John Carpenter’s Vampires (1998) starring James Woods, Daniel Baldwin, Sheryl Lee, Thomas Ian Griffith, Maximilian Schell
“These Catholic priests sure cuss a lot.”
That’s a comment that my adult daughter made as we were watching this film, and she’s quite right. Another daughter suggested that they should dub “blessed” for every vulgarity — it would make the movie a lot funnier. She’s right; I’ve done that in the Quotes section below.
It should be noted that I’m a huge fan of James Woods, who always turns in a good performance — and that’s true here, as well. He plays the ultimate “badass” Catholic priest, part of an elite Vatican strike force that targets vampires; he’s mean, vulgar, and brutal, and for some reason fixated on male genitals — and not above torturing members of his own team. And he’s the good guy.
The bad guy, the master vampire Valek (played well by Thomas Ian Griffith), is far worse. And he’s searching for a relic, that — once used in a dark ceremony — would remove the vampires’ greatest weakness, their vulnerability to sunlight. In this movie, there’s none of the tortured, romantic soul, glittery Twilight silliness. The vampires are cruel, heartless, vicious beasts in human form.
To make a long story short, the villainous vampire Valek is the original vampire, created 600 years ago in a Catholic exorcism interrupted and gone wrong — and he wants to find the crucifix used in the exorcism, and complete the ceremony in a dark ritual, and make himself (and presumably all vampires) immune to sunlight.
Our heroes want to prevent that, so James Woods and his partner Daniel Baldwin take Valek’s latest victim, a prostitute played by Sheryl Lee, captive since she now has a telepathic link with Valek and they can use her information to track him down.
For no reason other than to appeal to the adolescent boys in the audience, she lies tied down, face-down on a bed in a sleazy motel, naked, while Daniel Baldwin tells her (and the audience) that she’s turning into a vampire, and that the “good guys” will stake her when they’re done. And so she bites him, infecting him as well. For the cliche of the vampire hunter having to kill his best friend, while that friend hides his condition from the hunter.
In the end, James Woods’ character makes a cliched choice that makes absolutely no sense. But that’s okay since it’s frankly not a very good movie. Despite my respect for James Wood, I can’t recommend it.
Editorial review of John Carpenter’s Vampires, courtesy of Amazon.com
Talk about an opening. The first few minutes of John Carpenter’s Vampires–in which James Woods’s vampire killer leads a dawn raid on a New Mexico “goon nest” of bloodsuckers–not only suggests a horror movie that will not pull any punches, it even evokes some of the more disturbing dream-memories of American Westerns. Muscular and uncompromised, the sequence suggests a new Carpenter classic unraveling before one’s eyes. Well, dream on. Things don’t quite work out that way, but this is still a film to reckon with.
There are a few serious (and surprising) misjudgments on the director’s part, particularly a mishandling of Sheryl Lee’s role as a prostitute poisoned by the bite of a “master vampire” (who pretty much wiped out Woods’s team of goon terminators). But aside from some weaknesses, the action is jolting, the suggested complicity of the Catholic Church in destroying monsters is provocative, and the traces of Howard Hawks’s continuing influence on Carpenter’s storytelling are in evidence. —Tom Keogh
Movie quotes from John Carpenter’s Vampires
Jack Crow: You ever seen a vampire?
Father Adam Guiteau: No, I haven’t.
Jack Crow: No… Well first of all, they’re not romantic. It’s not like they’re a bunch of *blessin*’ fags hoppin’ around in rented formal wear and seducing everybody in sight with cheesy Euro-trash accents, all right? Forget whatever you’ve seen in the movies: they don’t turn into bats, crosses don’t work. Garlic? You wanna try garlic? You could stand there with garlic around your neck and one of these buggers will bend you *blessed* over and take a walk up your strada-chocolata WHILE he’s suckin’ the blood outta your neck, all right? And they don’t sleep in coffins lined in taffeta. You wanna kill one, you drive a wooden stake right through his *blessin*’ heart. Sunlight turns ’em into crispy critters.
Valek: You can’t kill me.
[Jack Crow, having been beaten up by Valek, awakens to find himself strangled and tied to the front of his truck; Cardinal Alba appears, having turned to the dark side]
Cardinal Alba: Hello, Jack.
Cardinal Alba: From your expression, I assume you couldn’t understand my presence here. I’m sorry to disillusion you, Jack. As one grows old, as death approaches, we begin to question… our fate. And I found mine lacking. “Is there a god? Is there a heaven?” I can no longer answer this for certain. I’ve witnessed no miracles, had no visions, and the prospect of death terrifies me. I’ve realized I’ve only one… alternative, and I made a bargain. With the devil, if you wish.
