John Carpenter’s Vampires is a Novelty Vampire Movie

John Carpenter's Vampires (1998) Review

It seems that the Vatican gets to involve itself with other things outside of exorcism –and by that we meant vampire hunting. John Carpenter’s Vampires stars protagonists with a very interesting line of work –Vatican sanctioned vampire hunting. And while we would have loved to get a sneak peek at the culture, economics, and logistics of being a religion-sponsored vampire hunter, the movie focuses on something else instead. The cool part is that the entire movie feels and pans out like a typical western, complete with the big showdown near the end where any character can die for the sake of the narrative.

His Name is Montoya, But Not Inigo

What starts out as a typical vampire hunting mission quickly turns south as Jack Crow’s team of professional vampire hunters find themselves faced against Valek, a master vampire. The entire team is almost wiped out except for Crow and another hunter named Tony Montoya.

John Carpenter's Vampires (1998) Review

The two survivors manage to meet up with Cardinal Alba and Father Guiteau, and they learn more about Valek from the cardinal. Apparently, the master vampire has taken a powerful artifact known as the Black Cross of Berziers. The cross was originally the property of Valek himself, who was then a priest. The cross was a tool for exorcism and during one ritual, the exorcism failed and the demons were able to corrupt Valek through the cross (in this story, vampirism is a curse created by demons). Valek’s aim is to complete the ritual in order to be rid of his vampiric weaknesses but still retain his supernatural powers. Crow, Montoya, and Guiteau team up and attack Valek’s forces –intent on stopping Valek from completing the ritual.

What follows next is a series of eye popping action sequences as the three taken down a multitude of vampires on their way to Valek. Since this is John Carpenter’s forte, this is where the movie manages to shine the most. At the time of its release many considered the film to be a little too violent, though in more modern standards, it is not something to raise an eyebrow about. As a movie, Vampires has aged quite a bit, so it may feel like an acquired taste especially for viewers who have watched few movies from the 80’s.

The Western Influence

Director John Carpenter is outright honest about how the film was created: he wanted to quit filmmaking, but the script and screenplays of Vampires managed to catch his attention. He quickly visualized doing the story like a western and this played heavily into the strengths of the script as well as providing a strong influence on the look and feel of the movie. Carpenter himself cites old school westerns Red River and The Wild Bunch as strong influences on the movie. He states that the vampire hunter’s profession is a lot like those of a hired gun.

The Master Vampire Keeps It Low-Profile

John Carpenter's Vampires (1998) Review

The film’s myth about the vampires is pretty short-spanned. Instead of being long lived ancient beings, the first vampire is one that is not particularly old. Valek was a priest who got turned into a vampire by demons during a failed exorcism and by destroying Valek at the end of the film, the movie pretty much wiped out all the vampires in John Carpenter’s world.

Strengthwise, the vampires are clearly more powerful for they are able to rip things apart with bare hands. But they can still be killed with fire, a wooden stake through the heart, or the fan favorite: sunlight. Valek wishes to remove these weaknesses (which probably just turns him into a basic demon). Surprisingly, despite the fact that the demons granted the power to Valek, none of they chose to possess him at all.

There is not much horror or suspense here, seeing as the protagonists are already vampire hunters so you know they will be fighting off the bloodsuckers from the get go. There are times when the battles feel a little too lopsided and the balance of strength seems to ebb and go with what the narrative needs to advance at any given time. The good thing is that the movie’s pace moves forward at a decent pace –fast enough to keep audiences from lingering too long and overthinking a scene.