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John Carpenter's Vampires

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John Carpenter's Vampires

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It's remarkable that, in a career that has now spanned 25 years, horror maven John Carpenter has avoided the standard monster-movie villains. There's nary a vampire, mummy, or wolfman to be found in his stylish and influential oeuvre. With the self-explanatorily titled Vampires, based on John Steakley's novel Vampire$, Carpenter has now filled that gap in his résumé. James Woods, Daniel Baldwin, and a ragtag team that gets killed off not far into the film play vampire hunters, ordained and funded by the Catholic Church to criss-cross the globe killing the creatures of the night. After disposing of a nest of bloodsuckers in the Southwest, said team gets slaughtered by a vengeful Thomas Ian Griffith, a 600-year-old vampire who is also the first and most powerful of his kind. Woods, Baldwin, and a Griffith-bitten Sheryl Lee retreat and regroup only to discover that Griffith is searching for a legendary black cross, a talisman that will allow him to walk safely in the sunlight. Carpenter, a longtime fan of Westerns despite his predilection for horror, has fashioned Vampires in the mold of Howard Hawks and Sam Peckinpah, but anyone interested in modern-day vampire Westerns would be better served checking out Kathryn Bigelow's Near Dark. Unlike that film, John Carpenter's Vampires is a muddled, repetitive, sometimes incomprehensible mess. Only James Woods as a foul-mouthed, priest-bashing, loner bad-ass is worth the price of admission, and his improvisational rants are refreshingly raw. The rest of the movie, from its shrill vampires-bursting-into-flame effects to its tacked-on romantic subplot involving Baldwin and Lee, is profoundly disappointing—though Carpenter's score is, as usual, good fun. With each project, Carpenter has threatened to retire, but it'll be a shame if he ends his career on this bum note.