Today’s feature is John Carpenter’s 1998 movie, Vampires.
Vampires is based on a 1990 novel called “Vampire$” by John Steakley, with a screenplay written by Don Jakoby (Evolution, Double Team, Death Wish 3, Philadelphia Experiment II), who also served as a producer on the movie.
Vampires was directed and scored by John Carpenter, one of the living legends of the horror genre. His credits have included Halloween, The Fog, Big Trouble In Little China, They Live, Escape From New York, In The Mouth of Madness, The Thing, Christine, and Assault on Precinct 13 over his storied career.
The cinematographer for the film was Gary B. Kibbe, who also shot the movies Double Dragon, RoboCop 3, and John Carpenter’s films Prince of Darkness and Ghosts of Mars.
The editor for the film was Edward Warschilka, who cut such films as The Running Man, Big Trouble In Little China, Escape From LA, In The Mouth Of Madness, and Child’s Play 3.
Outside of writer Don Jakoby, the producers for the movie included Sandy King (Ghosts of Mars, They Live), Barr Potter (Omega Doom), and David Rodgers (Double Team, Total Recall).
The special effects crew included Gene Grigg (Rush Hour), Jason Gustafson (The Green Mile, Jarhead), Scott Kodrik (Mortal Kombat, The Faculty), Corey Pritchett (Space Jam, Showgirls), Darrell Pritchett (Die Hard, Fright Night), and Wayne Toth (Army of Darkness, Wishmaster).
The makeup effects for Vampires were provided by a unit that was made up of Howard Berger (The Faculty, Sin City, Evil Dead II), Robert Kurtzman (It Follows, Maniac Cop 3), Greg Nicotero (Intruder, Maniac Cop 3, The People Under The Stairs), Jill Cady (Weeds), Chris Hanson (S. Darko, Hellboy, The Faculty), Monica Kenyon (Suspect Zero, Phone Booth), Douglas Noe (Van Helsing, From Dusk Till Dawn), Scott Patton (The Mangler, Pick Me Up), and Janna Phillips (Hook, Batman Forever).
The cast for the film was made up of James Woods (Videodrome, Best Seller, Casino), Daniel Baldwin (King of the Ants, Car 54, Where Are You?), Mark Boone Jr. (Sons of Anarchy), Sheryl Lee (One Tree Hill, Winter’s Bone), Thomas Ian Griffith (xXx), Gregory Sierra (Papillon), Tim Guinee (Hell On Wheels, The Good Wife), and Maximilian Schell (Deep Impact).
John Carpenter was reportedly initially attracted to the prospect of directing Vampires because the offer allowed him to design the film to be a sort of horror-western, with non-traditional, savage vampires instead of the suave ones in vogue in the popular mindset.
The screenplay, according to John Carpenter, was entirely rewritten by himself based on a combination of the book, another screenplay by Don Mazur, and the one written by Don Jakoby. However, Jakoby ultimately received sole credit for the screenplay.
Vampires features a number of similarities to other popular vampire films in style and tone, including 1998’s Blade (which predated the Vampires release by two months), 1996’s From Dusk Till Dawn, and the television show Buffy The Vampire Slayer, which ran from 1997 to 2003.
Russel Mulcahy (Highlander, Highlander II: The Quickening) was originally on board to direct Vampires in the early 1990s, but dropped out after the production dragged out too long. His vision apparently had action star Dolph Lundgren in the lead role. After he left the project, the studio approached Carpenter with the opportunity to lead the movie.
Vampires ultimately spawned two low-budget sequels: 2002’s Vampires: Los Muertos starring rock star Jon Bon Jovi, and 2005’s Vampires: The Turning. Neither film was particularly well-reviewed or publicized, and both released straight to video.
Vampires was made on an estimated budget of $20 million, on which it managed to gross $51.3 million in its theatrical run. Even though this was certainly profitable, it was eclipsed by the similar movie Blade, which raked in over $131 million worldwide after releasing two months prior.
Vampires had a mixed reception from critics and audiences alike. It currently holds an IMDb rating of 6.1, alongside Rotten Tomatoes aggregated scores of 36% from critics and 48% from general audiences.
James Woods is fantastic as always in Vampires, bringing his mixture of humor and sleazy grit to his vampire hunter character. While his attitude is right, he doesn’t have the sort of physicality you would expect from a top vampire hunter, but I think that is a pretty minor and unavoidable gripe that is more than made up for by his performance. Daniel Baldwin, on the other hand, is weird to see in a key role outside of a b-movie. His performance is good enough, but I can’t help but wonder if the role couldn’t have been better cast. I assume the budget cuts impacted the production’s options, but it is hard to believe that Daniel Baldwin would ever wind up on the top of a pack for this role.
The opening vampire hunting sequence in the film is undeniably fun, and reminded me a bit of the moments in Evil Dead II and Army of Darkness when Bruce Campbell was on top of his game. However, there isn’t a whole lot of action to be had in the film, likely as a result of the budget being pressed. Still, the film never quite feels boring in spite of the long periods without action, which is a testament to how well shot, scripted, and acted it is.
The release of Blade clearly really hurt this movie, because the creatures in that film seem to be the sorts of rough and tumble vampires that Carpenter wanted to have here, but couldn’t execute. The fact that it had a higher budget and a bigger push behind it made Vampires look all the smaller by comparison, and it is nearly impossible to talk about Vampires now without bringing up its big brother blockbuster. However, at the end of the day, Vampires isn’t nearly as good or memorable as Blade, and is a pretty weak effort from Carpenter considering his body of work. That said, it certainly isn’t bad, but it is somehow the weakest of the wave of late 1990s vampire flicks (the others being Blade and From Dusk Till Dawn).
Overall, Vampires is worth checking out for horror fans and anyone who appreciates the works of John Carpenter. However, it is definitely one of his lesser efforts, and marks the beginning of a serious career slide for the lauded horror icon. Woods is solid, the action is fun, and the film is generally appealing visually, but it pales next to Blade and From Dusk Till Dawn for one reason or another.