Vampires (review)

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Do-It-Yourself Movie

I think Vampires (also known as John Carpenter’s Vampires) is supposed to be a comedy, but you need to do for yourself an awful lot of work the director, John Carpenter, should have done.

Jack Crow (James Woods, apparently attempting to channel Arnold Schwarzenegger) is a bad-ass vampire exterminator who works for the Catholic Church, rooting out “masters” and “goons” in the American Southwest. He’s got a major chip on his shoulder when it comes to vampires, ’cause the bloodsuckers got his parents when he was just a kid.
Right there you’ve got your basis for a really awesome horror comedy, something along the lines of Evil Dead. It just never works, though. Opportunities for humor are bypassed in favor of unbelievable gore and unnecessary misogyny. But if you supply the clever, funny bits yourself, you can almost enjoy this flick.

For example, Jack’s tale of his parents’ transformation into vampires just needs a touch of Joe Piscopo in Johnny Dangerously: “My father tried to suck my blood once… once.”

Where are all the riffs on exterminators? There’s not one snippet of dialogue along the lines of: “Oh, yeah, ma’am, you got vampires all right. Yup, you gotcha pools of blood behind the stove and the severed head in the sink. Oh, yeah, this is gonna be a big job, might could be here all day.”

Jack and his team of vampire slayers are ripe for parody, but Carpenter doesn’t bite. They’re mean sumbitches with their leather, body armor, and dark sunglasses — they’re armed to the teeth with guns, giant metal stakes, and nasty crossbows. Their wooden stakes, though, are actually quite nice, like something out of the J. Peterman catalogue. You can almost hear the copy: “I met the slayer in Yuma; the dry heat of the desert rolled in behind him as he sauntered up to the bar, a cloud of dust rising from his worn leather jacket. He’d been hunting goons all day, he said, and would I join him for a beer. The golden afternoon sun fell further into the musty saloon as he spoke of his beloved team of slayers and the Cardinal who betrayed them. And then he showed me the stake: well-turned teakwood accented with burnished silver. Made by deaf-mute monks in Peru for slayers only. $159.95 per pair.”

And then there are the vampires. The bad-tempered fellow in charge is one Valek (Thomas Ian Griffith), who looks just like the scariest man alive: Marilyn Manson. This resemblance goes uncommented on. Valek is the original vampire, born in 1311, and a former Catholic priest. He really doesn’t like the Church and takes it out on priests, monks, and of course, Jack and his Church-backed team. Now, I’ve heard of being a lapsed Catholic, but really… Again, I had to supply my own punchline.

But the absolute best opportunity for a joke goes flying by. After a particularly hideous event at the motel at which Jack’s team is holed up, imagine a rental car zooming down a lonely, dusty desert road. Inside the car, a young dark-haired man and a young redheaded woman. Their conversation: He: “Scully, a motel full of headless corpses burned to the ground, and all the heads buried nearby? That doesn’t sound like vampires to you?” She, exasperated: “Mulder, it sounds more like the Manson family reunion.” Such, alas, does not occur in this flick.

Instead, we get a mishmash of Anne Rice, Buffy, and Levis commercials. It also has Sheryl Lee as a hooker tied to a bed, duct tape over her mouth, and buck naked for no apparent reason except that, oh man!, she’s tied to a bed naked. Woo hoo!

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