James Woods Hunts Vampires

“My father kept a secret once. He got bit by a vampire. He kept it a secret from me and my mother. By the fifth day he was turning. That night he attacked my mother and then he came after me. I killed my own father, Padre. I got no trouble killin’ you.”

Fearing he had lost his edge in the 1990s, horror maestro John Carpenter went for something with a little extra bite in Vampires. Crisp action, gory violence, colorful dialogue and solid plotting make for one of the decade’s most memorable and popular flicks with true horror fans.

Starring a James Woods clearly enjoying himself as the ultimate tough-as-nails vampire slayer, the 1998 action and horror thriller borrows liberally from Western motifs that owe as much to John Wayne as Bela Lugosi. The quote found above, delivered by Woods as the blunt Jack Crow, summarizes the movie’s central character better than any paragraph could and helps explain its enduring popularity with fans.

Aided by a stellar cast that includes Daniel Baldwin, Sheryl Lee, Thomas Ian Griffith, and Maximilian Schell, Carpenter crafts taut vampire action into a nearly perfect genre exercise. Taking cues from the decade’s earlier Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the movie once again connects vampires to the Catholic Church and Christianity.

…James Woods has obvious fun chewing the scenery and killing vamps along the way

Building fresh vampire lore that goes in slightly unexpected directions, Jack Crow leads a team of vampire slayers working for the Church. His team encounters a particularly dangerous master vampire named Valek (Thomas Ian Griffith) in New Mexico. Already immensely powerful and a huge threat, Valek is looking for a relic that could make him unstoppable. Every good hero needs a strong villain and Valek’s menacing presence is the perfect counterpoint for the fiercely resourceful Jack Crow.

After a brutally gory attack that leaves almost no one alive, Crow and one of his slayers, Montoya (Daniel Baldwin), hatch a desperate plan to stop Valek with the help of an unlucky prostitute, Katrina (Sheryl Lee). The Church sends a scholarly priest (Tim Guinee) along to keep an eye on their ruthless vampire slayer and keep him in check. Crow doesn’t play by their rules and will do anything to stop Valek’s evil.

Jack Crow is a classic anti-hero that gets the job done, even if you disagree with his methods and surly personality. James Woods has obvious fun chewing the scenery and killing vamps along the way, uncannily channeling Kurt Russell’s charismatic lead performance from Carpenter’s own Escape From New York. It’s an old-fashioned archetype updated for the 1990s, as could only be done by a freewheeling James Wood.

A mix of serious action and credible horror, the physical make-up and vampire effects are outstanding. This is crisply executed genre filmmaking that turns vampires into formidable physical threats instead of Anne Rice’s more suave vamps that became popular during the 1990s. There’s no romance or seduction happening with the nasty creatures getting staked and burnt by Jack Crow.

John Carpenter’s Vampires satisfies with convincing action and a return to making vampires classic villains, not to mention a brilliant James Woods’ performance. Carpenter may not quite be at the top of his game here considering previous successes but creates a starkly real vision of horror memorably set in the Southwest.

Video

Having licensed the film from Sony for release, Scream Factory takes the easy route and also licenses Sony’s existing and fine-looking film transfer. Used for Twilight Time’s Blu-ray back in 2015, there’s no real difference in picture quality between the two editions.

While a new 4K film scan would have been preferable, this is an outstanding transfer with transparent grain reproduction, loads of clarity and striking detail. The warm tone and contrast are different from some international transfers of the film, which went back and used different grading for the color temperature and highlights.

The uncut main feature runs nearly 108 minutes, encoded in nigh perfect AVC averaging 36 Mbps on a BD-50. The film elements lack debris and other signs of wear. The 1998 production had mature, sophisticated cinematography unusually clean and well-lit for horror. Presented at Vampires‘ intended 2.40:1 aspect ratio, the 1080P video offers substantial improvements in definition and shadow delineation over DVD versions.

A hint of ringing can be found in select scenes and there’s a tiny amount of crushed blacks. Otherwise this is a strong Hi-def presentation that is sharper and cleaner than expected.

