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[whitespace] John Carpenter's Vampires
Serving Notice: James Woods (center) and well-armed teammates prepare to evict a nest of vampires in 'John Carpenter's Vampires.'

John Carpenter goes for the gore in vampire genre

By Michael S. Gant

IN HIS ESSAY "South Slavic Countermeasures Against Vampires," the famous folklorist Friedrich S. Krauss has nothing at all to say about the deployment of stainless-steel crossbows attached by heavy-gauge cable to a truck winch. Chalk one up for inventive horrormeister John Carpenter in his modestly titled John Carpenter's Vampires. James Woods, chomping on a cheroot, plays Jack Crow, a modern-day vampire slayer plying his trade in the American Southwest. With help from his motley crew of fetish-armored assistants, Crow uncovers a nest of "goons" and drags them one by one into the sunlight with his high-tech crossbow rig. The vamps then--as they used to say on SCTV--"blow up real good."

The film's opening sequence demonstrates Crow's "roust and roast" technique to excellent effect, and the action keeps getting gorier (and funnier) as Jack's team is slaughtered by Valek (Thomas Ian Griffith), an ancient "Master" with vast powers. Jack, left with only his loyal sidekick, Montoya (Daniel Baldwin, who looks like he's been beating Michael Madsen to the potato chips lately), a vampire-bitten prostitute (Sheryl "Laura Palmer" Lee) and a young priest (Tim Guinee), must face down the Master and his minions in a deserted border town straight out of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

In a genre as well-worked and malleable (from Nosferatu to Buffy in less than a century) as the vampire film, minor variations on familiar themes are crucial. Vampires stakes its claim to originality with a hefty dose of unusual theology (guess who's to blame for creating the first vampire?), an homage to John Ford's Rio Bravo (should that be John Ford's Rio Bravo?) and Daniel Baldwin wearing a hands-off telephone headset (he's supposed to be communicating with Woods' character, but he looks like he's doing some telemarketing on the side).

Situated somewhere to the south of Near Dark and just this side of From Dusk Till Dawn, Carpenter's take on the genre delivers the goods for people without access to Mexican vampire movies on tape: bodies bursting into flames; self-cauterization with the muzzle of a machine gun; a snatch of medieval Latin; slow-motion vampires rising from earthen graves in the desert; an exploding motel. In short, Hope Floats it's not, and for that, Carpenter deserves two fangs up, way up.

John Carpenter's Vampire (R; 107 min.), directed by John Carpenter, written by Dan Jakoby, based on the novel by John Steakley, photographed by Gary B. Kibbe and starring James Woods, Daniel Baldwin and Sheryl Lee.

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From the November 12-18, 1998 issue of Metro.

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