John Carpenter hasn't made a really great horror film in 20 years (that would be the original "Halloween"). That said, even his mediocre movies are usually better than the competition.
And using that as a yardstick, "John Carpenter's Vampires" is definitely a cut above "Blade" and other recent vampire films — at least in terms of storytelling and acting.
But this unfocused horror film (which has some dark comic overtones) still has to be considered something of a disappointment, especially in light of the filmmaker and the source material (John Steakley's well-regarded novel "Vampire$").
The film is overly gory and exploitative and has some very slow stretches, which serve to balance out a couple of thrilling (and funny) scenes.
James Woods stars as Jack Crow, a professional hunter hired by the Vatican to eliminate hordes of bloodsuckers who are living (or is that unliving?) in the southwestern United States.
But Jack and his crew of "slayers" run into a formidable foe in the person of Valek (Thomas Ian Griffith), a vicious 600-year-old bloodsucker.
Valek ambushes and then slaughters the mercenaries during the bloody melee — except for Jack and his right-hand man, Tony Montoya (Daniel Baldwin), who barely escape with their lives.
Aided by a neophyte priest (Tim Guinee) and one of Valek's victims, a prostitute who has yet to "cross over" into vampirism (Sheryl Lee), the two men hope to find and kill the master vampire before he can recover the Berziers Cross, a magical relic that will give him the power to walk in the sunlight.
Admittedly, there are a few promising moments. But for the most part, Carpenter's worst traits are on display here, especially his unwincing reliance on blood-and-guts effects.
Of course, it doesn't help that he's working with an inadequate script (from "Double Team" screenwriter Don Jakoby), which is more concerned with creating clever one-liners than actual character development.
However, Woods is terrific. Even though he isn't physically imposing enough to make a truly convincing butt-kicker, his delivery of wisecracks is perfect. And Griffith makes a more than adequate foil.
On the other hand, Lee and Baldwin aren't given any scenes that explain their characters' romantic attraction, while Guinee's performance mostly consists of sniveling.
"John Carpenter's Vampires" is rated R for violent vampire attacks and gunplay, sickeningly gory makeup and special effects, profanity, female nudity, use of vulgar slang and some crass insults, a sexual vampire attack and a brief scene of torture.