• John Carpenter’s Vampires (Shout! Factor) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Shout! Factory
    Released on: September 24th, 2019.
    Director: John Carpenter
    Cast: James Woods, Daniel Baldwin, Sheryl Lee, Thomas Ian Griffith
    Year: 1998
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    The Movie:

    When John Carpenter’s Vampires begins, Jack Crow (James Woods) is leading a crew of tough talking, hard living vampire hunters into ‘a nest.’ You can tell these guys mean business – not only are they armed to the teeth but they’re wearing jeans and leather, not crackerjack clothes. They head into the house, drag out the vampires they find into the sunlight and send them off to Hell, and then head to a local motel where the law in town has arranged a party for them, complete with booze and hookers aplenty. Crow can’t quite shake the feeling that something is wrong though… because usually when they shake down a nest, there’s a Master to take on. This time? No master.

    Regardless, he snuggles up to a foxy lady of the evening named Katrina (Sheryl Lee) and just as they’re about to suck back a few beers and head to his room for some quality time away from the pack, that master vampire shows up and slaughters pretty much everyone except for Jack and his right hand man Anthony (Daniel Baldwin). Katrina is still alive, but she’s been bitten, and not on the neck. They figure that before she turns, she’ll be of use to them, however, so Anthony takes her off to a hotel and ties her to a bed while Jack goes to meet with some high ranking members of the Catholic Church. See, his team is Vatican sanctioned… but that doesn’t mean Jack’s going to play by their rules. From here, Cardinal Alba (Maximillian Schell) tells him that the master vampire in question is Jan Valek (Thomas Ian Griffith), the patient zero of vampires. He’s the big one and it’s going to be a tough job to take him out. They pair him up with a priest named Father Adam Guiteau (Tim Guinee) and tell him to go out and put together a new time but Jack knows there’s no time for that. He and Father Adam head out into the night to meet up with Anthony and use Katrina to learn what they can (she’s got a psychic link with Valek) before she turns and the king of all vampires finds the fabled ‘Black Cross,’ an artifact that will allow he and his vampire pals to walk in sunlight and lay waste to even more innocent lives!

    Once you get past the fairly gapping plot hole that allows Valek to slaughter Crow’s crew (if he’s such a pro why would he and his team let their guard down and get wasted knowing full well that there’s a master vampire puttering about?) this movie is a blast. It’s not the most though provoking film and it’s not particularly deep, but it is fast paced, ridiculously violent and a whole lot of gooey, gory fun. The effects here are strong and the carnage is both frequent and completely over the top. These vampires don’t sit around underground and lament their existence, nor to the sparkle – these vampires kill and they seem to love ever second of it. This means the film plays as more of an action picture with some very obvious western movie style leanings (complete with the requisite showdown at the end) more than it does a suspense or horror picture but again, it doesn’t matter. It works.

    Woods seems to be having a blast playing the lead here. He’s cocky and rebellious and definitely a good fit for the part. He handles himself just fine in the action sequences but is at his best when he’s throwing his weight around and generally just going about his business his way. He and Daniel Baldwin don’t have the greatest chemistry in the history of the silver screen but they make it work and the lovely Ms. Lee is fine as the zoned-out lady of the night about to turn into one of the children of the night. Tim Guinee works as the priest and it’s fun to see Maximillian Schell here even if he could and should have been given more screen time. Throw Thomas Ian Griffith into the mix in a role that really lets him go over the top without ruining the character or the tone of the film and the cast are pretty enjoyable here too.


    Vampires looks really damn good on Blu-ray from Shout! Factory, framed at 2.35.1 widescreen and presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition on a 50GB disc. Compared to the past DVD release things are a bit darker here but not at the loss of detail and the color reproduction looks a bit more realistic. Contrast is spot on, black levels are rock solid and skin tones look great. The image is clean and crisp and it demonstrates excellent texture while remaining very clean and showing virtually no print damage. At the same time, it doesn’t look like there are any noise reduction issues here, as grain has a welcome naturalness to it. As to how this transfer compares to the Twilight Time release? If there are any differences, they’re so minor that they aren’t particularly obvious – which is fine, as that transfer looked very good. Shout! Factory hasn’t advertised this release as having a new transfer, so it stands to reason that it’s the same.

