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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
John Carpenter's Vampires (Superbit) (1998)

Montoya: Rule #7: Never bury a team member by yourself.
Jack Crow: This comes under 'special circumstances.'

- Daniel Baldwin, James Woods

Review By: Rich Rosell  
Published: August 20, 2003

Stars: James Woods, Daniel Baldwin, Sheryl Lee
Other Stars: Thomas Ian Griffith, Maximilian Schell, Tim Guinee, Gregory Sierra
Director: John Carpenter

Manufacturer: DVDL
MPAA Rating: R for (strong violence and gore, language and sexuality)
Run Time: 01h:47m:44s
Release Date: August 05, 2003
UPC: 043396012257
Genre: horror

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

Sarah Michelle Gellar's Buffy Summers will always be my favorite vampire slayer for obvious reasons, but for those times when I have a craving for something other than a supercute female vamp hunter with incredible fashion sense, when I want something overly macho and violent, then James Woods' craggy Jack Crow fits the bill nicely, coming in just ahead of Wesley Snipes as Blade. Jack Crow is coarse, tough, and really hates vampires with a passion, and in this 1998 release from John Carpenter, he has to track and destroy a nearly unstoppable master vampire named Valek (Thomas Ian Griffith) before it can acquire some ancient relic that will give it the power to walk in the daylight.

Crow is leader of a rough-and-tumble team of vampire-hunting mercenaries working for the Catholic Church, and they spend their days prowling the Southwest for nests (ie. boarded-up farmhouses) of vampires (they call 'em "goons"). After they destroy a nest during the film's rocking opening sequence, using arrows attached to winches to drag the vampires kicking and screaming out into the sunlight where they burst into flames, pissed-off master vamp Valek decides to pay a visit to the desolate desert motel where Crow's team is celebrating with hookers and mass quantities of alcohol. A one-sided bloodbath ensues, including a great moment where a character is split in two vertically, and the only surviving members are Crow, Montoya (Daniel Baldwin) and a hooker named Katrina (Twin Peaks' Sheryl Lee), who was bitten by Valek in the attack.The story then fragments into Crow's hunt for Valek, and Montoya's caring for soon-to-be-a-vampire Katrina, who we learn has a telepathic link to the master vampire, which they will need to use to track it down.

Oddly enough, the weakest link in this otherwise outstanding vampire film is Thomas Ian Griffith's Valek, who looks like he could be a long-lost member of Nine Inch Nails. He's got the long black hair, the snazzy black floor-length coat, and a vaguely effeminate rock star swagger that make him more of a glaring stereotypical caricature (ok, I know we're talking vampires here) than that even rarer treat, the truly frightening film villain (which he's just not). Luckily, Carpenter keeps Valek in the periphery most of the time, allowing the far more interesting story of vampire hunters Crow and Montoya to take precedence.

John Carpenter, prolific master of the great (Halloween, The Thing, Big Trouble In Little China), the mediocre (The Fog, Christine) and the creepy (In the Mouth of Madness, Prince of Darkness) never ceases to entertain in any of his projects, and with Vampires he is really in the zone. The action sequences really bristle with the kind of pent-up energy (the motel massacre, for example) that make Carpenter such a gifted (though uneven) genre filmmaker, and to make it more interesting, the sequences don't always payoff as one might expect. Balance this with James Woods spouting mean-spirited one-liners as he fires off huge crossbows and shotguns, and you have the ingredients for one nasty good time.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, John Carpenter's Vampires may not be the Superbit Collection's showcase release, but it is still a generally strong looking transfer (especially if it wasn't issued under the Superbit banner) marred only by an inordinate amount of grain early on and some minor edge enhancement. Colors and fleshtones looked natural enough. bathed in plenty of browns, oranges and reds, while some fluctuation in the black levels seem to give some sequences just that much more shadow depth and delineation than others (compare the depth of the opening nest hunt scene versus the slightly muddy final battle sequence, if you must).

I suppose Superbit titles demand to be nitpicked a little more than others, but it is unlikely that you will be completely disappointed by the anamorphic widescreen transfer on this release.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS tracks are very similar to one another, with strong, deep bass rumbles and fairly active rear channel activity, using both score elements and ambient sound effects to add depth to the soundfield. As a rule, DTS generally wins out over 5.1, and it is close here, but the DTS track offers a smidgen more to the low end, which always gets my vote. Dialogue is cleanly mixed and crystal clear at all times, and the clarity of individual sound effects (guns, arrows, winches) during even the most frantic of the action sequences is reproduced solidly.

Crank it up, baby.

Audio Transfer Grade: A


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese with remote access
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extras Review: As with most other titles in the Superbit library, which focus on supposed improved audio and video, John Carpenter's Vampires lacks anything that might be construed as actual supplements. There are, however, 28 chapter stops, as well as subtitles in English, French, Spanish and Portuguese.

Extras Grade: D


Final Comments

Here is probably one of John Carpenter's best works, certainly in league with Halloween and The Thing, and depending on what day you ask me, I may just say it's damn near his best ever. James Woods vampire-hunting Jack Crow kicks ass, throws out great one-liners, gets strapped to a cross and has to cut off the heads of his dead friends. What more do you want?

This Superbit release, while of course lacking the fun Carpenter commentary found on the 2001 DVD release, adds a whopping new DTS track that really smokes.

Highly recommended.


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