Jack Crow: You are truly a pile of dog *blessing*, Cardinal.
Cardinal Alba: Yeah, that’s right.
Cardinal Alba: That’s correct, Jack and I can live with that. After I have given what Valek wants, he will fulfill our bargain. And I will be transformed into one of his… new children. It’s beautiful, isn’t it?
[Jack spits at the Cardinal’s face]
Cardinal Alba: Eternal Life… Immortality… can change your heart.
Jack Crow: Valek…
[Valek looks at Jack]
Jack Crow: … why don’t you prove you can kick my ass? Come on, untie me. Come on. *blessin’* pole smokin’ fashion victim. Come on over here.
Jack Crow: Come on. Five minutes, then you can bite my ass a little. Would you like that, see me all tied up, huh?
Valek: What will silence you?
Jack Crow: Come on. Untie me, you prick!
Valek: Perhaps this will help.
[Katrina, now a legion of the undead and one of Valek’s newest children, appears and laughs evilly after finally feeding on Montoya]
Valek: Apparently your friend is one of my children now.
Valek: You are alone, crusader.
Jack Crow: Padre… I’m beginning to like you… so don’t make me hurt you, OK? Just tell me what you know… I’ll buy you a beer and get you laid. Come on. If you don’t tell me, I’m gonna have to start cutting on ya.
Father Adam Guiteau: No, you won’t. You’re a righteous man, Mr. Crow. Besides, I serve a higher master than you. Any secrets I keep are to protect the church and its followers. Part of…
Jack Crow: [grabs Father Guiteau and pins him to the wall] Open your mouth.
Father Adam Guiteau: What?
Jack Crow: Open your mouth. Ah, yeah.
[shoves a towel in Guiteau’s mouth]
Jack Crow: Gimmie your hand.
Jack Crow: [Jack cuts Giuteau’s hand with his switchblade knife] Now listen to me, you *blessing*! My father kept a secret once. He got bit by a vampire. He kept it a secret from me and my mother. By the fifth day he was turning. That night he attacked my mother and then he came after me. I killed my own father, Padre. I got no trouble killin’ you. Last chance.
Jack Crow: Now open your *blessin*’ mouth.
Father Adam Guiteau: No.
Jack Crow: Open your *blessing* mouth! Then prepare…
Father Adam Guiteau: No!
Jack Crow: What? Are you ready? Excuse me? What?
Father Adam Guiteau: Valek – Valek is after an ancient relic, the Cross of Berseires!
Jack Crow: [after interrogating the padre and getting him to confess] You’re a good man padre… welcome to the team.
Father Adam Guiteau: [broken] May God forgive me.
Montoya: [takes tape off Katrina’s mouth; sighs] What’s your name? Do you understand what’s been happening to you?
Katrina: [screams] Help me!
Montoya: [grabs Katrina’s head; puts her in strenghold; covers her mouth] Hey! HEY! Don’t *bless* with me, honey! I’ll snap your neck like a twig! Now nod your head “Yes” or “No”. Do you understand what’s been happening to you? DO IT!
[Katrina shakes her head “No”]
Montoya: All right. Now I’m going to explain it to you. First, I’m gonna take my hand off your mouth. You scream…
[imitates neck snap; Katrina sobs]
Montoya: Good. Now… what’s your name?
Montoya: Okay, Katrina. Here’s the scenario.
[throws covers back on her]
Montoya: I took off your clothes. I cleaned you up. I tied you down. I also saved your ass. You been bitten by a vampire. Do you remember the party back at the motel? Big guy, pointy teeth, real shitty breath? Don’t worry. It’ll all come back soon. A master vampire has a telepathic link to his victims, and you’re gonna help us find him. And while he’s sleeping, we unleash on his. You’re the bait honey. Sorry.
Father Adam Guiteau: A master vampire, able to walk in the sunlight, unstoppable. Unless we stop him.
Jack Crow: Valek is the original! The source of the disease! The first vampire created by the Catholic Church…
Father Adam Guiteau: By accident…
Jack Crow: SHUT THE *BLESSING* UP!
[a vampire has just snapped a metal cord that was being pulled by Montoya’s jeep]
Father Adam Guiteau: You didn’t tell me they could do that!
Jack Crow: I didn’t *know* they could do that!