Vampires (film)

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Vampires (1998) poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJohn Carpenter
Produced bySandy King
Screenplay byDon Jakoby
Based onVampire$
by John Steakley
Music byJohn Carpenter
CinematographyGary B. Kibbe
Edited byEdward A. Warschilka
Film Office
JVC Entertainment Networks
Largo Entertainment
Spooky Tooth Productions
Storm King Productions
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release date
  • October 30, 1998 (1998-10-30)
Running time
108 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$20 million
Box office$20.3 million

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 (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.

The film was followed by two direct-to-video sequels, Vampires: Los Muertos (2002) and Vampires: The Turning (2005).


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 uses a coordinated method of using battle pikes as harpoons, spearing vampires within the house so that a mechanical winch can pull them outside into the daylight. After clearing the house, the team celebrates at a local motel with drinking and prostitutes, to the disapproval of the Priest assigned to the team. Jack Crow defends the celebration, stating that given the horrors the team witnesses on a daily basis, this is an effective way to blow off steam. During the height of the party, with most of the team drunk, they are attacked swiftly by a master vampire called Valek, who kills most of the team and their priest. Only two members of the team survive, Jack Crow and Tony Montoya, as well as a prostitute named Katrina who was bitten by Valek. Crow later meets his boss, Cardinal Alba, who introduces him to Father Adam Guiteau.

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 and came after Jack, who ended up killing him. 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 by Valek so he too can 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.


Differences between the novel and the film[edit]

  • In the book, the vampires' Grandmaster had no name. In the movie, he is named Jan Valek.
  • In the movie, "Cat" Catlin is slain by Valek while partying at the motel. In the book, Catlin survives to join "Team Felix".
  • Annabelle, Carl, and Felix do not appear in the movie.
  • Tony Montoya, Katrina, and Cardinal Alba do not appear in the book...which also makes no mention of the Black Cross of Berziers.
  • In the book, Jack Crow is turned into a vampire by the Grandmaster, who also slays Father Adam Guiteau. In the movie, both Jack and Guiteau survive while Jan Valek is slain.
  • In the movie, Jack Crow taps into Katrina's mind to locate Jan Valek. In the book, Crow uses a vampire-detector supplied by a weapon-smith.


Shortly after finishing work on Escape from L.A., John Carpenter was thinking about quitting filmmaking because "it stopped being fun".[1] 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.'"[1] Vampires gave Carpenter the chance to do a western disguised as a horror film," he said. "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."[2] 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."[1]

He wrote his own screenplay taking elements from the Jakoby and Mazur scripts, the book and some of his own ideas. 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."[3]

Carpenter cast James Woods as Jack Crow because he wanted "the vampire slayer to be as savage as the prey he’s after. James Woods is the kind of guy you'd believe could and would chew off the leg of a vampire."[3] Woods was interested in doing the film because it was something different for him. 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."[1]

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."[3]

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. King said, "We satisfied the ratings board by just cutting short of a few things that went into really gruesome stuff."[2]

Critical reception and release[edit]

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.[4]

The film was originally released to mixed critical reviews. Liam Lacey of The Globe and Mail called it "crude, rude, nasty fun". However, The New York Times' Lawrence Van Gelder said it was "ridiculous without being awful enough to be hilarious". Roger Ebert gave the film two-and-a-half stars out of four, and noted that it "has a certain mordant humor" but was "not scary, and the plot is just one gory showdown after another."[5] Vampires currently holds a 38% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 48 reviews.

Gene Siskel called the film "a high-action homage to westerns and classic horror that actually has a good story" and "a film that should put John Carpenter back on the map as a horror director and a film director in general," giving the film four stars out of four. Siskel also expressed his happiness in the fact that film starred an all-adult cast without any teenagers. On his end of the year list, he placed James Woods as his pick for his 'Best Actor' suggestion to the Oscars, and he placed the film as his 10th favorite film of 1998.

According to Carpenter, Gary Kibbe was shortlisted for the Best Cinematography at the 71st Academy Awards.

According to the original book's author John Steakley, the film contained much of his dialogue and none of his plot.[citation needed]

Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "D+" on an A+ to F scale.



Award Category Nominee(s) Result
25th Saturn Awards Best Actor James Woods Won
Best Make-Up 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

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Ferrante, Anthony C (November 1997). "Carpenter King..." Dreamwatch Magazine. Archived from the original on 19 March 2007. Retrieved 3 April 2007 – via The Official John Carpenter.
  2. ^ a b Hunt, Dennis (October 25, 1998). "Carpenter Goes for the Throat in Vampires". San Diego Union-Tribune. Archived from the original on 26 September 2011. Retrieved 3 April 2007 – via The Official John Carpenter.
  3. ^ a b c B. Hobson, Louis (October 25, 1998). "Biting into Love of Fear". Calgary Sun. Retrieved 18 March 2018 – via Storm King Productions.
  4. ^ "John Carpenter's Vampires". Box Office Mojo., Inc. Retrieved 8 January 2012.
  5. ^ Ebert, Roger (1998). "John Carpenter's Vampires Movie Review". Retrieved 7 August 2018.

External links[edit]