Crow escapes with his right-hand man Montoya (Daniel Baldwin) and Katrina, a vampire in the making. Crow hopes to use the psychic link that will develop between Katrina and her creator in order to pinpoint the powerful vampire's location. A consultation with the Catholic priests overseeing the whole secretive vampire-slaying business provides him with an unwanted new helper in the form of Father Adam Guiteau (Tim Guinee) and the knowledge that he is not dealing with just any old vampire - he is dealing with the legendary Jan Valek (Thomas Ian Griffith), a renegade priest who became the first recorded vampire in history back in the 1300s. Throw the rules out of the window because this thing is personal now, and Crow will stop at nothing to destroy this most powerful of enemies. An interesting subplot involving Montoya and Katrina makes for a more human link between audience and film, but the deadly battle between the forces of good and evil and the mayhem and destruction it brings remain the real focus of John Carpenter's Vampires throughout. Maximilian Schell makes a wonderful contribution to the film, Sheryl Lee is outstanding in my opinion, and even Daniel Baldwin pulls off an impressive performance. In the end, though, it is Woods and Griffith who steal the show.
John Carpenter's Vampires is a bold and refreshing vision of vampirism in an age when good vampire movies are quite rare. Woods really seems to relish his role as vampire slayer, evoking the type of obsession that was required of his character. How often are you going to see a priest roughed up and slapped around in the interest of good vs. evil? The opening twenty minutes of this movie are just fantastic, yet Carpenter manages to carry most of that same passion and energy throughout the remainder of the film, closing out with an ending that truly satisfies and takes nothing away from what has come before. Frankly, I had only recently heard of this movie, but in my opinion it deserves a lot of attention. It numbers among the best vampire movies I have ever seen.
Jack Crow [James Woods] is out for revenge after the vampire master Valek [Thomas Ian Griffith] kills off all but one of his slaying team (which was in itself an act of revenge...nevermind). To track him down, Woods uses a prostitute, Katrina [Sheryl Lee], who has developed a psychic link with Valek after being bitten. Also with him are his remaining slayer pal Montoya and naive priest Father Adam. Once Valek is revealed to be the first vampire on a mission for omnipotence, Crow certainly has his work cut out...
Crow is a standard hardened cynical hero, tough and efficient, happy to use threats to get results. He works for the establishment but plays by his own rules (becoming a habit with these modern slayers...). Much like all the major Carpenter leads, he finds himself set up and has a job to do. This flawed crusader role fits James Wood perfectly, and he delivers the cycnicism cuttingly, especially as regards the church he works for.
Valek is a scary presence, supremely powerful, ruthless and swift in his killings. In fact, he is much like an evil Crow. Griffith's presence resonates whenever he is onscreen, monstrously tall with faint veins running along his pale cheeks. However, after his initial attack upon the slayers, there is very little for him to do other than be chased down by Crow. What we do see is through his eyes as Katrina's psychic link develops, and while the attempt to focus on the slayer may be deliberate, it is somewhat self-defeating with such an impressive central vampire character.
Baldwin's Montoya seems to be lacking something, although perhaps it is just Woods' charisma as Crow, but Lee's Katrina is played well, evoking sympathy for the treatment she received from the cold slayers. Her fear is also clear as she feels herself slowly slipping away as Valek's bite seems to be taking hold.
There are some unusual methods of vampire slaying deployed in the early sequence: staking them, then winching them out with a truck into the sunlight where they burst into flame, writhing and screaming. These slayers are far more professional, and far less eccentric than the stereotypical breed, however. In short, they are more human. Carpenter's pacing is also careful after the opening sequence. Short bursts of violence serve to build up the tension towards the final confrontation that the audience knows must happen.
Vampires is quite simply stunningly beautiful. It is a visual feast, where rusted trucks and ramshackle buildings become abstract art. There is a great use of deep red lens filters, making the dusk scenes look much richer. The scene in which the vampires rise from their graves is truly amazing. This is all combined with a superb accompanying soundtrack by Carpenter himself.