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Theatrical poster
Directed by John Carpenter
Produced by Sandy King
Written by Screenplay:
Don Jakoby
John Steakley
Starring James Woods
Daniel Baldwin
Sheryl Lee
Thomas Ian Griffith
Maximilian Schell
Music by John Carpenter
Cinematography Gary B. Kibbe
Editing by Edward A. Warschilka
Distributed by Sony Pictures
Release date(s) United States April 15, 1998
Running time 108 minutes
Country  United States
Language English
Budget $20,000,000 (est.)
Gross revenue $20,241,395
Followed by Vampires: Los Muertos

Vampires (also known as John Carpenter's Vampires) is a western-horror film directed by John Carpenter in 1998. Adapted loosely from the novel Vampire$ by John Steakley, the film stars James Woods as Jack Crow, leader of a Catholic Church-sanctioned team of vampire hunters. The plot is centered on Crow's efforts to prevent a centuries-old cross from falling into the hands of Valek, a master vampire. Vampires also stars Daniel Baldwin as Montoya, Sheryl Lee as Katrina, Thomas Ian Griffith as Valek, Tim Guinee as Father Adam Guiteau and Maximilian Schell as Cardinal Alba. Vampires is characterized by its strong Western overtures and allusions and its unapologetically masculine leads. Two sequels direct to video followed: Vampires: Los Muertos in 2002 and Vampires: The Turning in 2005.



A team of Vatican sponsored mercenaries led by Jack Crow (James Woods) rids an abandoned house of vampires in the middle of New Mexico, United States. The sun sets and, as the Slayers leave, the Master bursts out of the ground outside the house.

The slayers stay at a motel in the middle of a desert, getting drunk, smoking and courting with women as they celebrate their victory. Many of the women are prostitutes including a young woman named Katrina (Sheryl Lee). When the master vampire, Valek (Thomas Ian Griffith), turns up at the motel, he bites Katrina and massacres the slayers and prostitutes. During this attack Valek sees Jack and calls him by name which astonishes Crow. Crow and his partner, Tony Montoya (Daniel Baldwin), run outside and grab a weak and nearly unconscious Katrina, take a pickup truck and drive off. Valek catches up with them, jumps on the back of the truck, but is shot in the face and this knocks him off the vehicle and onto the road.

Narrowly escaping from Valek, they keep on driving for a few more hours until dawn and narrowly avoid hitting a stalled vehicle in the road. They walk east, coming to a gas station. They steal an automobile at gunpoint. While Crow goes back to the motel to deal with the remains of the team and prostitutes, Montoya takes Katrina to the nearest hotel. Crow stabs the corpses of his fellow slayers and the other victims in the heart with a wooden stake, then beheads them to prevent them from turning into vampires. Crow then burns down the motel and buries the heads in the desert. Meanwhile, Montoya has gotten another hotel room and he tells Katrina that she has been bitten by Valek and that she too will be one soon if they cannot find and destroy him. She now has a telepathic link to the Master.

Jack meets his boss Cardinal Alba (Maximilian Schell) who introduces him to Father Adam Guiteau (Tim Guinee). Jack reports that his entire team has been destroyed and that only one vampire did this. Cardinal Alba and Father Guiteau show Jack a centuries-old painting of a man which turns out to be the master vampire that attacked and killed Jack's crew. He was the first documented case of vampirism and is most likely the progenitor of all vampires. Jack is told that he will wait for his new team to get in before he hunts down Valek but that Father Guiteau would be replacing the Priest that was murdered at the hotel.

Meanwhile, Katrina tries to escape as Montoya rests. He awakens and grabs Katrina, pulling her through a window and back into the room. Katrina sees a cut on Montoya's arm and her vampire instinct takes over as she grabs it and bites him. He then uses a Zippo cigarette lighter to burn the wound clean. Jack and Guiteau get to the hotel where Montoya and Katrina are holed up. Katrina awakens having linked to Valek and Jack gets her to tell him what's going on. She has a vision from Valek's point of view which shows a sign that says San Miguel and Jack tells Guiteau to call all the churches in that area asking of any are missing any old priests. Soon after, Katrina loses the connection to Valek but Guiteau finds a lead.

