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James Woods leads a band of ruthless vampire hunters in a blood-soaked battle against the undead. Also starring Sheryl Lee, Daniel Baldwin and Maximillian Schell, Carpenter crafts a tense, brutal and action-packed horror/western crossover. (Taken from the official synopsis.)

Video


I’ve never owned a DVD copy of Vampires, which is surprising given that I’ve seen it countless times on TV. The first copy of the film I ever owned was Warner’s French Blu-ray release, which I was pretty happy with at the time. However, shortly after purchasing I discovered that not only did the Warner disc feature a revised transfer, but also that it was slightly cut. Now I saw the film during its original theatrical run, but I don’t claim to recall it with any clarity, so if not for the Internet I could have lived in blissful ignorance of the changes to the visuals. Even the cut isn’t too egregious. However, after seeing Powerhouse’s release of the film in motion I’ll never be able to watch the French disc again.

The commentary on the French BD taught me that a lot of the film was shot day for night, with DP Garry Kibbe using coloured filters to achieve the desired look. However, I didn’t realise that said filters were missing from the French presentation, as the image still had a bit of a red push to the skies and fairly inky night-time sequences. It wasn’t until this release, which restores the film-makers’ original intent, that I realised just how different Vampires should look. The opening scenes now look much warmer, which drastically alters the tone of the picture. Whereas before it looked as though Crow’s team of vamp hunters were operating in the middle of the day, it now looks as though they’re racing against the clock to clear out the nest as dusk approaches. The warmer hues also lend the picture an otherworldly, languid quality that really ramps up the atmosphere. Contrast is also pushed more on this transfer, which results in some really inky blacks that occasionally verge on crushing.

The image isn't entirely free from film artefacts, but they're generally small enough to go unnoticed. Other than that, well haloing is present in a number of scenes, but I believe it to be inherent to the original photography rather than the result of edge enhancement. Indeed, the image doesn’t appear to have been subjected to any particularly egregious digital manipulation, retaining a fine layer of grain and impressive levels of detail throughout. As one would expect from a disc authored by David McKenzie, compression is also excellent. I was expecting this release to look pretty good (certainly better than Ghosts of Mars), but I wasn’t prepared for the dramatic effect the restoration of the original aesthetic would have on the overall mood of the piece.

Audio


As with its Ghosts of Mars release, Powerhouse has included both DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and LPCM 2.0 Stereo soundtracks. Once again I’m operating on the assumption that the 2.0 track is a recreation of the analogue Dolby Stereo track that accompanied the original Dolby Digital, but given that the theatrical release of Vampires featured a 5.1 track I opted for that for my viewing.

After viewing Ghosts of Mars so recently comparisons with the Vampires track were unavoidable, but I personally found this far more satisfying overall. Surround activity is more prevalent right from the off, with everything from chirping crickets, whistling wind, vampiric screams, and the sounds of gunshots and explosions immersing the viewer in the action. Imaging is good, allowing for easy identification of localised effects, while the aforementioned gunshots and explosions are ably supported by some surprisingly potent bass. Fidelity is generally very good and there are no major variations between the various elements of the mix. Dialogue is always effectively prioritised, never becoming overwhelmed by the more raucous effects. John Carpenter’s instantly recognisable score is also treated with the respect it deserves, with its laid back guitar riffs and discordant tones. All things considered, this is a strong audio presentation.

Oh, English SDH subtitles are also included.

Extras


As with Ghosts of Mars I can’t imagine that Powerhouse had a wealth of supplemental material available when compiling these extras. With that said, the company has gone the extra mile by including everything found on previous home video releases, along with a few new features. Here’s what you can expect to find in the package:

  • Audio commentary with director John Carpenter: Although usually one of my favourite commentators, especially when paired with the likes of Kurt Russell, Roddy Piper or Peter Jason, this solo Carpenter effort is a bit of a mixed bag. The track is punctuated by fairly long periods of silence and the director has a tendency to fall into the trap of simply describing the on-screen action. Even so, this does lead to a number of interesting anecdotes and even a tepid Carpenter commentary is still better than most.
  • The Guardian Interview with John Carpenter – Part One, 1962-1983: In the first part of this two-part interview (the second part can be found on Powerhouse’s Ghosts of Mars BD), Carpenter discusses his early career with Nigel Floyd at the National Film Theatre, London. I found this to be the more interesting of the two halves of the interview, mainly because it focuses more on how Carpenter got into film-making and covers his early works such as Assault on Precinct 13 and Halloween.
  • Behind the scenes: This section is divided into a number of smaller sub-sections, including a vintage ‘making of’ documentary, a series of cast and crew Interviews and some B-roll footage. Everything is worth watching at least once, but personally I couldn’t see myself returning to it very often.
  • Isolated score: The film’s entire music soundtrack presented in isolated LPCM 2.0, which is perfect for fans of Carpenter’s music.
  • Original theatrical trailer: The trailer is presented in high-definition.
  • Limited edition exclusive 20-page booklet with a new essay by Kim Newman, and a 2015 interview with John Carpenter about Vampires: Included only with the limited dual format edition of the film (7,000 units), so be sure to get in quick if you want a copy.

Overall


Vampires is certainly one of the lesser films in Carpenter's body of work, but it’s grown on me over the years. Honestly, I think it’s probably the last entertaining film he made and it is certainly a lot better than most of his other nineties output (and definitely much better than anything he made post-2000). Sure it's cheesy as hell, but what’s not to love about James Woods chewing the scenery and a bunch of over-the-top gore and nudity? It certainly makes for a refreshing change from the current vogue of representing vampires as misunderstood, tortured souls, rather than evil, blood-sucking monsters!

Powerhouse’s Blu-ray release offers a strong visual presentation, which will be particularly satisfying to those who actually do remember what the film originally looked like during its theatrical run. Hats off to Sony for taking the time to go back and create a version of the film that respects the original intent of the film-makers, instead of just recycling the existing HD master. When coupled with an equally impressive audio track and packaged with a respectable selection of bonus material, you have a disc that comes recommended to Carpenter fans and those looking for a little more ‘bite’ from their creatures of the night!

* Note: The images below are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer. Additionally, at this time we do not know the actual release date for the Blu-ray.

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