Stake Tartare

Scary or not, there's energy in the way Carpenter frames and cuts his movies, and there's energy to spare in Woods's performance. The spectacle of Woods coming out of his skin is always a pleasure, even in a lousy film, and he's been in a few of those. With his hyperintelligent, jittery asides and eye-rolling self-deprecation, he does jaunty swagger more endearingly than almost any other contemporary actor. Woods is so familiar in character roles that his unique likability as a hero is sometimes overlooked; he may be the most underrated leading man in American movies.

He certainly does more to save John Carpenter's Vampires than the director, who felt compelled to add his name to the title. Maybe that pretentious flourish will give rise to a whole new horror-film subgenre: the signature vampire movie. Maybe we can expect Woody Allen's Vampires, Spike Lee's Vampires, Oliver Stone's Vampires, and, on PBS, the six-part Ken Burns's Vampires.

John Carpenter's Vampires.
Directed by John Carpenter. Written by John Carpenter, Don Jakoby, and Dan Mazur. Based on a novel by John Steakley. Starring James Woods, Daniel Baldwin, Thomas Ian Griffith, and Sheryl Lee.

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