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John Carpenter’s Vampires – Collector’s Edition (Blu-ray Review)

Scream Factory will continue to add to its still growing and insanely impressive library of John Carpenter titles with 1998’s Vampires. This film was previously available only in a limited edition from Twilight Time that sold out very quickly. There was also a popular UK release for those who didn’t nab one of those from the Indicator label over there. However, if you have either one, toss it, because that had no real bonus features and this is coming loaded with brand new material. This includes new interviews with John Carpenter, James Woods and Greg Nicotero as well as some archival stuff. Vampires is never considered among Carpenter’s best or under appreciated films, but a complete release with better understanding could elevate it to that, plus its still a fascinating film due to having an artist like John at the helm. You can pre-order the film on Shout! Factory’s website (It might still come with a poster, I don’t know) or use the Amazon link below to have it on release day, September 24th.

Film 

Forget everything you’ve ever heard about vampires,” warns Jack Crow (James Woods), the leader of Team Crow, a relentless group of mercenary vampire slayers. When Master Vampire Valek (Thomas Ian Griffith) decimates Jack’s entire team, Crow and the sole team survivor, Montoya (Daniel Baldwin), set out in pursuit. Breaking all the rules, Crow and Montoya take one of Valek’s victims hostage – a beautiful but unlucky prostitute (Sheryl Lee). She is the sole psychic link to Valek and they use her to track down the leader of the undead. As Valek nears the climax of his 600-year search for the Berziers Cross, Jack and the new Team Crow do everything possible to prevent him from possessing the only thing that can grant him and all the vampires the omnipotent power to walk the world in daylight.

More of a western than a horror movie. Not only is that something I’ve heard for years, but its reiterated by pretty much every participant in the bonus features of this new release for John Carpenter’s Vampires. And I’ll give them that the Western genre is heavily placated on this from setting to character to story arc. But, lets not discount the overall horror elements in the film which are pretty strong in their own right and take a fun, unique spin on the age old vampire lore with that Western influence.

Personally, I’ve never been on the hate squad for John Carpenter’s Vampires. Its not great, but it has some interesting ideas, character and director flourishes that keep it fascinating to me, even if it falls on the bottom tier of Carpenter’s works. Carpenter knows how to not make something simple overly complex and tells this movie with his own visual language (Complete with usual cinematography collaborator Gary B. Kibbe. There is a classic Western structure to the story met with both modern (For the time) and traditional storytelling devices from the lens as well as editing. Something like Vampires is much more interesting to see for the first time or return to than many of the failure films or even the “better” ones we get today. Many of Carpenter’s elements you know and love from the other movies come to play here.

Sheryl Lee gets her own paragraph here. Its a real shame they weren’t able to land her for a new interview on the bonus features as I’m (And I’m sure most others) very interested to hear about her experience from her perspective. This is a VERY difficult role and she pulls it off triumphantly. In fact, I’d say its one of her career best performances and its hidden in a movie many have brushed away. She is beaten around back and forth, yelled at, tied & gagged naked to a bed and put through plenty of make-up and blood effects. Lee is an absolute champion and deserves quite the praise for what she went through ANNNND she gives a very good performance. Everyone lauds her on the new interviews and makes you feel she was game and a trooper through all this, but I’d really have liked to hear her own words on it.

Carpenter’s film features some good jumps, impressive camera-work, killer score and a unique cast you don’t really see much so it leaves you with surprises not knowing what to expect. Speaking of surprises, the 1st act turn is a pretty nice doozy. James Woods is also quite fun here in a macho action role which he never saw much of. I know people don’t like the guy because of tweets/political views in the last couple years, but he’s very good here. They actually were hoping to make sequels with him and Carpenter, but the rights went out of their hands and Carpenter and Sandy King wound up helping produce the “sequels” that did come out. Vampires is far from perfects, but its not far from being pretty entertaining for Carpenter fanatics.

Video 

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1

Layers: BD-50

Clarity/Detail: John Carpenter’s Vampires arrives for the second time in the USA on Blu-ray. With no details on the transfer and having the Twilight Time release for reference, any difference between the two is very negligible. And that’s A-okay as that was a terrific looking release with good sharpness and clarity. Details are quite strong as evidenced just by the lead actor’s face (Woods has a face with many characteristics). If you’re looking for a picture different from the Twilight Time or Indicator releases, you’re not going to find one, but the extras are why this is a big upgrade from those. So you won’t be losing anything or have to prefer one picture over the other in deciding on a double dip.

Depth:  Thanks to being shot on film and having such lovely photography, Vampires lends itself to some beautiful moments of good depth and spacing, especially in a lot of the wider crane shots in the film. Much of the movements are smooth, fluid and natural with no real distortion issues.

Black Levels: Blacks are pretty rich, deep and close to a natural level as you could ask for on a 90s film on standard Blu-ray. Shadows and rich silky darkness roll over the screen but detail is still kept pretty well intact. No crushing occurs.

