Vampires AKA John Carpenter's Vampires [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - United Kingdom - Powerhouse Films
Review written by and copyright: Chris Gould (29th January 2017).
The Film

***This is an A/V and Extras review only. For reviews on the movie from various critics, we recommend visiting HERE***

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.

Video

I’ve seen Vampires countless times on TV but have never owned a DVD copy, instead going straight to Warner’s French Blu-ray release. Although I caught the film during its original theatrical run I don’t recall that viewing with much clarity, so I never realised that said French BD presented an image with drastically revised colour grading. I've since learned that a lot of the original photography was done day for night, with DP Garry Kibbe using filters to achieve the desired look. Many of those filters are missing from the Warner presentation, so shots that originally looked either very warm or dark look much brighter and arguably more ‘natural’. Of course natural wasn’t the intended look of the picture, so I’m pleased to report that the master used for this Indicator Series release restores the original aesthetic, the result of which is a radically different viewing experience.

While the highly stylised colour palette is the most noticeable difference, overall brightness levels are also much lower on this edition. This renders the blacks almost impenetrably inky at times, but thankfully crush is never a major issue. The image isn't entirely free from film artefacts, but they're generally unobtrusive. I also spotted a few edge halos here and there, although I'm not entirely sure that they are a result of high pass filtering, but rather an artefact inherent to the original photography. Indeed, the image doesn’t appear to have been subjected to any heavy-handed digital manipulation, and retains a fine layer of grain and impressive levels of detail throughout. Compression is also very good, as one would expect from David McKenzie. Due to my familiarity with Warner’s French Vampires Blu-ray I was expecting this release to look the part, but I wasn’t prepared for the dramatic effect the restoration of the original artistic intent would have on the mood of the piece. As with Powerhouse’s release of Ghosts of Mars I think there’s still room for improvement, but Vampires is definitely the better of the two.

For the technically minded, this is a 2.40:1, 1080/24p, AVC encoded transfer.

Audio

The disc includes both DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and LPCM 2.0 Stereo soundtracks. As with Powerhouse's Ghosts of Mars release, one assumes that the 2.0 track is a recreation of the analogue Dolby Stereo track that accompanied the Dolby Digital track, but given that Vampires originally featured a 5.1 track I opted for that for the duration of the film.

After viewing the aforementioned Ghosts of Mars very recently I couldn’t help but draw comparisons, but I personally found this track far more engaging and technically satisfying. There’s a great deal more surround activity right from the off, be it chirping crickets during the opening sequence, the whistling of the wind across the desert, vampires screaming as they burst into flames, or various gunshots and explosions (the latter of which are reinforced by some appropriately forceful bass). The entire sound field is very lively, making good use of all available channels for transitions and placement of discrete effects. Fidelity is generally good and there are no major quality variances between the constituent elements of the track, while dialogue is always prioritised effectively, never becoming overwhelmed by the more bombastic elements of the mix. Finally, it would be remiss of me if I failed to mention John Carpenter’s score, which is instantly recognisable as his handiwork and a perfect accompaniment to the on-screen action with its languid guitar riffs and dissonant tones. All things considered, this is a strong audio presentation.

English subtitles are included.

Extras

Audio commentary with director John Carpenter: Carpenter is one of my favourite commentators, particularly when paired with Kurt Russell, but this solo effort is a bit of a mixed bag. There are longer periods of silence here than on the majority of his tracks, and he has a tendency to describe the on-screen action a little too often. Still, it does lead to a number of interesting anecdotes and even a middling Carpenter commentary is better than most.

: In part one of this two-part interview (part two can be found on the Indicator Series 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, primarily because it concentrates more on how Carpenter got into film-making and his early works such as Assault on Precinct 13 and Halloween.

Behind the scenes (23:36): This section includes a vintage ‘making of’ documentary, a series of cast and crew Interviews and some B-roll footage. It's worth watching at least once, but is pretty forgettable.

Isolated score: The film’s entire music soundtrack is presented in isolated LPCM 2.0.

Original theatrical trailer (2:05): This 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).

Overall

Although one of the lesser films in Carpenter's oeuvre, for my money Vampires is probably the last entertaining film he made and is certainly a lot better than some of his other nineties output (and definitely much better than anything he's done in the new millennium). Sure it's cheesy as hell, but it's saving grace is a scenery chewing performance from James Woods, coupled with over the top gore and violence that makes for a refreshing antidote to the more recent depiction of vampires as tortured souls who sparkle in sunlight.

Powerhouse’s Indicator Series Blu-ray offers a surprisingly strong visual presentation given the film’s age and relatively small budget, not to mention the critical mauling it received. It's particularly satisfying that Sony took the time to respect the original intent of the film-makers with regards to the overall look of the picture, as it really enhances the viewing experience. That the solid visuals are accompanied by an equally impressive audio track and a respectable selection of bonus material only serves to sweeten the deal. This one comes recommended to Carpenter fans and those looking for a little more ‘bite’ from their blood-sucking ghouls!

View screenshots via the following links:
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