Vampires (1998 film)
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||John Carpenter|
|Produced by||Sandy King|
|Screenplay by||Don Jakoby|
by John Steakley
|Music by||John Carpenter|
|Cinematography||Gary B. Kibbe|
|Edited by||Edward A. Warschilka|
|Distributed by||Sony Pictures Releasing|
|Box office||$20.3 million (Domestic)|
Vampires (also known as John Carpenter's Vampires) is a 1998 American independent Neo-Western action horror film directed and scored by John Carpenter and starring James Woods. It was adapted from the novel Vampire$ by John Steakley.
Woods stars as Jack Crow, the leader of a team of vampire hunters. After his parents were bitten by vampires, Crow was raised by the Catholic Church to become their "master slayer". The plot is centered on Crow's efforts to prevent a centuries-old cross from falling into the hands of Jan Valek (a reference to Valac, played by Thomas Ian Griffith), the first and most powerful of all vampires. The film also stars Daniel Baldwin as Tony Montoya, Crow's friend and fellow hunter; Sheryl Lee as Katrina, a prostitute who has a psychic link to Valek after being bitten; Tim Guinee as Father Adam Guiteau; and Maximilian Schell as Cardinal Alba.
A team of Vatican-sponsored vampire hunters led by Jack Crow rids an abandoned house of vampires in the middle of New Mexico during a daylight raid. The team coordinates their attacks, using submachine gun fire to slow the vampires down followed by harpooning them with battle pikes; Crow finished each using a modified crossbow to spear the vampires within the house so that a mechanical winch can pull them outside into the daylight where they burst into flames. The house is the largest nest the team has ever encountered, with nine 'goons' (vampire soldiers); however, Jack is concerned that they did not find a 'master' (an older, more powerful vampire) within. Later, the team celebrates at a local hotel with drinking and prostitutes, to the disapproval of the local sheriff and the priest assigned to the team. Crow is unable to celebrate and shares his concerns about the missing master with the priest. During the height of the party, the master vampire, Valek, arrives and 'turns' one of the prostitutes, Katrina, by biting her and initiating her transformation into a vampire. He then attacks the party, swiftly murdering the hunters present, with only Crow, his trusted lieutenant, Tony Montoya, and Katrina escaping.
Crow orders Montoya to retreat to a hotel with Katrina, hoping to use her growing psychic link with Valek to track him down. After burying the team and burning down the hotel, Crow reports to his superior Cardinal Alba. Given that Valek is both stronger and more durable than any master previously encountered, Alba confirms that Valek was a disgraced priest who led a rebellion against the church, leading to his execution and transformation into the first Vampire. Alba instructs him to form a new team, as Valek has slaughtered the other US and European-based vampire hunters, and has Father Adam Guiteau accompany him. Crow reluctantly takes Guiteau with him, but refuses to form a new team as Valek is on the move. En route, Crow dispels Guiteau's heroic notions of vampire hunting, but extends some trust by disclosing his map of vampire activity, showing that the vampires are searching the southwest.
Montoya explains to the gradually changing Katrina what is happening to her. Horrified, she attempts to commit suicide, but Montoya rescues her, being bitten by her in the process. Crow and Guiteau arrive at the hotel, and Montoya keeps his bite wound a secret. Sensing that Guiteau is hiding something, Crow threatens to kill him, recounting that he had been forced to kill his own father for 'keeping a secret' after he had transformed into a vampire and killed Jack’s mother in front of him. Guiteau reveals that Valek is seeking an ancient relic called the "Black Cross" of Berziers to complete the botched exorcism that transformed him into a vampire. Valek now plans to complete the exorcism and give himself immunity to sunlight, making him unstoppable. Crow then welcomes Guiteau to the team as his first new slayer.
Using Katrina's psychic link, Jack, Montoya and Guiteau find out that Valek has seized the cross and they arrive at an abandoned Spanish town. Based on Katrina's visions, they realize they are badly outnumbered, since Valek has roused seven additional masters and transformed at least thirty of the townspeople into new goons, creating the largest nest in history. Guiteau proves himself to the team by volunteering as 'bait' to trap master vampires for Jack and Montoya to harpoon into sunlight, earning Jack's respect by learning quickly and helping him fight hand-to-hand with several masters. While they manage to kill most of Valek's lieutenants, Valek overwhelms them at sundown; Crow is captured, Guiteau takes cover, and Montoya and Katrina flee, only for her to fully turn and bite Montoya on the throat. Valek explains that he is attempting to recreate the original ritual, which requires the blood of a crusader, Jack, and the participation of a priest. Cardinal Alba steps forward and reveals that he was the mole, having lost his faith and gained a fear of death in his aging state; he believes that once Valek completes the ritual, he will be able to turn him into a new breed of vampire. Guiteau kills Alba before he can finish the ritual and holds off the horde by threatening suicide and leaving Valek without a priest to complete 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 and Crow prepare to slay Montoya and Katrina, knowing that their transformations are irreversible; however, since Montoya gave him two days of loyalty after being bitten, Crow grants the pair a two-day head start before he resumes hunting them. After Montoya and Katrina leave, Jack and Guiteau head off once again to kill the rest of the vampires that made it to shelter.