Color Reproduction: While this movie boasts some bland desert heat and is lead by a guy in a black leather jacket with guys surrounding to compliment him against a group of similarly colored apparel vampires, the movie does have some nice pop to it when colors do populate. Church stuff and flashier fabrics bring out some of the best here to go with the naturally gorgeous reds on display.

Flesh Tones: Skin tones take on the desert heat with a little bit warmer feel to them. Facial features like pores, scars, stubble, sweat beads, dried blood and more come through very clear from any given distance. Make-up effects look pretty real to life and you can see their finer points.

Noise/Artifacts: Clean.

Audio 

Audio Format(s): English 5.1 DTS-HD MA, English 2.0 Stereo DTS-HD MA

Subtitles: English

Dynamics: Like the video, Vampires keeps the 5.1 and 2.0 tracks it had before (As well as the Isolated Score that I’ve listed as a bonus feature). Again, this is a plus as this one is a very effective mix that uses the entire room and isn’t lazily crutching on the front channels. There is a great balance and wonderful sense of environment in this mix as it brings you to the forefront and gets the most out of making you feel every scene.

Height: N/A

Low Frequency Extension: The subwoofer is set to”THUMP” here as it blasts with shotguns and crossbows, explodes with fire, rev’s engines, stakes a heart or shatters glass.

Surround Sound Presentation: This track has a lot of fun and at many times sounds like the ultimate haunted house as the ambient effects chase one another through the speakers. Some of the most fun in this whole movie happens in just the quiet “searching” type scenes. And of course the action a carries accuracy and good travel around  the room.

Dialogue Reproduction: Vocals are clear and crisp.

Extras 

John Carpenter’s Vampires – Collector’s Edition comes with reversible cover art featuring the original poster design.

Audio Commentary

  • With Composer/Director John Carpenter

Isolated Score

Time To Kill Some Vampires (HD, 12:25) – An interview with composer/director John Carpenter, producer Sandy King Carpenter and cinematographer Garry B. Kibbe. Kibbe is a light participant, but Sandy really leads the charge here in discussing the film as she and John have a real fondness for this film and there are many great  intricate things they bring when giving us the history from their angle. One of my favorite anecdotes is where they discuss the sequel, and while not agreeing with the direction taken by Tommy Lee Wallace, they fought the studio so he could hold onto it when they tried to  make him change it.

Jack The Vampire Slayer (HD, 22:18) – An interview with actor James Woods. Despite your thoughts of him online, Woods is actually quite charming and comes across as very likable in this interview. The retired actor is upbeat, very knowledgeable and scholarly about film history and has an adoration for John Carpenter. This is the longest interview on here and its always on point and engaging. Yes, his personality type shows through here and there, but its matter of factly and not in some pouty or bullying manner.

The First Vampire (HD, 9:38) – An interview with actor Thomas Ian Griffith. He talks Sandy King giving him the role and then having to do a military movie and shaving his hair. Extensions were used in the film and they kept in good except for when he got into a bar brawl and a guy pull them out and they had to be redone. Griffith also mentions Carpenter asking him to keep his distance from the rest of the cast as they could not know what to expect from him when they began rolling.

Raising The Stakes (HD, 10:20) – An interview with special effects artist Greg Nicotero. It opens with a nice litter complimentary introduction from John and Sandy as they praise the work they always get from Greg and KNB. Nicotero talks instances from The Thing that inspired some of his goals he set out to accomplish on the film and then goes notable effect by notable effect breaking down what they did and how it went on the set.

Padre (HD, 12:45) – An interview with actor Tim Guinee. This includes a terrific fart story (Included an added effect) that happened between he and Woods during an intense scene. He has another great story about getting married during the shoot, having no flights to get him there and John and Sandy hiring a private jet flown by Fred Astaire’s widow to get him there.

Original Making Of Featurette (SD, 23:41) – A 6-part little bit of old schools studio promo stuff for the film. It features Behind The Scenes and brief on-set interviews with John Carpenter, James Woods, Daniel Baldwin and Sheryl Lee. There is also about 10 minutes of B-Roll footage allowing you to see Carpenter in action as director.

Theatrical Trailer (HD, 2:06)

TV Spots (SD, 3:16) – There’s a nifty foreign trailer tacked in here at the end.

Still Gallery (HD, 6:12)

Summary 

John Carpenter’s Vampires is one of his lesser efforts, but its still a worthwhile watch and nothing I’d ever recommend to someone to skip when going through his catalog. Carpenter is a strong artist and even if you’re not enjoying the script, there are plenty of technical aspects hitting high marks for the storytelling. Scream Factory has given us pretty much the definitive release to this point. The only other thing I’d want from it is a Sheryl Lee interview (And I’m certain they reached out). The picture and audio quality is as it has been, but the new interviews and extras from the vintage behind the scenes featurette make this wholly worthwhile for Carpenter fans and horror fans alike.

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Writer/Reviewer, lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash, Brandon hosts the Cult Cinema Cavalcade podcast on the Creative Zombie Studios Network (www.cultcinemacavalcade.com) You can also find more essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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