Audio

The 5.1 DTS-HD MA soundtrack is the same fantastic surround mix heard before in every Vampires’ release on home video. Heavy surround emphasis with an array of discrete activity makes for an enjoyable listening experience more akin to action filmmaking than horror. Check out the dense soundfield heard as Crowe and his team of slayers take out a vampire nest. The expansive soundstage provides excellent clarity and separation, without drowning out the dialogue.

Carpenter’s score fits the action-horror movie but isn’t his best work. He attempts shades of composing drawn from classic Westerns and neo-Italian influences with mixed success. Brought over from Twilight Time’s Blu-ray is the isolated score, heard here in perfect 2.0 DTS-HD MA clarity.

Optional English SDH subtitles for the main feature play in a white font, always inside the 2.40:1 presentation. A secondary 2.0 DTS-HD MA soundtrack is included with similar fidelity but lesser impact than its 5.1 brother.

Extras

Scream Factory finally gets the chance to issue Vampires on Blu-ray in a collector’s edition after the prior Twilight Times had been out of print in the United States for some time. Featuring a host of newly recorded interviews with John Carpenter and James Woods, among other primary cast and crew, while bringing over the isolated score from the out-of-print Twilight Times Blu-ray, this is the best Region A edition available.

It’s your call if the region-free Indicator Blu-ray from Powerhouse Films, out of the UK, is comparable. That disc lacks the new interviews below, all exclusive to Scream Factory here. There are a few unique featurettes found on other global editions included. That being said, these new interviews are informative and the one with James Woods is fun and revealing.

Reversible art for the cover and a slipcover with painted artwork is included. A rolled 18” x 24” poster of the new art was exclusively available for the first 500 orders on Shout Factory’s website.

Time to Kill Some Vampires (12:25 in HD) – New interviews with composer/director John Carpenter, producer Sandy King Carpenter and cinematographer Garry B. Kibbe cut together in a tightly made featurette on the movie’s creation and themes.

Jack the Vampire Slayer (22:18 in HD) – A new and fascinating interview with actor James Woods. Woods is a great interview, unafraid to speak his mind and discuss his real feelings about working on Vampires. Discusses his relationships with his co-stars and how he ad-libbed several lines not in the script.

The First Vampire (09:38 in HD) – A new interview with actor Thomas Ian Griffith, who played Valek.

Raising the Stakes (10:20 in HD) – A new interview with special effects artist Greg Nicotero. He discusses creating the make-up and effects for the vampires.

Padre (12:45 in HD) – A new interview with actor Tim Guinee, who played the nerdy priest that tagged along with Jack Crowe. The character actor discusses working with Carpenter and the rest of the crew.

Audio Commentary by composer/director John Carpenter – This is the same solo director’s commentary that has been for years since the DVD era. It’s not particularly interesting or frank. Carpenter explains he was going for a Western vibe and sticks to discussing lighting and music for many specific scenes.

Isolated Score (2.0 DTS-HD MA) – Brought over from the out of print Twilight Time Blu-ray, Carpenter’s score receives a fully lossless audio presentation.

Vampires Theatrical Trailer (02:06 in HD)

Vampires TV Spots (03:16 in SD) – Five original television spots are included.

Still Gallery (06:12 in HD) – Dozens and dozens of still images play to the instrumental score.

Original Making of Featurette (23:41 in SD) – A series of six vintage behind-the-scenes featurettes made for the movie’s initial release on DVD. These include short interviews with Carpenter, Woods, Sheryl Lee and Daniel Baldwin, not to mention some B-roll footage.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

John Carpenter's Vampires
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John Carpenter goes Western for this fun and nasty vampire hunter flick dominated by a commanding James Woods’ performance.

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The 15 unaltered images below have been taken directly from Scream Factory’s Blu-ray. For an additional 18 Vampires screenshots, early access to all screens (plus the 100,000+ already in our library), 100 exclusive 4K UHD reviews, and more goodies, support us on Patreon.