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John Carpenter’s Vampires

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John Carpenter's Vampires (1998) starring James Woods, Daniel Baldwin, Sheryl Lee, Thomas Ian Griffith, Maximilian Schell
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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.

The story

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.

Teenage boy fan service

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.

Cliched ending

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

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.

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.

Jack Crow: Valek is the original! The source of the disease! The first vampire created by the Catholic Church…
Father Adam Guiteau: By accident…

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