- James Woods as John "Jack" Crow
- Daniel Baldwin as Tony Montoya
- Sheryl Lee as Katrina
- Tim Guinee as Father Adam Guiteau
- Thomas Ian Griffith as Jan Valek
- Maximilian Schell as Cardinal Alba
- 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
- Chad Stahelski as Male Master
- Marjean Holden as Female Master
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Largo Entertainment bought the rights to John Steakley's novel in 1992 and planned on turning the film into the studio's next big project. Although Carpenter, alongside Sam Raimi, Peter Jackson, and Ron Underwood, had all been considered, Russell Mulcahy was the first to be the attached director. Dolph Lundgren had been cast in the lead role of Jack Crow, and it was reported that Willem Dafoe was being eyed for a secondary role, likely the role of antagonist vampire Valek. Many proposed drafts for the film existed, including one that took place entirely at The Vatican and featured a vampirized Pope as the villain, and another that took place in a distant high-tech future where vampires are commonplace and vampire hunters are as abundant as police officers. The film was slated for a Summer 1996 release date with a budget of $50–$60 million, but conflicts between Mulcahy and the studio forced him to leave the project before filming began, taking Lundgren with him. The two would immediately begin working on Silent Trigger, which borrowed elements from the unused scripts for Vampires.
Shortly after finishing work on Escape from L.A., John Carpenter was thinking about quitting filmmaking because "it stopped being fun". Largo Entertainment approached him with a project called Vampires, an adaptation of the novel of the same name by John Steakley. They gave him two screenplays; one by Don Jakoby and one by Dan Mazur. Carpenter read both screenplays and the novel, and he saw the potential for a film he'd been interested in making. "I went into my office and thought, 'It's going to be set in the American southwest and it's a western – Howard Hawks.'" Carpenter had always wanted to make a film that experimented with mixing the horror and western genres, and felt Vampires was perfect for him. "The story is set up like a western. It's about killers for hire. They're a western cliché. In this movie they’re paid to kill vampires." In terms of tone and look, Carpenter felt that his film was "a little more like The Wild Bunch than Hawks in its style, but the feelings and the whole ending scene is a kind of replay on Red River."
The film was originally set to be made with a budget $60 million, but was slashed down to $20 million at the last minute. To accommodate the sudden budgetary concerns, he wrote his own screenplay, taking elements from the Jakoby and Mazur scripts, the book, and some of his own ideas, alongside writer and frequent collaborator Michael De Luca. For this film, Carpenter wanted to get away from the stereotype of gothic vampires as he said in an interview, "My vampires are savage creatures. There isn't a second of brooding loneliness in their existence. They're too busy ripping and tearing humans apart."
Carpenter was looking for someone unique to play the character of Jack Crow and was actively avoiding "just another musclebound meathead", eventually settling for James Woods. He had considered Clint Eastwood, Kurt Russell, Bill Paxton, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, and R. Lee Ermey for the role, but all of those actors either declined the role or couldn't sign on due to scheduling conflicts. Ermey's casting was rejected by the studio, who believed he did not hold the star power to front a blockbuster. Carpenter cast James Woods as Jack Crow because he wanted "the vampire slayer to be as savage as the prey he’s after, a guy who's just as menacing as the vampires. James Woods is the kind of guy you'd believe could and would chew off the leg of a vampire."[dead link] Woods was interested in doing the film because he had never been offered a horror film before and wanted to try something new. Contrary to his reputation, Carpenter didn't find the actor difficult to work with because "we had a deal. He would give me one take as it's written and I would let him improvise...Many of his improvisations were brilliant. When I needed him to be more focused and disciplined, I had the take from the script that was straighter."
Alec Baldwin, an outspoken fan of Carpenter's work, had been cast to play Montoya but quickly dropped out and recommended the role to his brother, Daniel. Carpenter had not seen any of Daniel Baldwin's work and had the actor read for him. He had seen Sheryl Lee on Twin Peaks and cast her based on her work on the show. Carpenter's wife and the film's producer Sandy King cast Thomas Ian Griffith because she and the director wanted "someone who looks formidable, but is also alluring. There always has to be something alluring about the evil nature of the vampire."[dead link] Dolph Lundgren was also approached about returning as Valek instead of Jack Crow, but he was not interested in playing the villain and declined.
