Release Date(s)1998 (September 24, 2019)
Studio(s)Columbia Pictures/Sony Pictures Home Entertainment (Shout!/Scream Factory)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: A
Released in 1998, Vampires achieved decent box office success, but as per usual with John Carpenter’s films, it garnered greater cult status through repeated cable viewings and on home video, particularly during the DVD era.
Based upon the novel Vampire$ by John Steakley, the plot focuses on the vampire hunter Jack Crow (James Woods) who is sent by the Vatican to destroy nests of vampires while making his way to their leader Valek (Thomas Ian Griffith), purported to be the oldest of their kind. Assisting him is his partner Tony Montoya (William Baldwin), the aloof Father Adam Guiteau (Tim Guinee), and a wayward prostitute named Karen (Sheryl Lee) who was recently bitten by Valek. As Karen begins to change, she feels a psychic connection to Valek, which Jack uses to find him.
John Carpenter’s heyday as an independent filmmaker was essentially over and done with by the time Vampires came his way. Hollywood was still approaching him for various projects, but none showcased the distinct DIY flavor or straightforward nature of his previous efforts, such as Halloween and The Fog. Carpenter also intentionally altered his style to suit the film, which he planned as more of a western—honoring filmmakers like Howard Hawks and John Ford in tandem. Everything about the way Vampires is put together reflects this.
The film’s characters are a bit scattershot. Daniel Baldwin’s Montoya, for instance, goes from highly misogynistic toward Karen one minute to tender and doting the next. Jack Crow is, more often than not, filled with so much vitriol that it’s almost laughable at times. However, not all is lost. The mass slaughter at the beginning is quite effective and holds up as the goriest moment of the film. It’s also shot well by Gary B. Kibbe, who also lensed Carpenter’s previous efforts Prince of Darkness, They Live, and In the Mouth of Madness.
In essence, Vampires may feel less than satisfactory upon an initial watch, but once the intention is understood, it's a little more palatable upon additional viewings. James Woods’ over-the-top performance and the impressive gore effects may not be enough for some, but for those paying closer attention to the overall aesthetic, it just might be.
Scream Factory brings Vampires to Blu-ray for a third time in a Collector’s Edition package. It was previously released by Twilight Time in the U.S., as well as Indicator in the U.K., in Limited Edition packages, both of which are now out-of-print. The transfer presented here is the same found on the Twilight Time disc, which carries a sharp and an evenly-textured look. Film grain is solid throughout, though fine detail is not immense. Even background facets aren’t as rich as they could be, which may be partially due to the original cinematography. The film’s intended reddish-brown tint, which messes with skin tones a tad, is aesthetically sound. Blacks are deep with ideal contrast and brightness levels, and only minor speckling remains. Overall, it’s an organic and natural-looking presentation, if a bit dated, but presented with a high encode.
Audio options include English 5.1 and 2.0 DTS-HD with optional subtitles in English SDH. Both tracks are effective with clean dialogue and good sound effects, though the score benefits the most from the boost in clarity. There’s also plenty of heft to it, as well as occasional speaker-to-speaker activity. In addition, no leftover instances of distortion or dropouts are present.
Scream Factory has also put together a satisfying set of extras, mixing new and old material, including the vintage audio commentary with John Carpenter, which is not one of his best as it’s a solo commentary, but appreciable; an isolated score track in 2.0 DTS-HD; Time to Kill Some Vampires, a new 13-minute set of interviews with John Carpenter, producer Sandy King, and cinematographer Gary B. Kibbe; Jack the Vampire Slayer, a new 22-minute interview with actor James Woods; The First Vampire, a new 10-minute interview with actor Thomas Ian Griffith; Raising the Stakes, a new 11-minute interview with special makeup effects artist Greg Nicotero; Padre, a new 13-minute interview with actor Tim Guinee; a vintage 24-minute presentation of EPK material, which is chapter-divided and includes behind-the-scenes and B-Roll footage, as well as on-set interviews with John Carpenter, James Woods, Daniel Baldwin, and Sheryl Lee; the original theatrical trailer; 5 TV spots (most of which are set to Marilyn Manson’s The Beautiful People); and an animated still gallery featuring 81 images of production photos, promotional photos, behind-the-scenes photos, press materials, posters, lobby cards, and soundtrack artwork.
All of the newly-produced material is fantastic, with particular regards to the interviews with the actors, all of whom seemed to have enjoyed their experiences making the film, including James Woods who would love to work with Carpenter again. Not included from the Twilight Time Blu-ray release is the excellent essay by Julie Kirgo from within that release’s 8-page insert booklet. Also not included from the Indicator Blu-ray release is the 39-minute John Carpenter: The Guardian Interview (Part 1), nor is The Directors: John Carpenter 1-hour documentary from the French Region B Blu-ray release present either.
By and large, John Carpenter’s Vampires has always been a bit of a divisive film, but over the years, it has grown in estimation in various circles. It’s not top-tier Carpenter territory, but it was popular enough to warrant two sequels (neither of which are on Blu-ray, as of this writing). Scream Factory’s long-overdue deluxe treatment is certainly worth the upgrade, but it’s also nice to have the film in print again in its best release yet.
– Tim Salmons