To me, it's really just a crap movie. But to Wendigo, it's worse: a travesty of an above-average vampire novel, John Steakley's Vampire$. Steakley wrote a book about the toll vampire hunting might take on a person, how killing undead creatures for a living would affect how you live with yourself and other people. Vampire$ is a character study above all and a sort of speculative sociological study of the kind of people who might end up vampire hunters. Think of any number of movies about war veterans and their difficulties dealing with civilians or coping with civilian life and you'll get a sense of what Steakley wrote. The dollar sign signifies that vampire hunting is less a crusade and more a high-risk, low-satisfaction job for the characters, though all of them feel some kind of moral imperative to carry on the work.
Hawksian professionals who gotta do what they gotta do, but Valek promptly massacres all of them but Crow and the oafish Montoya (Daniel Baldwin). He wastes a motel full of perfectly good prostitutes except for one (Sheryl Lee) whom the smitten Montoya tends to and dotes on despite an obvious vampire bite and an inevitable turning. This mistranslates a subplot of Vampire$, Wendigo says, in which one of the hunters falls for a girl who is a thrall of a master vampire, though not one herself. The attack itself is ineptly filmed, a supposedly chaotic moment of terror portrayed through a slow-motion montage of dissolves. The lack of appropriate pacing is typical of the whole film.
Our challenge is to limit ourselves to the key ways in which John Carpenter's Vampires sucked. It's biggest offense, as far as Wendigo is concerned, is how it took an idiosyncratic novel and turned it into an utterly generic mid-90s vampire picture. The acting is bad all around. Sheryl Lee has a thankless, career-crippling role and Daniel Baldwin is a Baldwin. Acting with him, Wendigo says, is like talking to a hamburger. On the other hand, her body is one of the film's few real assets. James Woods seems to be making up his role as he goes alone. Carpenter and Jakoby seem to have no idea for the Jack Crow character except that he's a badass. Woods's performances ranges from mindless badass stoicism to self-righteous temper tantrums and thuggishness (unlike the more decent Crow of the novel) to Bruce Willis-like Die Hard -style fight-scene invective. Schell's performance is a disgrace for an Oscar winner; was F. Murray Abraham unavailable? Thomas Ian Griffith as Valek is a cookie-cutter villain in what Wendigo calls the "Count Chocula von Vampire" mode. If you've seen any B-movie vampire of the mid-to-late Nineties, he claims, you've seen Griffith's performance already. Actually, if you've seen any Griffith movie, you've seen this performance already.
Oh so special effects. Below, vampires brought into the sunlight die of supernatural forearm flatulence.