Release Date(s)1998 (October 13, 2015)
Studio(s)Columbia Pictures/Sony Pictures Home Entertainment (Twilight Time)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: B
John Carpenter’s Vampires was released in 1998 to not the greatest (but somewhat profitable) box office success. As per usual with Carpenter’s films, it garnered greater cult success on cable and home video. The plot features a group of vampire hunters in a western-type setting, hunting down nests of vampires with the goal of ultimately destroying them all.
When Vampires came along, John Carpenter’s heyday from the 1980’s as an independent filmmaker was essentially over and done with. Hollywood studios were now knocking on his door and hiring him for different projects. Some were successful and some were not, but they never had the distinct independent flavor that say something like The Fog has. Films like that, which had much lower budget ones and more creativity, always seemed to carry simple and easy-to-follow storylines. Vampires, as far as plot goes, isn’t that simple. It’s filled with an enormous amount of backstory and exposition, much more than any other Carpenter film that comes to mind. Carpenter also intentionally changed his editing and shooting styles with the intention of making a western, but with vampires in it. He wanted to honor western filmmakers like Howard Hawks and John Ford, and everything about the way that the film was put together reflects that.
As far as the film’s characters go, they tend to flip-flop at times. Daniel Baldwin’s character, for instance, goes from highly misogynistic one minute to tender and understanding the next. James Woods’ character also follows this path, but he is so filled with vitriol towards all of the other characters that it’s almost laughable at times. There are really no truly effective characters in the film, and they don’t really have much of an effect on each other - albeit with flimsy connections anyway. In that sense, it definitely feels more like a western, many of which played it fast and loose with their characters. Unfortunately, the story itself moves a bit too quickly and doesn’t allow you to soak any of this in very much.
However, I don’t want to sound as if Vampires is a film not worth anyone’s time. I’ve seen it a number of times and I find it a little more appreciable the more times that I see it. Part of the reason for this is simply because I’m biased towards Carpenter, obviously, but also because of the clash between Carpenter’s usual style and this new one. It feels a little watered down at first, but once you learn that it was intentional on Carpenter’s part and that he was going for something specific, it makes it a little more palatable upon repeat viewings. Still, Vampires is not one of his best works, yet it’s chock full of over-the-top performances and some impressive gore effects from the good folks at KNB EFX. That may not be enough for some people, but for genre fans, it just might be.
Twilight Time’s Blu-ray presentation of Vampires is a welcome one. The previous French Blu-ray release of the film had a couple of brief shots missing, but thankfully, this presentation is the fully uncut, original theatrical version. The transfer is quite sharp with an evenly-textured look to it. Film grain is quite even throughout, but detail is not immense. There is definitely a lot more of it than ever before, however, especially in close-ups. Background details aren’t always as rich as they could be, but that may be due to the original photography. The film’s intended reddish-brown tint also remains, which messes with skin tones a bit; but again, it’s fitting for the style that Carpenter was aiming for. Blacks are surprisingly deep with appropriate contrast and brightness levels, and there are no signs of heavy DNR applied or other digital anomalies. There are only the most minor of film artifacts on display, including tiny black and white specks. It’s a very organic and natural-looking presentation, overall. There are also two audio tracks to choose from, both in English: 5.1 and 2.0 DTS-HD. Both tracks are effective enough with very clean dialogue and good sound effects, but the score really benefits from the quality. There’s also some nice heft to it, and occasional speaker-to-speaker activity, as well. It’s not the greatest sound mix of all time, but it gets the job done quite well. There are also subtitles in English SDH for those who might need them.
For the extras selection, everything has been carried over from previous releases. Unfortunately, there’s isn’t much in the way of new material outside of Twilight Time’s standard isolated score audio track (very much a plus, don’t get me wrong). Included is the vintage audio commentary with John Carpenter (not one of my favorites of his), the vintage The Making of John Carpenter’s Vampires EPK featurette, the original theatrical trailer, a scroll-through of Twilight Time’s current catalogue, and a 6-page insert booklet with an essay on the film by Julie Kirgo.
By and large, Vampires is a bit of a divisive film. It’s not top-tier John Carpenter territory, but if you’re a fan of his or just a fan of horror films in general, you’ll find something of interest in it. It’s schlocky with some questionable motives behind it, but it manages to be entertaining despite itself. And Twilight Time’s treatment of it should please long-time fans.
- Tim Salmons