Filming and post-production
Principal photography began during June 1997 in New Mexico and concluded on August 4, 1997. Carpenter enjoyed production because much of the film was shot on real scouted locations. In the credits, the film bears a 1997 copyright year rather than a 1998 copyright year, presumably because post-production work had been completed prior to 1998.
The MPAA took issue with the film's over-the-top violence, threatening to give it an NC-17 rating unless some of the gore was cut. Ultimately, about 20 seconds of footage was cut from the film. King said, "We satisfied the ratings board by just cutting short of a few things that went into really gruesome stuff."
The film opened at #1 but dropped to #8 on its second week. The film grossed $20,308,772 dollars in the United States on a $20 million budget. Although worldwide numbers are not official, Carpenter stated the film was a massive success overseas, particularly in Japan, and pulled in well over its $20 million budget. It later went on to pull in a further $42 million on home video rental and purchase sales. Vampires was Carpenter's only financially successful film of the 90s, and it would later turn out to be the last financial hit of his entire career.
The film was originally released to varied critical reviews, appearing on both best-of-the-year and worst-of-the-year lists. Positive reviews were based on the film's acting, direction, and visual style, while negative reviews felt the film lacked a coherent plot or likable characters. Vampires currently holds a 40% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 50 reviews with the critics' consensus "Nothing but one showdown after another."
In its positive reviews, Liam Lacey of The Globe and Mail called it "crude, rude, nasty fun". Robert Gonsalves of efilmcritic.com gave the film four out of five stars, calling Vampires "grungy, disreputable fun...a beautifully shot, yet nightmarishly haunting spaghetti western/horror." Dan Moore of Tulsa News On 6 awarded the film with an A-, saying Vampires "has a distinct personality and entertaining style, one ripe to inspire future generations" and "could very well be Carpenter's next masterpiece". Sean Axmaker of Stream On Demand gave the film 3.5 stars out of four, calling it "Carpenter in his prime form", giving particular points to its world building and acting. However, negative critics such as The New York Times' Lawrence Van Gelder said it was "ridiculous without being awful enough to be hilarious". Michael Dequina of The Movie Report was also unimpressed, giving the film 1.5 stars out of five, saying "there's no real plot" further believing the film featured "some of the most unlikable characters in recent memory". Susan Stark of Detroit News called the film "misogynistic and disgusting", questioning if Carpenter hated women, giving the film one star out of four. Paul Tatara of CNN gave the film a particularly hostile review, lambasting Carpenter as a filmmaker and finishing his review by saying "as foul as it is, I'd argue that the main reason kids shouldn't see 'John Carpenter's Vampires' is because it might stunt their emotional and creative development."
Despite this, many critics saw the film as mediocre at best. Roger Ebert gave the film two-and-a-half stars out of four, and noted that it "has a certain mordant humor and charm", but was ultimately "not scary, and the plot is just one gory showdown after another." John C. Puccio of Movie Metropolis was also lukewarm about the film and gave it five out of ten stars, describing the film as "little more than an excuse to watch people kill each other in the most brutal possible ways" but acknowledged that the film was well shot, directed, and acted, and that the film had an interesting visual style. Marc Savlov of the Austin Chronicle gave the film three stars out of five, stating he enjoyed the film's cinematography, which he described as "a comic book brought to life", but further noted that the film takes itself far too seriously and suggests the film may have worked better as a dark comedy. James Berardinelli gave the film two and a half stars out of four, stating "Vampires is decent enough, but it's unlikely anybody will remember this film in the following years, or perhaps even in following weeks."
In one of Vampires's most positive reviews, Gene Siskel awarded the film with four out of four stars, calling the film "a high-action homage to westerns and classic horror that actually has a unique story and masterful cinematography" and "a film that should put John Carpenter back on the map as a horror director and a film director in general." Siskel also expressed his fondness in the fact that film starred an all-adult cast without any teenagers and portrayed both vampires and vampire hunters in an original way. At the end of the year, he placed James Woods as his pick for his "Best Actor" suggestion to the Oscars, and he placed the film as his 10th favorite of 1998.
John Steakley, the author of the original novel, liked the film but said it contained much of his dialogue and none of his plot.
|25th Saturn Awards||Best Actor||James Woods||Won|
|Best Music||John Carpenter||Won|
|Best Horror Film||Vampires||Nominated|
|Best Supporting Actress||Sheryl Lee||Nominated|
|Bram Stoker Award||Other Media||John Carpenter||Nominated|
|International Horror Guild Award||Best Movie||Vampires||Nominated|
|1998 Stinkers Bad Movie Awards||Worst Supporting Actor||Daniel Baldwin||Won|
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