Hey there horror fiends, for some summertime vampire fun, this week’s double feature is Vampires directed John Carpenter and Near Dark directed by Kathryn Bigelow. The weather is starting to heat up, and it’s the perfect time to watch vampire movies that take place in desert settings. Locations like these present some interesting problems for sun-sensitive creatures and the people or victims who interact with them.
I would recommend Vampires as the first of these to watch as its fast-moving and pretty action-packed. The film centers on Jack Crow (James Woods) and his Vatican-sponsored group of vampire hunters. Crow’s group of mercenaries are not men of god, but killers who enjoy the hunt, and when they are not exterminating vampires, they are hard-partying. This is something the priest on the team objects to, but Jack allows because of the horrors they experience fighting and killing vampires. After a day of successful vamp killing, the group celebrates with a party and hookers at a hotel.
During their party and with most of the team drunk, a master vampire named Valek (Thomas Ian Griffith) attacks and kills most of the team and the hookers. Only Jack Crow, his second in command Tony Montoya, and prostitute Katrina (Sheryl Lee) survive the attack. Katrina, however, gets bitten. After the attack, Crow is assigned Father Adam Guiteau by the Church. This new, three-man team brings Katrina on their pursuit of Valek, who is searching for a relic that turned him into the first vampire.
Katrina is a quasi-prisoner, and the bite is slowly changing her into a vampire, which gives her a psychic link to Valek, which Crow exploits to aid in their pursuit of him. Complications arise from Montoya’s empathy and attraction to Katrina that threaten the team. As they get closer to Valek, the danger gets worse, and there is more going on then they may suspect.
Vampires is not Carpenter’s best film, but it is an enjoyable movie. Woods is perfect as the anti-hero Crow, the kind of guy you are glad to see do his job, but not someone you would ever want to meet. The film moves at a nice brisk pace, and the action is great. The team’s method of harpooning and then dragging vampires into the sunlight using vehicle hoists is impressive, and considering the strength of these vampires proves a great solution for helping them keep their distance from the creatures. The film also has somewhat of a western feel that leads into the second feature nicely.
Near Dark, directed by Kathryn Bigelow, is an excellent horror movie with western elements that has thankfully only grown in popularity and cult status since its modest release. The film stars Adrain Pasdar, Jenny Wright, Lance Henriksen, Bill Paxton, Janette Goldstein, and Joshua John Miller. Henriksen, Paxton, and Goldstein were all featured in James Cameron’s film Aliens, leading to their casting in this film after Cameron suggested them to Bigelow.
Near Dark concerns a young man named Caleb (Pasdar) living on his father’s farm in a small town who meets Mae (Wright) one night. Mae is a pretty drifter, and after spending the night together, she bites Caleb just before dawn. She then takes him in the RV the group she travels with calls home.
The new addition to their group causes problems in Mae’s vampire family. Severin ( Paxton) wants to kill Caleb, but Jesse (Henriksen), the group’s leader, decides to give it a week to see if Caleb can hunt and kill. Caleb refuses, however, Mae helps him survive and hide this from the others. Paxton is fantastic and terrifying as the bloodthirsty and murderous Severin. Henriksen is excellent as well. Miller is also great as the child vampire Homer, a decades-old vampire trapped inside a child’s body. There is a fantastic line of dialogue that implies Jesse is an old confederate soldier and that he and Severin are responsible for at least one tragedy in history. The desert setting adds a nice challenge for the group, providing some fantastic cinematic moments. Watch for the bloody bar scene – you’ll know it when you get to it. Near Dark is on the moody and slower-moving side, but its fantastic moments of intensity more than make up for that.
So, why these two together, you may ask. It’s interesting to see how two different directors handle the vampire mythos in similar settings. Carpenter’s approach is a lot more pedestrian and very clear on what the movie is about, from the title through the film to the clearly delineated protagonists and antagonists. Near Dark, on the other hand, is a lot more moody and subtle; the term vampire is never used in the film, and it’s a lot more ambiguous as to who are the protagonists and antagonists. The only problem with these picks is availability. Vampires is readily available from all the usual streaming rental sites; however, Near Dark is unfortunately not only out of print at the moment, but also not streaming on any services. This one is a used copy find, but honestly, very much worth buying.