Volume 92, Issue 33
Tuesday, November 3, 1998
|ARTS AND ENTERTAINMENT
Vamp flick worth a bite
Photo by Neil Jacobs
Photo by Neil Jacobs
By Jason Gray
John Carpenter's Vampires sinks its teeth into the viewer from the start.
The audience is invited into this cinematic world through the use of such standard vampire fare as wooden stakes and sunlight. Renegade slayer, Jack Cross (James Woods) and his team kill a slew of "goons" by exactly these means.
But once the film has established itself, director/composer Carpenter turns up the heat and increases the suspense factor by taking some fresh bites out of a well-trod genre. For instance, think garlic works anymore? Nope. Crosses? Not a chance.
The only way to kill these goons is with stakes but this too will change if Valek (Thomas Ian Griffith), the 600-year-old master vampire, can help it. He is on a quest to find the "Berziers Cross" which will allow him and all succeeding vampires to walk the earth during the day, essentially invincible.
Jack Cross and partner Tony Montoya (Daniel Baldwin), do have one weapon however a prostitute named Katrina (Sheryl Lee) bitten by Valek who has not yet "turned." She is linked telepathically to him and is therefore used as a means of tracking him down.
And that's just the icing. This is John Carpenter's comeback movie, his best since 1978's Halloween. He has a lot of fun with the vampire theme, stripping the cliches and adding his own personal touches along the way. Carpenter recently claimed a recurring wish to make both a vampire film and Western. Vampires is a lot of both.
Vampires is a breath of fresh air amongst the recent slew of horror films, which are leading towards another genre burn-out. There are no screaming teenagers and although there are many tongue-in-cheek moments, Carpenter pulls out all the stops in the fright scenes. He does what most recent horror movies fail to do he actually scares the audience!
These scares don't simply come from nasty things jumping out of dark corners, but from the creepy way in which the theme itself is actually dealt with and from very sharply directed suspense scenes.
The script is tight and the characters convincing. Tension arises out of just how far the audience is led into the ugly vampire underworld. Carpenter immerses them in a bath of blood and gore on top of the deep psychological and physiological effects of the transformation from human to undead-vampire, acted brilliantly by Lee.
The special effects are good and the music (composed by Carpenter), although too serene at times, creates a "wild old west" atmosphere. With loud breathing, intense demeanor and a towering frame, Griffith is altogether creepy. Not since Dracula himself has the silver screen seen such an ominous vampire leader.
All said, Carpenter is back in full form and his personal touch resonates throughout the film. He hasn't cashed out and the reason the film is frightening is because he's not afraid to be offensive and, well, scary. He isn't going after a mass audience, like some current horror films, hence its "R" rating. Still, Carpenter's superiority in the genre is unquestionable.
John Carpenter's Vampires is shocking, gritty, gory, funny and scary all in the same breath, while ultimately it's one hell of a delicious piece of entertainment to sink one's teeth into.
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