    The English language DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track on this disc is also really impressive. This mix is aggressive when the action calls for it, the best example being the shootout/fight that takes place early on at the hotel where you’ll notice plenty of bullets whizzing past you throughout the mix. Dialogue is clear and resonates nicely and there are no problems with any hiss or distortion. The score also sounds really good here, with good range and depth to it. An optional DTS-HD 2.0 Stereo mix is also included and there are removable subtitles provided in English SDH only.

    Shout! Factory has come up with some new extra features for this release, starting with Time To Kill Some Vampires, which is an interview with composer/director John Carpenter, producer Sandy King Carpenter and cinematographer Garry B. Kibbe. Here, over the course of twelve-minutes, we learn about how both Carpenter and King Carpenter feel about the movie, their thoughts on the experiences making the picture, dealing with the studio and their thoughts on the sequel. Kibbe chimes in only occasionally, he doesn’t have as much to say as the other two but this is worthwhile.

    In Jack The Slayer we’re treated to a new interview with leading man James Woods that runs just over twenty-two-minutes in length. Here, Woods speaks about working with Carpenter and how much he appreciated him as a person and as a director, his thoughts on the character that he played in the film, how he feels about the movie overall and quite a bit more. Woods is pretty entertaining here, this is a good interview.

    The First Vampire interviews actor Thomas Ian Griffith for ten-minutes wherein he speaks about getting the part and what was involved in that, his thoughts on his character, working with Carpenter (who tried his best to keep him away from the rest of the cast during the shoot) and the difficulties involved in his hair during some of the more action intensive scenes he was involved with.

    In Raising The Stakes we sit down with special effects artist Greg Nicotero for a ten-minute talk that covers how much he’s enjoyed working with Carpenter over the years, where some of the ideas for the makeup effects featured in the film came from and how a few of the film’s key set pieces were pulled off. A quick intro from Carpenter and King Carpenter opens this piece –they clearly love Nicotero and really appreciate his work.

    The last of the new extras is Padre, an interview with actor Tim Guinee that clocks in at just shy of thirteen-minutes in length. He speaks about working with Woods on the shoot, the dangers of farts on a shoot, his troubles getting to the set and quite a bit more.

    The rest of the extras are carried over from previous releases, starting with an audio commentary with John Carpenter who speaks quite candidly about writing and directing this film. He discusses the casting, what it was like working with Woods on the film, the locations, the intended look of certain set pieces and some of the obvious influences that clearly worked their way into the narrative and style employed in the movie.

    Shout! Factory has also carried over a six-minute behind the scenes piece called The Making Of John Carpenter’s Vampires which gives us a quick look at what it was like on set and which contains some input from Carpenter at the time. Rounding out the extras on the disc are an isolated score option in DTS-HD 2.0 format, the film’s original theatrical trailer, menus and chapter selection. The disc comes packaged with some reversible cover sleeve art as well as a slipcover (available for the first pressing only).

    The Final Word:

    John Carpenter’s Vampires is not a subtle film nor is it a particularly sophisticated fil but who cares – it’s a damn fun film and plenty entertaining. Woods steamroll his way through the film with all the style and attitude you could hope for and some fun supporting parts balance things out nicely. Throw in a nice splattery mix of action and yes, even some effectively comedic moments, and this one remains a top notch popcorn movie. Shout! Factory’s Blu-ray release carries over all of the extras from previous editions, throws some new ones into the mix and offers up the film in very nice shape with rock solid audio.

    Click on the images below for full sized Vampires Blu-ray screen caps!