John Carpenter’s Vampires (1998): Collector’s Edition [Blu-Ray]

“They don’t sleep in coffins lined in taffeta. You wanna kill one, you drive a wooden stake right through his fuckin’ heart. Sunlight turns ’em into crispy critters.”

I love John Carpenter. I love John Carpenter just as much as Spielberg, and that’s saying a lot as anyone who knows me knows I’m a big Spielberg nut. In either case, even Carpenter’s lesser efforts in the late nineties to early aughts are somewhat entertaining, if only because even when he never quite sticks the landing, he’s at least going for something different. With “Vampires,” Carpenter tries his best to rethink and remold the modern vampire and make them terrifying again. While the movie isn’t great, its ambition and ability to make Vampires primal monsters again is admirable and worthy of an audience.

Vampires lurk in the shadows hiding in hives like primal beasts and they’re hunted by Vatican funded mercenary hunters that stalk them and slay them. Led by enigmatic Jack Crow, they are targeted by vampire lord Valek, who slaughters the hunters in cold blood. By chance, Jack and his friend Montoya flee, and are informed that Valek is seeking a mystical black cross which will allow vampires to stalk during the day time. Teaming with a young priest, and a prostitute named Katrina that’s been bitten by Valek, Jack and Montoya have to track down Valek before he finds the cross and completes the ritual to help vampires become all powerful.

“Vampires” isn’t the best offering from Carpenter but it does benefit from Carpenter injecting a lot of his favorite tropes within a very interesting vampire tale. There’s the whole Western/cowboy angle, the South Western flavor, and the dread filled score by Carpenter. The director also creates some of the more underrated characters from his cinematic legacy. I would have loved to see a lot more from Jack Crow and Valek, both of whom make a formidable hero and villain pair. Despite James Woods’ scenery chewing performance, Crow had a ton of potential I wish we’d have seen carried in to the inferior sequels. I’m also a big fan of the vicious vampires and how Carpenter revels depicting some brutal, memorable action with Gregory Nicotero’s excellent effects.

This includes stakes through the head, vampiric combustions, Valek’s excellent slaughter of a group of hunters, and the prison raid in the climax. “Vampires” suffers from its fairly sluggish pacing, and incredibly over the top turns from Woods, Baldwin and even Sheryl Lee, respectively. Woods definitely seems to love monologuing because writer Carpenter gives Jack Crow so many monologues and speeches. I think so much less talking and a lot more motivation would have turned Crow in to a riveting hero like Nada or Laurie Strode. That said he’s still an interesting hero that I wish we’d gotten more of with a comic book or novel. “Vampires” isn’t as widely celebrated as “In the Mouth of Madness,” but it’s solid Carpenter that holds up much better than “Ghosts of Mars.”

Included in the new Collector’s Edition from Shout! Factory (along with usual excellent new art work from Devon Whitehead!) is a Vintage Audio Commentary featuring John Carpenter, as well as an Isolated Score which allows viewers to hear just Carpenter’s score. The brand new Time to Kill Some Vampires is a twelve minute segment featuring interviews with John Carpenter, Sandy King Carpenter, and Gary Kibbe. Jack The Vampire Slayer is a brand new twenty two minute interview with star James Woods who enthusiastically discusses making the movie.

There’s The First Vampire, a ten minute interview with Thomas Ian Griffith who plays the villainous master vampire Valek, and Padre, a new twelve minute interview with co-star Tim Guinee who plays the young priest. Both men convey equal enthusiasm for their roles and performances, and they’re engaging interviews. The new Raising the Stakes is a great ten minute interview with special effects master Greg Nicotero, who discusses his career, and how he brought all of the gnarly traditional effects in the movie to life. Finally, there’s the original Making-Of that clocks in at twenty three minutes, as well as the original theatrical trailer, original vintage TV Spots, and a great Still Gallery.