s brash, arrogant, and casually flings homophobic insults to anyone in his vicinity. He’s also the Vatican’s best vampire hunter. Jack may work for the Catholic Church but neither he nor his team of vampire hunters are beholden to faith-based morality as evidenced by their alcohol-fueled party with prostitutes after taking down a nest of filthy bloodsuckers. But their party is crashed when the powerful vampire Jan Valek (Thomas Ian Griffith) arrives, killing Jack’s crew with the exception of his close partner Anthony Montoya (Daniel Baldwin). Jack and Anthony escape Valek’s violent rampage with Katrina (Sheryl Lee), one of the prostitutes at the party who has been bitten. Their plan is to track Valek using the psychic connection between the master vampire and the one he bites.
Valek has returned in search of an ancient relic that will give vampires the power to walk in the daylight, effectively meaning humans will become a race of cattle for their vampire overlords. Cardinal Alba (Maximillian Schell) dispatches young Father Adam Guiteau (Tim Guinee) to team with Jack Crow, though the veteran vampire hunter has little patience for the rookie priest. They must use what little resources they have to defeat the powerful Valek and save the world from an age of darkness.
As much as Vampires, much like it director, has its roots in horror, it’s obvious to see that Carpenter was drawn to this movie because he could approach it like a western, complete with themes that have arisen in the classic westerns of the great Howard Hawks. Despite his gruff demeanor, Jack Crow is a character driven by his duty and carries with him an immense loyalty to those who work beside him. Remove the supernatural elements and you have a western where tenuous alliances are forged to defeat the common enemy, something straight out of Hawks’ Rio Bravo among others. The result is a piece of crazed genre fare with vampires and gore galore but also a legendary filmmaker exploring themes that have fascinated him throughout his career including a deeply held cynicism towards institutions of power.
Vampires also boasts some incredible cinematography from Gary B. Kibbe, a frequent Carpenter collaborator. The film is full of southwestern vistas and Kibbe goes further alters the color of the frame to give the film even more of a reddish southwest motif. The film also boasts incredible makeup effects from the acclaimed trio of Robert Kurtzman, Greg Nicotero, and Howard Berger (KNB), all three masters of the macabre. Between Carpenter’s sturdy direction and guitar heavy musical score, the script by Don Jakoby, Kibbe’s atmospheric cinematography, and the KNB make up effects it means that while Vampires may be one of the more minor efforts by Carpenter it’s still a rollicking good time, the work of a master blending genre tropes into a unique film only Carpenter could craft.
The new Scream Factory edition of John Carpenter’s Vampires boasts a number of brand new special features. There are an extensive collection of new interviews with the cast and crew of the film, including director John Carpenter, producer Sandy King Carpenter, star James Woods, legendary makeup artist Greg Nicotero, and more. One thing that comes through in these interviews is how Carpenter is a director with a vision but not so beholden to his vision to stifle any collaboration. Both Carpenter and Woods address the star’s reputation for being difficult, each doing their best to dissuade that Woods is a diva but a headstrong actor eager to provide his own input on his characters. These features are coupled with an audio commentary track with Carpenter, trailers, and the original making-of featurette from the film’s release.
As Scream Factory continues its commitment to the films of John Carpenter, they’re almost out of movies to reissue from the genre master’s filmography. As with their previous releases, this edition of John Carpenter’s Vampires presents another overlooked work of Carpenter with the reverence often reserved for Academy Award winners, teeming with special features and a crisp HD transfer. Tastes have evolved over the years and we’re lucky that the world has finally caught up to the brilliance of John Carpenter and I’m thankful that Scream Factory puts so much time and effort into honoring these genre classics.
John Carpenter's Vampires
The horror-western from genre master John Carpenter, Vampires gets the deluxe Blu-ray edition thanks to Scream Factory’s commitment to re-issuing Carpenter’s extensive filmography in all its gory glory.