Thursday, January 8, 2015


Vampire$ is one of two novels by Texas born writer John Steakley. It's about a team company called Vampire$ Inc who are in the vamp hunting business, partly funded by the Catholic Church. The team is led by Jack Crow, a hard drinking three year veteran of the business, who came from the shadowy world of the CIA and DEA. Vampire$ was the basis for John Carpenter's Vampires. JC's version was quite good and I enjoyed it when it came out. I probably watched the tape 3 times the day I rented it and caught it a few more times over the years. The only complaint I have about the film is James Woods' performance as Jack Crow, which comes off as more a parody of a tough guy, spewing lousy dialogue. Now I love Woods in Videodrome and Cat's Eye, so I know he can act, so we'll chalk this up to an artistic decision on Carpenter's part. 
The novel, as many novels do, goes off in different directions than the movie, giving more background on characters, leading them in different directions, and giving them more depth than the movie can achieve. That's pretty standard for book to film adaptations, but Vampires really gets pretty far from the book after the first two scenes. There are major characters in the book that don't even get a mention in the movie-characters that are story tent poles. In fact, Jack Crow is just about the only character from the book that appears in the movie, even the main vampire is a completely different character. That doesn't make Vampires a bad movie, it just makes Vampire$ really worth seeking out.
Less than halfway through the book we're introduced to Felix via a story Jack Crow tells his team and a few chapters later we meet Felix and he becomes almost the focus of the novel after that. Felix is important to the story in relation to the movie, because as I mentioned above, Woods portrays Jack Crow in an almost parody of the macho Stallone/Schwarzenegger model of '80s action hero. Crow, in the book, is the same model, but doesn't feel like much of a parody. He's a real bad ass, kind of a dick, but given his line of work you can forgive him that. Crow feels absolutely authentic, even when he has an emotional breakdown early in the book. He still bounces back and walks around like he's hung like a horse and a bit of fear or self doubt just fuels him to go harder and think bigger. It's when Felix goes out with the team that Wood's portrayal of Crow begins to make sense. He calls Crow out on all his macho posturing. Calls bull shit on his 'C'mon! We're gonna die anyway!' Cavalier attitude. To me this is so important to the story, because unlike the movie-which is a race against time horror western-it is about very human characters living in an impossible reality. I completely understand the changes Carpenter made. He boiled the story down to its tastiest bits, but without a Felix and a stronger back story, Woods' Crow is just too flat. 
Also in the book, the team has some damn cool equipment they go hunting with, like chain mail suits with light up crosses on the chest. I'm sure there was a budgetary issue, but man, it's hard knowing what could have been! 
I don't think it'd be appropriate to say the book is better than the movie, when they're so different, but the spirit is there. Vampires has a great cast (Mark Boone Junior!), some good gore, and tension to spare. Maybe it's not Carpenter 's best mid period film (that's In The Mouth of Madness), but it's strong.
Vampire$ is an above average pulp horror novel. Steakley's take on vampire hunting and the men and women who do it is as good as any vampire book I've ever read (and a hell of a lot better than most of them.) he digs so deeply into the lives of the characters that you have to care about them , you worry for their safety, and you're relieved when they make it out of a tight spot. Also the way Steakley writes is pure Texas rock and roll. It's got the sort of bluesy , tough, mid tempo groove you'd find in the music of Lightning Hopkins, Stevie Ray Vaughn, or Pantera. If I knew Vampires was based on a book, I'd long forgotten it. My friend loaned me his copy a month ago, and I was surprised it existed and after finishing it I'm even more surprised I've never heard anyone talk about it. 
No, Vampire$ is not Shakespeare, but I don't know how The Bard could've improved it. And Vampires isn't as good as The Thing, but how many directors were still making really cool, highly watchable movies more than twenty years into their career? 

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