Exploitation Retrospect | The Journal of Junk Culture and Fringe Media
John Carpenter's Vampires (1998)
Columbia Tri-Star Home Video
Review by Jesse Nelson

James Woods stars in John Carpenter's VampiresThose of you that've read the excellent John Steakley book (spelled with a dollar sign for the "s") that's the basis for this movie know that its hybrid mix of action and horror can't be beat. Unfortunately, Carpenter's latest sucks all the life (and fun) out of the story. I never judge a movie by comparing it to the book — with very few exceptions, the book is never as good as the movie. Instead, I take the movie for what it's worth and how it stands on its own, but this movie has too much against it to be any good.

First of all, I love the music of John Carpenter. It's creepy and fits his movies so perfectly. The music in VAMPIRES just isn't good. It sounds like a rejected Ry Cooder score and feels like it belongs in ROADHOUSE. There are even times when the lack of music seriously affects the action of the film. The opening vampire slaying would've had much more energy with just a little bit of music — any type of music!

If that was my biggest complaint, I could still recommend the movie. But, as you probably guessed, it isn't. My biggest complaint is that the film is so unnecessarily misogynistic that I just felt uncomfortable watching it. Back in the 70s pointless nudity, calling women bitches and smacking them around was just fine (in fact it's still fine if you are Rudy Ray Moore). But today, it just doesn't wash. You probably can't count the number of times James Woods calls Sheryl Lee "bitch" or "whore" (granted she is a hooker in the movie). I just didn't get it. It really has nothing to do with the movie and doesn't help reinforce Woods' tough guy act. In fact, it just makes the character look like a jerk.

Also, is there anyone out there that can tell me which Baldwin can act? Well, it sure isn't Daniel Baldwin. He may be a master of the crack pipe, but a thespian he is not.

Finally, where's the John Carpenter I love so much? I try so hard to enjoy his films, but it's been a while since he made a solid film. IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS was probably his last good try, but even that was a mess. Maybe someday soon, he'll make something with the love and enthusiasm for which he made THE THING, until then he has a fine selection of older films that always warrant repeat viewings.

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