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  1. #1
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    A DVD REVIEW: JOHN CARPENTER'S VAMPIRES (Columbia/TriStar)

    "Come on, Padre.....my nuts are on fire here!"
    -James Woods, John Carpenter's Vampires

    I remember seeing this picture in theaters with a friend on opening night of October 30, 1998 (the very next day I picked up my brand new car, a 1999 Honda Accord EX V-6 Coupe, and threw a Halloween party that same next night showing horror movies during an annual Horror Movie Marathon I always did) and enjoying this John Carpenter take on a book about these blood-sucking creeps. Lets get something straight and out of the way right now: I am a DIEHARD Carpenter fan, and love everything this man has put out on celluloid, save for a couple of tiles like They Live! (even though I was a HUGE Rowdy Roddy Piper fan) and the horrendous Ghosts of Mars. So while Carpenter's Vampires received a lot of horrible press attention and gained no sales in theaters, it's still a favorite Carpenter flick after my own heart, and I still think its one gory thrill ride look at the vampire mystique.

    Being that I was just in a "vampires" mood today (see my review of The Lost Boys), I took this DVD off my shelf to re-visit being that it has been awhile since Ive last watched it; since the time of this Columbia/TriStar original release of Vampires, the studio has remastered it into part of their SUPERBIT collection, which added a digitally remastered picture and a DTS audio track. I have been meaning to replace this original release of the DVD with the SUPERBIT because I am a fan of the film but never got around to it; what we have here is decent in audio and video and I guess thats why I never upgraded yet.....but I'll get into that in a minute or so.....

    Carpenter's Vampires has James Woods in the lead as a trash-talking, take-no-**** vampire slayer named Jack Crow hired by the Vatican with a team who hunts down "nests" and takes out vampires they call "goons" --- the film opens with Woods and his team (with Carpenter-synthesized score that sounds JUST like the score from his Escape From L.A.) descending upon a New Mexico den of vampires, which they sneak-attack and kill, mostly by using arrows to shoot into them and then drag them into the sunlight so they explode. Daniel Baldwin plays Crow's right hand man in his vampire slaying team, and after killing all the "goons" in this "nest" they attacked, they celebrate by renting out a motel and hiring a **** load of hookers and drinking a **** load of booze; what they are unaware of is the presenece of an unstoppable master vampire named Valek, who is about to crash Crow's party. A drop-dead gorgeous hooker (Cheryl Lee) waits for Woods in his motel room, but Valek is waiting already on the ceiling for her, and before she knows it, she already has him between her legs (where I wish I could have been) taking big bites out of her thigh......this makes her telepathically linked with Valek, and after biting the hooker, Valek breaks into the main party in the motel and systematically kills every member of Woods' slaying team. In perhaps the most greusome scene in the film (and this is a VERY gory horror film --- there's lots and lots of blood, heads coming off, etc; something we dont see enough of in horror films today and perfectly done by Carpenter) Valek takes his long-fingernailed hand and rips open one of the members of Woods' team completely in half just from one swipe of his hand --- the guy's torso comes apart as blood spurts everywhere ---- it is a masterpiece of special effects. As Woods and Baldwin, the only two remaining survivors of the vampire team, attempt to shoot Valek multiple times with no results, Valek calls out Woods' name, Jack Crow, making Woods wonder how he knows who he is.

    Woods and Baldwin manage to escape from Valek, and they take Lee, the hooker from the party, with them as they leave the motel, because now she is "linked" with Valek, and she will be able to "see" everything he is doing; Woods in the meantime goes to see Cardinal Alba, his boss, and tells him his entire crew has been wiped out by this master vampire --- Alba and a priest show Woods a picture of Valek and Woods immediately identifies him as the guy who has been chasing them. It seems Valek was the ORIGINAL vampire --- something went wrong during an exorcism on this former priest in France centuries ago, and turned him into a vampire, and now Woods wants personal revenge and personal authorization to hunt Valek against the wishes of the Vatican because his mother was killed by his father who turned into a vampire and thats why he has been hunting vampires his whole life. When a priest is assigned to Woods and Baldwin to accompany them because Woods' first priest was killed in the motel raid by Valek, Woods gets this priest to admit, under the threat of violence, that he and Cardinal Alba know the whole story: it seems Valek is searching for a "black cross" that is in one of the Spanish missions in the West, a cross that will allow vampires the power to walk in the sunlight. Not only does Woods find this out, but he also discovers, at the end, that Cardinal Alba is IN on the whole thing.....he has made a deal with Valek to perform a recreation of the original exorcism which made him a vampire, using the black cross that has been found, which will allow Valek and his other masters to walk in the daylight and feed on human beings at will, in exchange for making him immortal. In the middle of all this, Baldwin is bitten by the hooker, who has turned completely into a vampire, but he still backs up the priest and Woods as they try and stop Alba and Valek from performing this ritual.

