John Carpenter has definitely not lost his touch for story-telling. His latest offering, released JUST in time for the Halloween holiday season is "Vampires", based on the novel by John Streakley, is just what the doctor ordered to cheer up those "Same 'ol Halloween Movie" blues. It has all the classic elements we've come to expect from a Carpenter film… it has blood, it has gore, it has shocks, it has plot twists, it has an unusual heroine, it has the sardonic, wise-cracking, irreverent lead character… in other words, while not a classic formula movie, it is delightfully a classic Carpenter formula movie.
Meet Jack Crow (James Woods), veteran vampire slayer, sanctioned and funded by the catholic church in Rome. His right-hand man and best friend, Tony Montoya (Daniel Baldwin) has an attitude only slightly less shocking than that of Woods' character. Together, along with a crack team of sidekick-slayers, they begin the movie removing a "nest" of vampires from this world, mostly by dragging them forth into the blessed sunlight and letting "nature" do it's worst. However, their celebratory revels are soon cut short by the appearance of the Master vampire Valek (Thomas Ian Griffith), who sends the movie spinning away from traditional formula-style plot, and careening into Carpenter-land.
Add to this Father Adam Guiteau (Tim Guinee), the priest that joins their team to go after Valek, Cardinal Alba (Maximillian Schell), Jack's contact with the holy church in Rome, and Katrina (Sheryl Lee) to the mix, and the movie goes off like a bolt from a crossbow (wooden, of course!)
Woods is the perfect leading man for this film. I've not been that big a James Woods fan until now, but he's earned my respect in this one, and Daniel Baldwin proves that, although he looks like a larger, somewhat dumpier version of his brother Alec, can act, can do action, and is believable in the role of someone who can resist the lull of the villains, but not the pull of love. Lee's performance involves a lot of twitching and convulsing, and as far as that goes, she does it convincingly, but I can't say much else about her otherwise. Tim Guinee is the only "formula" character in this cemetery-trek, with his "bookworm" priest becoming a solid member of the Slayer Squad by the end of the film, which is a traditional method of transformation (maturity by fire, so-to-speak).
Overall, not a truly "sterling" flim (I don't expect any academy award nominations from this one, unless there's category for "Best Use of Blood in a John Carpenter Film" category, this is a good action film, and especially good if you like vampire stories, but even if you don't, just pretend that the vampires are drug-crazed gangbangers, and you'll have an action film that any fan of that genre will enjoy.
I give this film a B+. It's good, it's fun, it's enjoyable... it's just not that meaty. It's like store-bought cake. It's good, it's just not as good as it could be.