Blu-ray Review: John Carpenter’s Vampires (Collector’s Edition)

Casting is the key to so much of a film. There are numerous stories of all the actors that had been considered for a role in a blockbuster, but you can’t imagine anyone outside of the star that made it to the screen as that character. Each actor that’s up for the part can bring a different chemistry to the story. When John Carpenter was in preproduction for John Carpenter’s Vampires, his initial instinct was to reunite with Kurt Russell. The director and actor had scored well with Elvis, Escape From New York, The Thing and Big Trouble In Little China. They had just finished up Escape From L.A. Because of various reasons, the duo would not reunite to fight the children of the night. Instead Carpenter would turn to James Woods to be Jack Crow. Woods had just played a murdering racist in The Ghosts of Mississippi and a slimy pimp controlling Sharon Stone in Martin Scorcese’s Casino. He wasn’t the guy you root for in the battle He’s the one you want to see repeatedly punched in the face and nuts. This makes him unique as an action hero because you can’t see him succeed unscathed. John Carpenter’s Vampires: Collector’s Edition doesn’t disappoint when it comes to roughing up his lead actor.

Jack Crow (Videodrome‘s James Woods) is an orphan whose parents were killed by vampires. He was raised by the Catholic Church and eventually became a Master Slayer. The Church wants the vampire problem taken care of rather quietly. Jack leads a crew that includes Daniel Baldwin (Homicide: Life On the Streets), Mark Boone Junior (Sons of Anarchy), Gregory Sierra (Barney Miller), Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa (Showdown in Little Tokyo) and others. They roam the Southwest and discover a nest of vampires in a farm house. While it’s a bloody, flaming mess, Crow and his crew succeed. That night they all party at a rather scummy motel that’s a step up from the Bates. While they work for the church, Crow’s crew don’t party pious. They got booze and hookers. Crow take a liking to one working gal Katrina (Twin Peaks‘ Sheryl Lee). As the booze flows and the clothes hit the floor, a party crasher arrives in the form of Jan Valek (The Karate Kid Part III‘s Thomas Ian Griffith). Turns out he’s the original vampire. He’s not only wanting a bit of revenge on Jack Crow, he needs to find an old church relic. Turns out he was a priest who was turned into a vampire when an exorcism was screwed up. At the end of the party, Crow needs to put together a new crew since Valek tore them apart in various and gruesome ways. Valek also sucks a bit of Katrina’s blood, but leaves her behind. Crow uses her a connection to locate Valek even though the Catholic Church doesn’t seem to eager to stop Valek.

John Carpenter’s Vampires remains memorable because Woods is not the most likable of Carpenter’s heroes. It’s easy to imagine some of Crow’s lines being fun if they came out of Kurt Russell’s mouth. But from Woods, the words are more serious. There’s no chuckling when fights get more ruthless. Daniel Baldwin provides the humanity in the crew although he also has some issues. Sheryl Lee does the heaviest of work as the hooker who turns into a vampire. She gets plenty of thankless moments being dragged along and tied up in various ways to be used as a psychic spy on the big vampire. The movie establishes it’s own view of the bloodsuckers that in the years since have gone back to their romantic status thanks to Twilight movies and True Blood. There’s not much romance in this carnage. James Carpenter’s Vampires is a deep drink of the rough job of killing the undead.

The video is 2.35:1 anamorphic. The 1080p resolution brings out the deep rich tones of New Mexico on the screen. Audio is 5.1 DTS-HD MA Surround. There’s also the 2.0 DTS-HD MA Stereo mix if your movie theater sound came only from behind the screen. You will hear a lot of nasty things when Woods has to dispose of his crew before they truly turn on him. The movie is subtitled.

Time To Kill Some Vampires (12:25) features interviews with Composer/Director John Carpenter, Producer Sandy King Carpenter, And Cinematographer Garry B. Kibbe. A production company had already been developing Vampires from the novel when they asked Carpenter if he was interested. Carpenter talks about Woods playing an anti-hero. Sandy mentions he plays Jack as a Steve McQueen character. The actor and director hooked up through a shared publicist.

Jack The Slayer (22:18) sits down with James Woods. He’s really perky to talk about the role since this was his chance to be an action hero that kicked down the front door.

The First Vampire (9:38) catches up with actor Thomas Ian Griffith. He was a fan of Carpenter’s work and didn’t do a script read when he met the director. He properly credits the woman who gave him the extensions since they took 2 days to secure them to his head.

Raising The Stakes (10:20) chats with Special Effects Artist Greg Nicotero (The Walking Dead. John and Sandy rejoice in their relationship with Greg. He talks about getting a gritty reality to the effects. He walks us through how to burn vampires.

Padre (12:45) is a confession from actor Tim Guinee. He has fond memories of the shoot in New Mexico. He read the book and the script. He liked being the one non-macho guy on the screen.

Audio Commentary By Composer/Director John Carpenter gets deep into the production with various tales from his time in New Mexico.

Isolated Score lets you enjoy John Carpenter’s music without having to put up with all that screaming and gasping. The group includes members of the Blues Brothers and Dave Davie’s son.

Vintage Making Of Featurette (23:41) includes original interviews with Carpenter, Woods, Daniel Baldwin and Sheryl Lee. There’s even a little b-roll.

Theatrical Trailer (2:06) sets up that these vampires aren’t like the ones in the movies.

TV Spots (3:16) promises us a showdown between blood suckers and Vatican City killers.

Still Gallery (6:12) is plenty of shots around the undead set.

Scream Factory presents John Carpenter’s Vampires: Collector’s Edition. Directed by John Carpenter. Screenplay by: Don Jakoby. Starring: James Woods, Daniel Baldwin, Sheryl Lee, Thomas Ian Griffith, Maximilian Schell & Tim Guinee. Rated: Unrated. Running Time: 108 minutes. Released: September 24, 2019.

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