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Vampires (1998)

Directed by John Carpenter Novel by John Steakley Screenplay by Don Jakoby (kinda)

   Speaking of the Baldwin family (in my previous review) I found myself drawn to this particular film; haven’t viewed it in some time. The reason for adding the kinda above was that Carpenter had been given two scripts to choose from. Though decided to write his own screenplay taking bits from both scripts along with pieces from the novel and his own input; Jakoby receiving sole credit. Another thing that interested me about the film was discovering prior to starting production that the budget was cut substantially, leaving much of the dialogue from the novel with little remaining plot. So what the heck was going on during production!? 

   I do love when a movie gets right to the point. No need to bore the audience with an intro that doesn’t necessarily need to be there. Jack Crow (James Woods) along with fellow slayer Montoya (Daniel Baldwin) view yet another “mexican shit hole” with the sun soon setting. As they roll up to the front of the house Crow gives the nod to the rest of the hunter’s and pastor, who blessed each damned soul they captured. A quick prayer and reminder of the rules and they’re ready. Being a fan of Woods and seeing him in this bad ass western vampire flick was a nice change of pace. The entire team was also nice to see, rarely do I catch films with large groups of slayers that wholly evoke the “don’t eff with us” aura. They enter the house each adjourned with some rather interesting weapons; not complaining though. When the first vampire flies toward them they unload a reign of bullets, killing them with a crossbow attached to the vehicle outside. Of which Montoya would then drag them out to burst from the sunlight collecting heads as such; “Nothing like a little head hey padre?”

   After retrieving nine skulls to add to their collection a celebration is in order as they party with booze and hookers who are in disbelief of their actual profession. You’d think they be a little open as far as the odd jobs department goes. Jack begins flirting with Katrina (Sheryl Lee) who says she would wait for him to return to his room. Though it seemed she had a visitor herself, leaving an everlasting impression on her, making his way next to the hunters. Valek (Thomas Ian Griffith) then has his way with the team, ripping them to shreds with the most minuscule effort. As it seemed he had arrived with the intention of gaining Jack’s attention already knowing his name. Retrieving Katrina hesitantly as obviously bitten, Jack and Montoya remain the sole survivors racing off as Valek easily catches up; oh to be able to fly. A simple bullet setting him back as they drive into the sunrise, barely missing a vehicle as they end up flipping the truck.

   They use Katrina as a surveillance camera to find the master and “shove a stake up his ass,” first needing to steal a vehicle. Montoya using the art of persuasion and sure, a gun to obtain one, and setting out what had to happen next. He drives Jack back to the motel to separate the heads and bury that of his team members, burning the place down after. Montoya checks in to a Plaza as Jack travels to visit Cardinal Alba (Maximilian Schell) and speak of the master and how he was unlike anything ever seen before. With help from Father Adam (Tim Guinee) Jack becomes a bit knowledgeable on Valek learning he dated back to 1340. A former priest who turned against his church, later captured and burned at the stake becoming known as the first vampire ever dated. Advised to return to Monterrey and train a new team, taking Father Adam along with. Which doesn’t sit well with Jack who says he will abide by no such thing and storms out. Katrina awakens the next day to find herself naked and tied to the bed with Montoya attempting a quick conversation. Explaining what had happened to her and told of being nothing more than bait.

   Averted back to Jack who grudgingly takes Father Adam along, gaining insight on why he had become a hunter. Both parents were bitten by vampires and it was the church that took him in and raised him. Immediately not trusting the pastor, Jack makes it wildly aware he wouldn’t be taking any of his shit. Further explaining a tracking system in which he finds a pattern and shares that they must be looking for something. Not yet sure of what it could be but having heard stories concerning a cross. Back at the hotel Katrina has her first vision of Valek entering a church as he takes a pastor hostage and obtains information on a location. Trying to escape after and biting Montoya in the process, Jack returns to a knocked out Katrina and his teammate lying about the finer details of what actually occurred. Discussing the Cardinal’s plans but ensuring that they were not going anywhere which a displeased Pastor explains tattling if not following through. Without hesitation, Jack smacks the Pastor around, explaining exactly how their relationship was going to work.

   Valek does away with the Preacher as San Miguel ends up the only practical knowledge from Katrina’s vision. Darkness is upon them as we catch a glimpse of 8 masters arising from the ground with Jack taking Father Adam aside. Beckoning him for further information but using brute force rather which seemed the only way he would talk. Screaming that after being forced to kill his own father, he would do the same to him without the slightest hesitation. Taken as his cue to start speaking, explaining how a reverse exorcism had turned Valek into the creature he’d become. Hearing stories of a black cross involved of which would give Valek the power needed to walk among the day. It being far too late however as another vision shows the masters reaching a destination to grab hold of that very same relic.

   Treating Katrina with the same respect shown to the pastor, a brief conflict occurs between Montoya and Jack as the imperative nature of regaining the cross is encouraged from the padre. The three men prepare for battle as they enter the jail and almost immediately engage in action with a couple of goons. Devising a plan in which the padre acts as bait to lure them into the elevator where Jack would then hit them with the arrow once reaching the bottom floor. Up to Montoya to drag them out as seen in the opening sequence. Destroying 2 of the masters before night falls, they begin to retreat as Valek and the other masters exit the jail, overtaking Jack. Father Adam hiding inside a nearby store with Katrina’s transformation complete as she fully turns and finishes what had started with Montoya.

   It seems Cardinal Alam had made his presence known in hopes of gaining immortality if helping Valek complete his ritual attempted so many years ago. Father Adam finally emerging with a shotgun and blowing Valek’s chances of completing the ritual after putting a hole right through the Cardinal. Cue the perfect timing of Montoya who rolls up and shoots the cross of which Jack was tied to (for the ritual). A shootout occuring just as the sun started to approach, scaring off the remainder vampires for a final “battle” between Valek and Jack.

Final Thoughts: I really enjoyed getting to see a western vampire movie. I didn’t think it could work as well but rare I see something of Carpenter’s that I don’t enjoy his take on. It also didn’t try to dance around the principles adopted by vampire films of today which is always comforting. If you prefer sparkling and nympho vampires perhaps sticking to ones coloring books and stickers would be best. Woods was a nice choice for the lead having little instruction from Carpenter, though not needing it per-say. Woods has one of those distinctive voices and is able to be sarcastic and playful in the same way he can toss a preacher around and you don’t exactly hate him for it. His partner fell pretty hard for a hooker that only seemed to bring him more problems. But eventually ends up taking off with her which was an interesting aspect to the end of the film. What was tried to be portrayed between Woods and Baldwin’s character was an old school buddy relationship which I did enjoy between the two. There’s oen point when they first separate and Montoya yells at Jack before taking care of the hotel where he says “And don’t take too fucking long..I get nervous when you’re not around.” Aww

   Sheryl Lee did a nice job of going through the transformation and hey, made for a pretty sexy/scary vampire in the end. Greg Nicotero assisted in capturing the looks of the vampires “realistic” concepts of what I believe them to look like. I enjoyed that the vamps weren’t held back but gladly embraced their unmerciful side. The fact that the hunters had rules was also a nice addition. The ending felt a bit rushed; the entire movie felt like a mere glance into their lives with how vague it was in general. Yet Carpenter can always deliver in the realm of entertainment giving audiences what they want.