Bite 'em high

Playing cowboys 'n' vampires.

John Carpenter has wanted to make a Western for years. Now he's finally made it—as a vampire film. Carpenter turns John Steakley's novel Vampire$ into a perverse remake of Howard Hawks' Rio Bravo by way of Sergio Leone, with James Woods as a foul-mouthed, hard-drinking, whore-mongering John Wayne leading a wild bunch of vampire hunters. It's machismo run amuck in a dusty, dusky Southwestern setting with a Ry Cooder­twinged country blues score. And Carpenter loves it.


directed by John Carpenter

starring James Woods

now playing at Meridian, Metro, others

The film kicks off with an attack on a vampire nest, a SWAT-team-like operation turned gory spectacle with fiery explosions of bloodsuckers yanked into the light of day. As Crow's Vatican-sponsored team celebrates victory with hookers and booze that night, retribution visits in the form of Valek (Thomas Ian Griffith and his imposing 6-foot-5 frame), a powerful vampire master who takes prostitute Katrina (Sheryl Lee) as his next lady of the night and slices and dices the rest of the partygoers with his Ginsu fingernails. Crow and his sole surviving team member, Montoya (Daniel Baldwin), grab Katrina, whose fresh blood ties provide a psychic link to Valek, and get the hell out of Dodge to regroup. Team Crow also inherits a rookie priest (Tim Guinee) who provides clues to Valek's master plan. And so the motley crew plans its attack.

After a string of misfires it's a pleasure to see Carpenter back in form, and he's back with a vengeance. His unrepentant misogynist macho warriors are sure to offend audiences not already turned off by the gory bloodshed. There's a perverse comic-book irony in such extreme characters as emissaries of the Vatican, and Carpenter works it for all it's worth. Woods plays Jack Crow with the glee of a choirboy gone bad—he's been raised by the Catholic Church but he's not above beating the shit out of a priest to get information.

The film slows for an exposition-heavy second act, in which Montoya's increasing affection for vampire-to-be Katrina (who spends the film a tied-up captive) has to be taken on faith. But Carpenter's sleek, stark images and stripped-down, no-holds-barred action offer pure pulp gratification. Vampires is likely too vicious to engender new Carpenter fans, but it's the most fun I've had at the movies for some time.

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