Daniel Baldwin as Montoya and James Woods as Jack Crow.

Jack tells the priest some of his past, about how his father was bitten by a vampire, killed his mother, came after Jack and that he killed his own father. He then asks what it is Valek's after and Guiteau tells him that he wants an ancient relic called the Black Cross of Berziers and that Valek was once a priest who was thought to have been possessed by demons. The Bérziers Cross was used in an exorcism that was cut short but the result was that Valek was forever changed into the first vampire and that the priest Valek killed was the only person who knew of the location of the Cross. Jack and the rest head to the old priest's church to try and see if they can find out the location of the Berziers Cross now that Valek has had to stop due to the sun.

The next night Valek rises with seven companions. Through Katrina's link to him, the Slayers learn that the seven other vampires are Masters as they converge on an old Spanish mission and soon Valek has the Cross in his possession. The next day, Jack and the others find the Spanish mission and Guiteau tells them that Valek wants the Berziers Cross to complete his exorcism which was cut short the first time. Completing the ritual would make him able to walk in the daylight and that would make him unstoppable. They then travel to a nearby town that seems to be deserted.

The security cameras in the town jail are still on and Jack spots one of the Master vampires walking around. Montoya stays outside and works the winch attached to the Jeep, keeping an eye on the continually weakening Katrina while Jack stays on the ground floor to shoot them with his crossbow leaving Guiteau to be the bait to lure them to Jack. They manage to get a couple of the Masters but not before the sun sets enough for Valek and the other Masters to come out as well as the town's missing population who have been turned into weaker vampires. Guiteau manages to find a place to hide without being seen, but Valek and the rest get hold of Jack knocking him out.

Montoya and Katrina escape, but as the sun sets Katrina fully turns into a vampire and bites Montoya on the neck. He makes no move to stop her and she then starts walking back to the town, now a member of the undead. When Montoya awakens, he loads a sub-machine gun and fires a volley and smashes the hot barrel against the open wound on his neck. Jack awakens to find that he's been tied to the front of his truck and that he's surrounded by the recently turned towns folk, the Masters and Valek. Cardinal Alba betrays the Vatican Council and sell his soul to the devil by telling Jack that he's planning on reproducing the first exorcism (which requires the blood of a crusader: Jack's, climaxing with his crucifixion on a burning cross) and becoming Valek's first "new child." The exorcism must be completed by dawn, when the sun rises. Katrina walks back into the town and the Cardinal begins the ritual.

Guiteau is hiding in one of the stores and finds a shotgun with shells under the counter. He gets up on the roof where he shoots and kills Cardinal Alba. Valek then tells Guiteau to finish the ritual and Guiteau refuses placing the shotgun against his head. Montoya's jeep comes into the town and he uses Jack's crossbow to shoot the cross that Jack has been tied to the cable. Jack is dragged behind the jeep. Valek tries to get the Bérziers Cross but the sunlight reflecting off of the jewels in the cross burns his hands and he can't get hold of it. He heads for shelter and Jack grabs the Berziers Cross and heads off after Valek. Jack and Valek face each other and Jack rams the cross though Valek's chest then throws himself through the support post for the roof causing it to collapse allowing the sun to get to Valek and he dies in a spectacular fireball.

Montoya gets the jeep and gets ready to leave only to be confronted by the shotgun-wielding Guiteau, knowing that Montoya is turning into a vampire. Jack gets Guiteau to agree to a two day head start as Montoya backed up Crow for two days after being bitten by Katrina. Crow and Montoya embrace like the brothers they became after Crow informs Montoya that after the two days he will hunt down and kill both of them. Montoya and Katrina leave and the movie ends with Jack and Guiteau heading off once again to the jail to kill the rest of the vampires that made it to shelter.


