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Review: 'John Carpenter's Vampires' stinks worse than garlic

Web posted on: Monday, November 09, 1998 12:05:57 PM EST

From Reviewer Paul Tatara

(CNN) -- I think we need to explore the misguided concept that John Carpenter is enough of a hot-shot director to have his name included in the titles of his silly movies. We don't even get "Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas" or "Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List," for heaven's sake. Those guys are brilliant; you try making "Schindler's List." Carpenter, on the other hand, is repeatedly cited as being a Master of Horror, but I can't think of a type of film that sports more supposed "masters" than that particular genre.

Stephen King, Wes Craven, Dean Koontz, George Romero, Clive Barker -- the list gets longer all the time. I can't even remember the name of the guy who wrote "Scream," but you can bet your ass I know he's a Visionary, with the capital "v" conveniently forced into our heads by studio marketing departments. Evidently, all you have to do to be received into the Knighthood is participate in more than one high-grossing film that features somebody getting nailed in the face or neck with a sharp object.

Clip: "She smells your blood"
Video clip: 1.8Mb QuickTime

Clip: "Inverse exorcisim"
Video clip: 1.8Mb QuickTime

Yes, Carpenter made "Halloween" 20 years ago, and, yes, it's pretty good as far as that kind of thing goes. But "John Carpenter's Vampires?!" Anybody remember Carpenter's "The Fog," "Christine," "They Live," "In the Mouth of Madness," or that stupendously boring remake of "Village of the Damned?" I sure wish I didn't.

So, "John Carpenter's Vampires" stinks, and "Paul Tatara's Review of John Carpenter's Vampires" won't be a review so much as it'll be a check list for posturing teenage boys. Scares in the '90s aren't measured by the skillfully crafted, mounting sense of dread that you can find in Hitchcock, or even the first two "Alien" movies. Nowadays, people just jump out of the dark all of a sudden and screech (cheap scare) or creatively disembowel screeching second-string actors (more gross than actually frightening.) Couple that with a veneer of macho stylishness, and you've got yourself a relative facsimile of a motion picture.

James Woods, who apparently has bills to pay, plays an incredibly cool vampire killer named Jack Crow. I don't think he's incredibly cool, but he does all kinds of stuff during the movie that seems designed solely to excite the corpuscles of ravenous dumb horror connoisseurs, the younger and less mind-agile the better. Jack's trying to snuff a super-duper 600-year-old ghoul (played by Thomas Ian Griffith) who looks a lot like Adam Ant did during his "musically untalented pirate" period.

The movie's first several minutes (which feature a gaggle of vampires being butchered, followed in short order by the butchering of the butchers themselves) is as blood-gushing as anything in the equally lame-brained "Blade," but is presented in a much more realistic manner as far as blood-and-guts go. And Carpenter must be convinced that they go real far.

Now for that checklist:

- Talking Tough -- No 15-year-old worth his salt will blanche at Jack's gutter-mouthed attitude towards his work. He's one mean, itty-bitty cigar smokin' hombre, spitting out his inane code of anti-ethics with as much needless bile as humanly possible. Jack doesn't get along with anybody, except for maybe his assistant (played by Daniel Baldwin), and even he gets glared at a lot.

- Walking Cool -- Everybody in the movie walks cool. This denotes stylish world-weariness in the un-dead as well as the plain old living. Basically, the hands have to hang stiffly to the side, and the hips need to sway suggestively as you slowly walk directly towards, or directly away from, the camera. If you have a long leather coat, wear it, and make sure it flaps in the wind. CLICHE WARNING: At one point Jack ups the cool ante by casually strolling away from a building as it explodes, sending debris flying everywhere. However -- and this is pivotal -- Jack doesn't look back when the explosion hits. He's simply too cool to do that.

- Consorting With Hookers -- Nothing says "I'm a hipster" more than a needlessly semi-nude bodacious babe. Jack and his short-lived team of vampire killers have tons of them running around their hotel room, some with bare breasts, most wearing tight shorty-shorts that ride up every available crevice, and all looking like they're ready to peel off and pound away at a moment's notice. This includes a working girl played by Sheryl Lee who, after getting chomped on her inner thigh by the befanged Adam Ant impersonator, proceeds to slowly evolve into a flesh-oriented sucker of an entirely different sort.

- Priest Abuse -- I admit this is a new one, but it happens so much in the movie it might be that somebody out in L.A. determined its untapped commercial potential. You can bet your rosary if a priest shows up, either Jack or a vampire is gonna slap him around or embarrass him for the sheer sport of it. One guy literally gets his head swatted off. Another one is kicked across the road and has a gun held on him. Later, the same guy is purposefully slashed with a knife and has another gun stuck in his face. I guess it's also fun to include priests in light-hearted joshing about sexual mechanics, since it happens more than once. I was bitterly disappointed that nobody got folded up and crammed into a tabernacle.

- Kill-kill-kill, Daddy-o -- All kinds of necks get snapped. A vampire jabs his arm through one dude's torso, then proceeds to strangle the girl on the other side of the initial victim. One man literally gets cut in half -- vertically. Vampires get shot by hundreds of rounds of ammo, all in one serving. If they aren't dead after that, they get a big spike slowly driven through their chests ... unless, of course, a spike is driven through their forehead. At one point, in order to keep his dead friends from turning into vampires, Woods cuts their noggins off and buries them in the desert. You get to see it, too, because John Carpenter cares about you, dammit.

By the time it was done, I felt a lot more like a meat inspector than a movie critic.

As foul as it is, I'd argue that the main reason kids shouldn't see "John Carpenter's Vampires" is because it might stunt their emotional development. Sex, nudity, offensive language, violence, rah-rah-rah, sis-boom-bah. Rated R. 107 minutes.

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