Bring Me the Fangs of Alfredo Garcia: Splatter Cinema’s November Movie JOHN CARPENTER’S VAMPIRES Features Some Badass Bloodsuckers But Is a Better Western Than a Horror Movie

Posted on: Nov 11th, 2013 By:

Splatter Cinema presents JOHN CARPENTER’S VAMPIRES (1998); Dir. John Carpenter; Starring James Woods, Daniel Baldwin and Sheryl Lee; Tuesday, Nov. 12 @ 9:30 p.m. (pictures and merch table open @ 9:00 p.m.); Plaza Theatre; Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

Still feeling unsatisfied after all of the horrors that Halloween and the Buried Alive! Film Festival had to offer? Not a problem! Splatter Cinema and the Plaza Theatre keep the gore flowing with their presentation of JOHN CARPENTER’S VAMPIRES! Turn up early to have your photo taken in a recreation of one of the film’s tableaux and check out the merch table!

Okay. Let’s be honest: the end of the 1980s was probably the worst thing that could have happened to John Carpenter. After a decade and a half of superior filmmaking—capped off by 1988’s savage and darkly comic take on Reagan’s America, THEY LIVE—the road suddenly became very bumpy for the director. Misfires like 1992’s MEMOIRS OF AN INVISIBLE MAN, 1993’s Showtime Networks project BODY BAGS and 1995’s VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED were interspersed with deliberate attempts to recapture past glories. 1995’s IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS, surprisingly, worked; it succeeded in closing off his Lovecraftian “Apocalypse Trilogy” which began with THE THING and continued with PRINCE OF DARKNESS. But his re-teaming with Kurt Russell on 1996’s ESCAPE FROM L.A. was hardly a patch on ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK. It wasn’t even 1990: THE BRONX WARRIORS, for crying out loud. And when a quickly-made cash-in knock-off by Enzo G. Castellari is a more entertaining follow-up than the official one, then something is rotten in the state of Carpenter. Realizing that he just wasn’t having fun making movies anymore, John Carpenter decided to retire.

Why, then, did Carpenter change his mind after just two years and film an adaptation of John Steakley’s VAMPIRE$? He largely rejected the plot of the source novel, and pretty much tossed aside the two screenplay drafts that were offered to him, so it wasn’t the story that pulled him back into the game. A good guess is that he saw this as a chance to once again have fun. And how? By making the western that he’d always wanted to make.

He’d attempted to make a western once before with his second feature, ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13. It was originally set in the Old West as a cross between RIO BRAVO and NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. However, budgetary restrictions forced him to update the scenario to a present day urban setting. And while Carpenter had long integrated elements from his favorite western filmmakers into his work (Howard Hawks, John Ford and Sergio Leone among them), he had never explicitly returned to the genre. VAMPIRES’ Southwestern setting and revamping (no pun intended) of a “hired guns” trope allowed him to explicitly return to his own favorite genre.

The storyline is relatively simple. A crack team of Vatican-backed vampire hunters takes out a cell of vamps holed up in a New Mexico house. Afterward, an ambush back at their motel leaves only the team’s leader, Jack Crow (James Woods), his partner Tony Montoya (Daniel Baldwin) and a prostitute (Sheryl Lee). Crow pulls together a new team in order to take out the vampire’s leader and his army. There’s some supernatural gussying-up going on (the vamps are after an ancient relic, there’s a climactic exorcism ritual as a plot turn), but as you can see, this is largely a “cowboys vs. Indians” story disguised as a horror movie.

Is it successful? Well, not entirely. It actually makes a fairly good run at turning THE WILD BUNCH into a horror flick, its action sequences are well-staged and deftly shot, it sports a typically good score from Carpenter and it’s more lively than almost anything Carpenter had done in the decade following THEY LIVE. But the leads are woefully miscast. James Woods is sufficiently vicious as a hired killer, but—let’s face it—there’s nobody among us that wouldn’t have rather seen Kurt Russell as the lead of this John Carpenter horror/western hybrid. Daniel Baldwin is…well…Daniel Baldwin, as unfortunate as that might be, and Sheryl Lee is merely okay in her role as Katrina, the prostitute-turned-vampire. But they’re all serviceable in their roles; it’s not like any of them are really bad actors. They’re just not quite right for the project. So while all of this may make this sound like it’s just one of Carpenter’s weaker films, why is it so poorly regarded?

Ultimately, JOHN CARPENTER’S VAMPIRES falls victim to its placement in his filmography. It came at the end of a “lost decade” of sorts, when his career needed a severe revitalization, and when he desperately needed to make an Important John Carpenter Film. And this movie is blissfully unimportant. Carpenter just wanted to have some fun once again, and if it had landed somewhere around BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA in his oeuvre, it would be seen as a nice little detour. Not a damaging entry into his work history, just a fast-paced bit of vampire killing with western flair. But in the context of his career, it was the wrong movie at the wrong time.

So, my advice is this: take the movie out of context. Forget what Carpenter needed, and focus on what it is: a beer-drinking, hell-raising, rip-snorting, ass-kicking, heart-staking, head-cutting, over-the-top, balls-out bit of fun. Don’t even look at it as a horror movie. Because it’s really not, once you get past the surface. Look at it as a blood-soaked action/western with vampires as the villains and James Woods chewing up the scenery like it was made out of cheeseburgers. And have a ball, because everyone making it appears to have been having one.

And thank your lucky stars that it’s not GHOSTS OF MARS.

Aleck Bennett is a writer, blogger, pug warden, pop culture enthusiast, raconteur and bon vivant from the greater Atlanta area. Visit his blog at doctorsardonicus.wordpress.com

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The 2012 Buried Alive! Film Fest Unearths a Weekend of Horror Treasures, New and Classic at the Plaza Theatre!