  • James Woods as Jack Crow: A hardened Roman-catholic vampire hunter.
  • Daniel Baldwin as Anthony Montoya: Crow's best friend and fellow hunter.
  • Sheryl Lee as Katrina: A hooker who becomes a vampire and is used by Crow to track Valek down.
  • Thomas Ian Griffith as Jan Valek: A centuries-old Master vampire originating from Prague, and the main antagonist of the film.
  • Maximilian Schell as Cardinal Alba: Crow's mentor in the Church community.
  • Tim Guinee as Father Adam Guiteau: A young priest sent by Alba to monitor Crow.
  • Mark Boone Junior as Catlin: A hunter in Jack Crow's team, he is cut in half by Valek while answering the door, starting Valek's massacre in the motel.
  • Gregory Sierra as Father Giovanni: A veteran priest who worked for Jack. He is killed by Valek along with the rest of Crows team.
  • Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa as David Deyo: A member of Crow's team, he is killed by Valek after attempting to stake him during the motel attack.
  • Thomas Rosales, Jr. as Ortega: Another hunter in Crow's team, his neck is snapped by Valek during the motel attack.


Shortly after finishing work on Escape from L.A., John Carpenter was thinking about quitting filmmaking because “it stopped being fun”.[1] Largo Entertainment approached him with a project called Vampires, an adaptation of the novel of the same name by John Steakley. They gave him two screenplays – one by Don Jakoby and the other by Dan Mazur. Carpenter read them both and the novel and saw the potential for a film he'd been interested in making. I went into my office and thought, 'It's going to be set in the American southwest and it's a western – Howard Hawks.’”[1] Vampires gave Carpenter the chance to do a western disguised as a horror film," he said. "The story is set up like a western. It's about killers for hire. They're a western cliché. In this movie they’re paid to kill vampires."[2] In terms of tone and look, Carpenter felt that his film was "a little more like The Wild Bunch than Hawks in its style, but the feelings and the whole ending scene is a kind of replay on Red River."[1]

He wrote his own screenplay taking elements from the Jakoby and Mazur scripts, the book and some of his own ideas. For this film, Carpenter wanted to get away from the stereotype of gothic vampires as he said in an interview, "My vampires are savage creatures. There isn’t a second of brooding loneliness in their existence. They’re too busy ripping and tearing humans apart."[3]

Carpenter cast James Woods as Jack Crow because he wanted "the vampire slayer to be as savage as the prey he’s after. James Woods is the kind of guy you’d believe could and would chew off the leg of a vampire."[3] Woods was interested in doing the film because it was something different for him. Contrary to his reputation, Carpenter didn’t find the actor difficult to work with because "we had a deal. He would give me one take as it’s written and I would let him improvise...Many of his improvisations were brilliant. When I needed him to be more focused and disciplined, I had the take from the script that was straighter."[1]

Carpenter had not seen any of Daniel Baldwin's work and had the actor read for him. He had seen Sheryl Lee on Twin Peaks and cast her based on her work on the show. Carpenter's wife and the film's producer Sandy King cast Thomas Ian Griffith because she and the director wanted "someone who looks formidable, but is also alluring. There always has to be something alluring about the evil nature of the vampire."[3]

The MPAA took issue with the film’s over-the-top violence, threatening to give it an NC-17 rating unless some of the gore was cut. King said, "We satisfied the ratings board by just cutting short of a few things that went into really gruesome stuff."[2]


The film was originally released to mixed critical reviews. The Globe and Mail's (Toronto) Liam Lacey called it "crude, rude, nasty fun." However, The New York Times' Lawrence Van Gelder said it was "ridiculous without being awful enough to be hilarious."


  1. ^ a b c d Ferrante, Anthony C (November 1997). "Carpenter King". Dreamwatch. Retrieved 2007-04-03.  
  2. ^ a b Hunt, Dennis (October 25, 1998). "Carpenter Goes for the Throat in Vampires". San Diego Union-Tribune. Retrieved 2007-04-03.  
  3. ^ a b c Hobson, Louis B (October 25, 1998). "Biting into Love of Fear". Calgary Sun. Retrieved 2007-04-03.  

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