Wednesday, November 4, 1998

John Carpenter's Vampires

Posted By on Wed, Nov 4, 1998 at 12:00 AM

The fans will scorn. The critics will protest. The restless crowds will want their money back, because all the stuff from their other unpleasant movie experiences is there: the hollow dialogue; the really bad acting -- see Daniel Baldwin's performance; the superficial relationships; the dented masculinities; the worn-out dick jokes. And yet.

Even more than From Dusk Till Dawn, Carpenter's film puts unlikely things together, setting the stage for a new genre: the vampire-western-superhero-outlaw movie. As a lonely guitar plays its obsessive background tune, familiar images come to mind in rapid succession: the silent processions of Night of the Living Dead; the gruesome killings of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre; the detached, economical air of El Mariachi; the passionate -- and infantile -- mission of Warlock; the fascinating fashion statements of Coppola's Dracula, and, above all, the Tarantino cool.

So here's a movie with a death wish: should we condemn it for its predictable scenes or praise it for its new, ironic vision? Should we boycott its impotent heroes -- Jack Crow (James Woods), the slayer with a ready-made, Batman-like history and Valek (Thomas Ian Griffith), the exorcised priest turned the world's oldest vampire? Or should we recognize in its solitary landscapes a nostalgic homage paid to that stubborn American genre, the western?

True, Carpenter's experiment is far from perfect. Stitched together from so many other movies, "the monster" is not beautiful. But it's alive and it sets a remarkable precedent which reminds us that cinema, the newest of the arts, is the field in which we hoped for frenzied innovation. So maybe the undead heroes of Vampires are not the creatures of the night, but those tired genres which -- in order to survive -- must feed off one another: the western, the horror film, the outlaw movie.

When the last flicker of light has left the screen, the choice is ours: Do we embrace or do we kill the beast? Before casting the first stone, however, let us remember one thing: The angry, righteous crowd in Frankenstein is nothing but a lynch mob.

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