    The end of this film leaves you a little wanting, as the priest assisting Woods shoots and kills Cardinal Alba before he can complete the ceremony making Valek walk in the daylight, and then Woods and Valek getting into a hand to hand fight with Woods trying to kill Valek by driving the massive black cross into his heart.....it doesnt work, of course, because this is a master vampire with tons of power, but after Valek hisses at him "Jack.......you cant kill me....." and rips the cross out of his chest with black blood running everywhere, Woods manages to push down the roof of the structure they are fighting in, sending sunlight pouring in, and making Valek explode like a firecracker. But Woods still has Baldwin, his friend and partner, to deal with as being a vampire......when Woods confronts him at the end, and asks him when the first time he was bitten by the hooker was, Baldwin confesses that it was weeks before this last final bite.....after Baldwin tells Woods he still "covered his ass" in those two weeks, Woods agrees to give Baldwin and the hooker a "two week head start" before hunting him down to kill him. Now, this made little sense, because according to legend, if you kill the master, all other vamps should return to normal, but Woods and the priest, once Baldwin drives off, are left with the job of killing the rest of Valek's master crew, now hiding inside a closed-down prison in an old Western town....the film concludes with Woods and this priest discussing hard-ons and boners as they walk into the prison and prepare to take out more vampires.....a kind of strange ending by Carpenter.

    In the role of Valek was Thomas Ian Griffith, and he played him perfectly --- a tall, creepy super-vampire seemingly unstoppable; when I first saw Carpenter's Ghosts of Mars, I thought Griffith was playing the role of that lead martian who kind of looked like him from behind all that makeup, but it wasnt him. At any rate, Carpenter's Vampires has some really funny, sarcastic lines from Woods, and he plays his character with a seriousness yet has that sarcastic, humorous side as well, as whenever he threatens the priest. His character is obviously a legendary vampire slayer who is well-feared by vampires, including Valek, who is aware of Woods' record of a slayer and how many of Valek's kind he has taken out; this was the more serious side of Woods' character. We also get a bit of a different take here from Carpenter on the legend of vampires (based on the book this film was based off of), where Woods is telling the priest with them at one point that vampires "dont walk around in rented formal wear talking cheesy Euro-trash" and that they "dont sleep in coffins" and that "garlic and crosses wont work" and that they "dont turn into bats" and the only way to kill them is to drive a stake through their hearts or get them into direct sunlight.

    As I said, there is a SUPERBIT version of this title available from Columbia/Tri Star, but I have never demo'ed it, so lets take a look at this original release of Vampires, which comes in a standard keepcase package with a full screen version of the film on one side of the DVD, and an anamorphic widescreen version on the other......

    VIDEO SPECIFICATIONS:
    SIDE A: 2:35:1 ANAMORPHIC WIDESCREEN TRANSFER; SIDE B: FULL SCREEN VERSION

    This was actually one of the very first DVDs I purchased when first getting into home theater, and to me, at the time, it knocked my socks off, video and audio wise....now, that time has passed and I have been exposed to DTS encoded discs that make this look and sound like complete ass, my take on this presentation from Columbia has changed a bit. First of all, I used to watch the full screen version of the film before having a widescreen set, and the transfer looked fine to me. Tonight, watching the 2:35:1 anamorphic widescreen version, I picked up on some flaws on this disc; overall, Columbia did a nice job with Vampires, with certain scenes looking REALLY good, such as when the deep reds of the New Mexico setting sun or the desert landscape fill the screen --- these colors are so bleedingly real looking, they seem almost three dimensional at times. However, there are parts of this transfer which Columbia didnt take time to clean up, unless they are print damages that just cant come out --- in certain scenes you can see speckles and pops in the background of the scene that looks like you're watching this on a projector in a theater; but this doesnt happen too often. The overall verdict? This is not such a perfect transfer as I always thought it was looking at the 1:33:1 image on my 27" TV.

