JOHN CARPENTER’S VAMPIRES Gets the Scream Factory Collector’s Edition Treatment

1998 was a pretty spectacular year for vampire films. After Blade put a more badass spin on the blood sucker, a few months later — on Halloween no less — John Carpenter’s Vampires hit theaters. Carpenter at this point was dealing with more than a few cinematic disappointments and was almost done with directing when he took on adapting the book Vampire$ by John Steakley. For me, it was Carpenter’s last solid cinematic effort and a film that gave us yet another of the director’s patented badass one-liner-spouting anti-heroes marching to the beat of an original Carpenter score. I still remember picking this up on DVD after its limited theatrical release, only to remind me of the Carpenter I grew up with. Watching it now, the film, like everything else by the director, has sunk its teeth into almost everything we see involving vampires today.

Vampires, released by the now defunct Largo Entertainment, is a Sergio Leoni-esque horror western starring James Woods as Jack Crow, the leather jacket-wearing leader of a group of vampire slayers sanctioned by the Catholic church. After a routine raid on a vampire nest in New Mexico, an ancient and powerful vampire master, thought the be the first, kills off most of Crow’s crew, leaving him to exact vengeance and uncover of the truth behind the origin of the curse. It’s rumored Dolph Lundgren was originally cast as Crow, when Russell Mulcahy was attached as director. When Carpenter came on board, given the muscle-bound action hero norm at the time, he cast James Woods in an interesting bit of casting against the norm that gives the film a much different flavor with his more sinister take on Carpenter’s usual anti-hero.

Of course, given the director, expect the typical anti-establishment themes that are usually at the heart of every Carpenter film. I will admit it was an interesting spin on vampire mythology and a world that felt like it was made for the director. It’s how Carpenter paints these hunters as simply a bunch of guys doing a job, not much different than pest exterminators, that quickly grounds the film as the viewer gets their bearings on this take of vampires meets The Wild Bunch. Woods is pretty stellar here, and leans into an uncomfortable swagger that is assisted by none other than Daniel Baldwin as Tony Montoya, who does a great side kick here. Laura Palmer herself, Sheryl Lee, plays Katrina, a young woman who was bitten by the master and who Crow uses to help track him down.

For those that missed out on the long out-of-print Twilight Time release, this Collector’s disc from Scream Factory is a no-brainer. The release uses the same great transfer as the previous disc that had vibrant color and a very film-like look with little to no DNR. This wouldn’t be a Collector’s disc without some extra bonus features, and Scream has not only ported the original extras forward, but has added some more to the package. Thankfully enough time has passed that everyone is a bit more candid in their respective interviews, and they give some great insight into the production of the film. Carpenter is always great in these types of interviews because there’s a vindication to his candor as he talks about both the positives and the negatives of his career up until Vampires, offering some great context.

Given how hard Twilight Time releases are to score sometimes, it’s great that we are getting another chance to grab this disc thanks to Scream Factory. The upgrade in features paired with Carpenter’s dry yet engrossingly informative commentary also makes it a worthy pick up for those on the cusp of the double dip. Vampires held up rather well over the years, and I think it exists as one of the more underrated Carpenter films, since it didn’t hit in the ‘80s with some of his bigger film hits. Thanks to James Woods, this definitely is one of my personal favorites because of not only his creepy performance, but what we find out are some of the funniest ad-libs in a Carpenter flick.

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