Blu-ray Review: John Carpenter's Vampires - Twilight Time Limited Edition

By , Contributor
Get it while you can, folks—Twilight Time's limited edition Blu-ray of John Carpenter's 1998 horror film Vampires is likely to sell out quickly. The reissue label has pressed just 5,000 copies (up from their standard 3,000 run in order to meet popular demand) and Carpenter fans are already snatching it up. The great news is that Vampires has never looked better, with a nuanced 1080p transfer struck from a clean source print. The rusty reds and glowing oranges that dominate Gary B. Kibbe's cinematography are no longer problematic as they have been in previous, standard definition formats. There's no smeary, fuzzy, indistinctness anymore—the sizzling, heat-baked New Mexican landscapes are startlingly clear. Much of Vampires unfolds in shadowy darkness, yet fine detail is generally not crushed out. This is a beautiful presentation. 
vampires james woods (380x254).jpg As film historian Julie Kirgo points out in her booklet essay, Vampires really isn't Carpenter's finest directorial hour by any stretch. But it's scrappy, suitably gloomy (yet still laced with dark humor), and bolstered by a clutch of interesting performances. James Woods owns the film as Vatican-sanctioned vampire hunter Jack Crow. The opening sequence allows us to see the utilitarian approach Crow employs as he leads his team in the process of ridding a flophouse of numerous vampires. Aided by right-hand man Anthony (Daniel Baldwin, alternating between hot-headed machismo and unexpected thoughtfulness), Crow and company drag one writhing vampire after another into the sunlight, whereupon they burst into flames. It's a workmanlike, well-practiced process that these guys do with relative ease, but Carpenter thrills by hitting us over the head with the sheer brutality of their task. 

vampires valek (380x253).jpg Thomas Ian Griffith pulls off the impressive feat of being simultaneously elegant, graceful, and menacing as vampire den master Jan Valek. His disposing of mortals, including many of Crow's team, is fearsomely efficient. Valek bites prostitute Katrina (Sheryl Lee), but Crow and Anthony retain her in order to keep an open line of communication with Valek. Apparently the process of "turning" takes some time, but while that slowly progresses Crow can monitor Katrina's psychic connection with her master (and interesting, if slightly undercooked, idea). The narrative gets a little strained as it deals with Valek's search for an ancient relic, the Black Cross, which will finally allow vampires to be safely exposed to sunlight.

The back story is, for the most part, what drags down Vampires somewhat. All the bloody action moves the film along with a ferocious kick. Not only do Woods and Baldwin have a lot of fun with their roles, Sheryl Lee is sexy and dangerous as friend/foe Katrina. Crow's interactions with his Catholic employers and associates, including Cardinal Alba (Maximilian Shell) and Father Adam Guiteau (Tim Guinee), help expand Valek's history. But somehow those elements manage to be a bit of a buzzkill, as if Don Jakoby's screenplay was a little too ambitious for its own good. But when Carpenter sticks with the action, Vampires is a blast of stylish, energetic horror.

In addition to the excellent high definition transfer, Twilight Time's Blu-ray offers two lossless soundtracks: DTS-MD MA 5.1 and DTS-HD MA 2.0. Fans of Carpenter's musical scores (which he impressively handles himself) will be pleased to find one of TT's customary isolated score tracks featuring the director's evocative music. Special features include a John Carpenter audio commentary track and a promotional-oriented 'making of' featurette.

Again, Vampires is limited to a 5,000 copy run (with a purchase limit of three per customer). Visit Twilight Time distributor Screen Archives for ordering info while supplies last.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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