Biting into love of fear
By Louis B. Hobson
John Carpenter has long been fascinated by things that go bump in the night.
When Carpenter turns on the lights, he reveals the horrors that lurk behind those eerie noises.
There's the masked maniac of his HALLOWEEN movies, the aliens with human faces in THEY LIVE, the tentacled visitors from space in THE THING, the murderous children with crystal eyes in VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED or the ghost people of THE FOG.
In JOHN CARPENTER'S VAMPIRES, his 18th movie, Carpenter unearths a nest of bloodsuckers led by Valek, a 600-year-old night creature searching for a fabled cross that will allow him to walk once again in the light of day. The film is based on the John Steakley novel VAMPIRE$.
Carpenter says he was attracted to the project because it was set in the American Southwest.
"This gave me the opportunity to turn it into a vampire western," Carpenter says.
"When I started out to be a filmmaker, it was with the intention of directing westerns. HALLOWEEN changed all that for me. Its unprecidented success turned me into a thriller director."
Carpenter is the first to admit that making a vampire film is getting trickier.
"The vampire movie started out as a gothic romance. Bram Stoker's DRACULA is about a tragic figure who contemplates his perverted immortality."
"Bela Lugosi terrified audiences in the 1930s, but today his vampire has become a friendly uncle and, worse still, we have cute little Buffy and her fanged friends in our living rooms each week."
Carpenter knew he also had to dispel the beautiful, almost effeminate vampires created by Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt in INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE.
"My vampires are savage creatures. There isn't a second of brooding lonliness in their existence. They're too busy ripping and tearing humans apart."
"They'd have torn Buffy's liver out before she knew what happened."
Carpenter's vampire king is played by Thomas Ian Griffith, the 6 ft., 5 in. stage actor who played the villain in KARATE KID III.
It was Sandy King, Carpenter's wife and the film's producer, who cast Griffith.
"John and I knew we needed someone who could be the next Christopher Lee. He was such a compelling vampire in the 1960s," says King. "Like Chris Lee, Thomas is someone who looks formidable, but is also alluring. There always has to be something alluring about the evil nature of the vampire."
Griffith admits he was a bit nervous once he got the role, because he had to find a way to make Valek credible.
"I was watching an episode of PREDATORS on the Discovery Channel, when I saw a sequence with a cougar stalking a boar," says Griffith. "I knew by the cougar's eyes that it was going to be a vicious kill, yet I couldn't avert my eyes."
"That's what I wanted Valek to do to the audiences."
Valek's nemesis is an unsavory vampire slayer called Jack Crow, played by James Woods. At times Crow seems as evil as the vampires he stalks.
"For me it was essential that the vampire slayer be as savage as they prey he's after," says Carpenter.
"James Woods is the kind of guy you'd believe could and would chew off the leg of a vampire."
King said the actors who make up Woods' gang are all "great, good-looking, sexy men. They give the Chippendale guys a run for their money. They're essentially eye candy for the woman viewers."
King insists that Sheryl Lee, who plays the film's heroine Katrina, is more than eye candy for male viewers.
Katrina is a prostitute who is bitten by Valek, so she travels with the slayers hoping to see her attacker destroyed.
"Sheryl looks like an angel with dirty wings and she's a mature woman," says King. "So many heroines these days are just girls. Sheryl is all woman."
With movies like SCREAM, I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER, URBAN LEGEND and BLADE making millions at the box-office these past two years, horror is hip again.