Posted on: Nov 8th, 2012 By:

Buried Alive! Film Fest; Friday, Nov. 9 7 p.m. – 11 p.m.; Saturday, Nov. 10 4 p.m. – 11 p.m.; Plaza Theatre; Schedule here; Tickets $20 (all access, both days), $5 per programming block, available at Plaza box office.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

Just when you thought it was safe to go back into Atlanta’s historic Plaza Theatre, the Buried Alive! Film Fest (BA!FF) returns the weekend of November 9-10 to once again delve into all things horrific and fantastic.

The festival was founded by local horror fiend Luke Godfrey, whom you’ll know as the co-creator of Chambers of Horror (Atlanta’s only adult Halloween attraction) and the award-winning film series Splatter Cinema, as well as being the head undead behind Zombie Walk Atlanta. Buried Alive! Film Fest has proven year after year to be one of the many reasons that Atlanta is recognized as among the horror capitals of the world, and this year proves to be no exception as Festival Director and filmmaker Blake Myers has loaded the schedule with the weird, the wonderful and the outright outrageous.

The festival launches Friday night at 7 p.m. with a suite of shorts under the umbrella “BIZARRO: A Journey Into the Gory.” The program opens and closes with, respectively, two celebrated selections from the 2011 H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival: Thomas Nicol’s THE WINDOW INTO TIME and EDGAR ALLAN POE’S “THE RAVEN” from Christopher Saphire and Don Thiel (which was selected by Guillermo del Toro at the HPL Film Festival as one of his favorites). In between, we’re treated to a wide variety of short bursts of terror ranging from a mysterious plunge from London’s streets into the wilderness of Jonathan and Richard Chance’s TIMESLIP to the stop-motion animated skeletons of Theo Pingarelli’s DOPPELGANGER and IDLE WORSHIP.

ABED, directed by Ryan Lieske.

Following the shorts program, the short film ETHEREAL CHRYSALIS sets the stage for the opening double feature of ABED and MANBORG. ABED is based on the controversial short story of the same name by two-time Bram Stoker Award-winning author Elizabeth Massie. The film was written and directed by filmmaker Ryan Lieske (CLEAN BREAK, DOWN TO SLEEP, which screened at the 2010 and 2011 BA!FFs) and co-produced by Fangoria scribe Philip Nutman, who also was an associate producer and co-wrote the screenplay for JACK KETCHUM’S THE GIRL NEXT DOOR. Though the movie places us in the midst of a zombie uprising, it primarily centers on the building horror and desperation developing between two living characters: Meggie, whose husband was lost early on, and her mother-in-law who is intent on bringing some normalcy back into this world at any cost. MANBORG, on the other hand, is an over-the-top tribute to blood-soaked 1980s sci-fi/action flicks like ROBOCOP and TERMINATOR. The movie, in which a dead soldier finds himself resurrected as a cyborg killing machine, is the latest insane creation from the collective known as Astron-6, was directed by team member Steven Kostanski and won “Best of Fest” at the 2012 Boston Underground Film Festival.

On Saturday, buckle your theater seatbelts (they make those, right?) for a day chock-full of tasty morsels you won’t want to pass up. It all starts at 4 p.m. with a shorts program dedicated to “Serial Killer and Alternate Universes.” An international smorgasbord of horrific delights awaits you; from the quiet terrors of SILENCE (from Italy’s Angelo and Giuseppe Capasso) to the agoraphobic serial killer of HIM INDOORS (from the UK’s Paul Davis). That’s followed by a delicious selection of “Rotten Peaches,” featuring four short films from local filmmakers.

The poster for Javier Chillon's DECAPODA SHOCK, which screens during Friday's 7 p.m. shorts program.

Saturday night’s feature is a real NAILBITER. The Grand Jury prizewinner for Best Feature Film at Shriekfest 2012, Patrick Rea’s latest feature depicts a woman and her three daughters seeking refuge from an oncoming tornado in the basement of a seemingly abandoned house. However, they soon find that someone—or something—is upstairs and is intent on keeping them trapped below deck.

The festival closes with a real treat for even the most casual of horror film fans: a screening of Dario Argento’s 1977 masterpiece SUSPIRIA. Jessica Harper stars as Suzy Banyon, a newly-arrived ballet student at the celebrated Tanz Akademie of Frieburg, who finds herself ensnared in the machinations of a coven of witches under the leadership of Madame Blanc, played by Joan Bennett. Bennett, best known to horror fans as Elizabeth Collins Stoddard from television’s DARK SHADOWS (and its first big-screen adaptation, 1970’s HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS), returned to the screen after a seven-year absence for this, her final feature film, and brought with her that role’s association with gothic romanticism which was so integral to the series. SUSPIRIA is simultaneously strikingly beautiful and brutal, evocative both of fairy tales and of the hyper-violent gialli of Italian cinema. And it features what is perhaps one of the greatest (if not the single greatest) musical score (composed and performed by the Italian band Goblin) to ever accompany a horror film. In fact, the film is unimaginable without it. (Ed. note: Read our Retro Review by Andrew Kemp here)

A mere $20 for all of this? (And only $5 for each individual block of programming?) It’s the best bargain in town for anyone remotely interested in horror as a genre, much less the hardcore genre fanatic. Tickets are available at the Plaza box office, so stop by and get yours as soon as possible.

Aleck Bennett is a writer, blogger, pug warden, pop culture enthusiast, raconteur and bon vivant from the greater Atlanta area. Visit his blog at doctorsardonicus.wordpress.com.

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