    AUDIO SPECIFICATIONS:
    ENGLISH DOLBY DIGITAL 5.1 & 2.0, SUBTITLES IN ENGLISH AND FRENCH, DIRECTOR'S COMMENTARY

    Here's another area that I had always thought made Vampires a reference-quality DVD; because it was one of my first experiences with Dolby Digital, this track used to knock me off my couch......now listening to it tonight, I can ascertain that it is an average effort at best by Columbia; one of their typical not-running-at-full-bitrate-Dolby Digital mixes. The mix is active, for sure --- the Western-themed Carpenter score sounds rich and full and the surrounds, when used, are aggressive in nature, such as when Cheryl Lee is flashing into her mind and seeing visions of Valek -- these come across very nicely and amplified from the rear channels. But where in the past I thought this track had great bass, I noticed a distinct lack of real deep bass, especially after sitting through, recently, the house-breaking DTS track on Jurassic Park III --- and thats what may have ruined it for me. Memorable bass moments are when the vampires explode in the sunlight --- the LFE .1 track adds some punch to these scenes, but thats about it. Overall, the main problem with the Dolby 5.1 mix on this DVD is that, like I usually complain about, the overall output of the track isnt that hot --- again, this was an early release for Columbia, so the mix may not be running at full bitrate. I am dying to know if the SUPERBIT release for this title improves upon the audio and video, and I'll try and do a review on that if I ever get around to picking the SUPERBIT up because I love John Carpenter's Vampires --- although it cant hold a candle to classics like Halloween and The Thing, this was the last of the good efforts of Carpenter before he went downhill with **** like Ghosts of Mars.

    Pretty stripped, this DVD only came with a theatrical trailer, scene selections, and a pull-out inner jacket with a whole history on the making of the film inside the DVD box.
    Last edited by Lexmark3200; 07-08-2005 at 09:06 AM.

  2. #2
    Class of the clown GMichael's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by GMichael
    I remember seeing this on cable a few years back. Not the greatest story, but it had potential. And for some reason, I could stop watching. Maybe I was expecting to see the hooker spread her legs again but that didn't happen.
    I meant, I could NOT stop watching.
    WARNING! - The Surgeon General has determined that, time spent listening to music is not deducted from one's lifespan.

  3. #3
    Class of the clown GMichael's Avatar
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    Great review. again...

    I remember seeing this on cable a few years back. Not the greatest story, but it had potential. And for some reason, I could stop watching. Maybe I was expecting to see the hooker spread her legs again but that didn't happen.
    WARNING! - The Surgeon General has determined that, time spent listening to music is not deducted from one's lifespan.

  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by GMichael
    I remember seeing this on cable a few years back. Not the greatest story, but it had potential. And for some reason, I could stop watching. Maybe I was expecting to see the hooker spread her legs again but that didn't happen.

    Yeah, me too......my GOD does Cheryl Lee look hot in this as a hooker with that short skirt on and those tits hanging out.....she could crash my bachelor party ANY time.....but yeah, I was waiting for her to spread her legs during that scene with Griffith as he is biting her thigh a bit more.....all we get are shots of her panties.....but if I were Griffith, I would have been eating a hell of a lot more than the flesh of her thigh, I'll tell you that fellas.......

  5. #5
    Class of the clown GMichael's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Lexmark3200
    Yeah, me too......my GOD does Cheryl Lee look hot in this as a hooker with that short skirt on and those t..s hanging out.....she could crash my bachelor party ANY time.....but yeah, I was waiting for her to spread her legs during that scene with Griffith as he is biting her thigh a bit more.....all we get are shots of her panties.....but if I were Griffith, I would have been ****** a h*ll of a lot more than the flesh of her thigh, I'll tell you that fellas.......
    Wow, am I on the right site?

    I do agree though.... I'd like to ****** with her arms **** above her ***** and her **** behind her **** legs **** flesh **** and then ******* after ****** and **** to her **** with her ****!
    And then we could get started....
    WARNING! - The Surgeon General has determined that, time spent listening to music is not deducted from one's lifespan.

  6. #6
    Kam
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    filet - o - fish Kam's Avatar
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    spoilers?

    Not to ruin two movies at once, but was it this one, or Dracula 2000 that had the premise that "dracula" was really Judas cursed to walk the earth since betraying Jesus? (and hence explaining why daylight (judas discovered at sunrise) and all artifacts christian have an effect on vampires.) i remember that one (whichever d2000 or vampires) having a great premise that just wasnt executed well, they didnt delve into this concept and the theological /religious impilications of it as deep as they should have.
    /create

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kam
    Not to ruin two movies at once, but was it this one, or Dracula 2000 that had the premise that "dracula" was really Judas cursed to walk the earth since betraying Jesus? (and hence explaining why daylight (judas discovered at sunrise) and all artifacts christian have an effect on vampires.) i remember that one (whichever d2000 or vampires) having a great premise that just wasnt executed well, they didnt delve into this concept and the theological /religious impilications of it as deep as they should have.
    I think it was Dracula 2000 because in Vampires there is no mention about Judas or the other references you mention.

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by GMichael
    Wow, am I on the right site?

    I do agree though.... I'd like to ****** with her arms **** above her ***** and her **** behind her **** legs **** flesh **** and then ******* after ****** and **** to her **** with her ****!
    And then we could get started....
    .....and I would indeed join you in ****ing her mouth, ass, pussy, tits and any available orrifice that was available....

    Cheryl Lee is just smokin, kid.......

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