Saturday, December 21, 2013

Film Review: VAMPIRES: LOS MUERTOS (2002, Tommy Lee Wallace)

Stars: 2.5 of 5.
Running Time: 93 minutes.
Tag-line: "John Carpenter's VAMPIRES took you to the edge of terror...  now get ready to cross the border."
Notable Cast or Crew:  Jon Bon Jovi of "Bon Jovi",  Cristián de la Fuente (BASIC, DRIVEN), Natasha Gregson Wagner (GLAM, URBAN LEGEND, HIGH FIDELITY), Arly Jover (BLADE, THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO), Darius McCrary ('Eddie Winslow' on FAMILY MATTERS, TRANSFORMERS), Diego Luna (MILK, Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN).  Music by Brian Tyler (THE EXPENDABLES, FRAILTY).   Special makeup effects supervised by Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger.  Written and directed by Tommy Lee Wallace (member of the Coupe de Villes, STEPHEN KING'S IT, HALLOWEEN III, FRIGHT NIGHT PART 2).  Executive produced by John Carpenter and Sandy King (his wife).
Best One-liner:  "Okay, we got a sucker!"

In a familiar, darkened alley, Poor Man's Carpy continues:

"Watch anything good lately?"
–"Well, you know me.  That's all pretty relative."
"Anything worth mentioning?"
–"You saw VAMPIRES, right?"
"We watched it together.  How could you forget!"
–"Oh, yeah.  Well, did you know there was a sequel?"
"What?!  VAMPIRES 2?"
–"Not exactly.  VAMPIRES: LOS MUERTOS.  Straight to video.  And it was handled by Carpy's grade school buddy, designer of Michael Myers' mask, and general horror sequel champ: Tommy Lee Wallace.  He did HALLOWEEN III, FRIGHT NIGHT 2, and AMITYVILLE II, to name a few."
"I love HALLOWEEN III."
–"So do I.  So.  Do.  I."
"Was Carpy involved?"
–"Pretty much in name only.  He refused to go down to Mexico for the shoot.  Apparently he'd had some bad experiences.  But he and the missus (Sandy King) acted as executive producers."

"Does it have anything to do with VAMPIRES 1?"
–"Sort of.  It takes place in the same modern-Western-mythscape, where the Catholic Church offers bounties for slain vampires.  One character from the first film, Father Guiteau (Tim Guinee), is referred to– as recently killed by vampires.  We even get to see his tombstone.

Other than that, it could pretty much be a standalone piece, though it certainly rips off the plot of the first VAMPIRES:  there's a love interest who is a telepathic part-infected-vampire, a massacre of monks in a monastery, a motley crew of vampire hunters, a sidekick priest, and the main thrust is that a master vampire is looking for the same magical cross that will allow vampires to walk in daylight."
"But no James Woods?"
–"Unfortunately, no.  But instead, we've got someone even better:  Jon Bon Jovi."

[PFFFFFFFT]  "Holy cow!  You just made me do a spit-take!  JBJ?!?!"
–"Shut up, no one actually calls him that.  ...Right?"
"I do."
–"Whatever."
"JBJ in a vampire-hunting western?!  This is terrific!"
–"Well..."
"...I'M A COWBOY, ON A STEEL HORSE I RIIIIIIDE.  WAAANNNNTEEED...UNDEAD OR ALIVE..."

–"Okay."
"You see what I did there?"
–"Yeah."
"...STAKE THROUGH THE HEART, AND YOU'RE TO BLAME.  DON'T GIVE CARPY A BAAAD NAME..."

–"You're very clever."
"...GONNA LIVE WHILE I'M ALIVE, I'LL SLEEP IN A COFFIN WHEN I'M UNDEAD..."

–"That's pretty weak.  Did you get all that out of your system?"
"Probably not."
–"Well, it is interesting that you want to linger on Jon Bon Jovi, because this thing–"
"JBJ, you mean?"
–"Because this movie seems tailor-made for him, almost like the script and production were fashioned completely around him.  First off, he plays a vampire hunter named 'Derek Bliss.'  If that's not an ersatz rock star name, I don't know what is.   Then, he plays a Western antihero– just like in the song, 'Wanted: Dead or Alive.'

JBJ flashes his trademark 'sincere smile' and prepares to shimmy his fringe.


JBJ shows off the acting chops he learned on the Jersey bar circuit and prepares to slay some vampires.


He's always recording stuff with a video camera.  At first, I thought it was just his character's narcissism, but then I realized it might be a subtle nod to the black & white, faux-gritty, 'behind-the-scenes' segments that pop up in a lot of his music videos ('Living on a Prayer,' 'Wanted: Dead or Alive')

Such docurealism.

He's got a surfboard full of weapons (kind of like DESPERADO's guitar case of guns)

and one of his favorite vampire-slaying devices is a long spear, which he hoists around with ease.  I have no doubt this weapon was chosen because– hey: the man knows how to heft a mic stand.  A stake ain't much of a stretch."

"Wow."
–"Oh yeah, and he gets paid for his slays by the Van Helsing Group on 'the internet.'"

"Who else shows up?  Anybody good?"
–"Well, a few quasi-notables show up to crash Bon Jovi's master's class in acting.  First, we have Diego Luna, now an award-winning and respected actor (MILK, Y TU MAMÁ TAMBIÉN) as Bon Jovi's scrappy l'il sidekick."

"I bet he learned everything he knows from JBJ."

–"Yeah, that's it.  We also have Natasha Gregson Wagner as the love interest/part-vampire assistant, fulfilling the Sheryl Lee role from the original.  Ms. Wagner happens to be the daughter of the legendary Natalie Wood, though it seems she inherited the lion's share of her acting ability from her aunt, Lana."

"Who's Lana Wood?"
–"She played 'Plenty O'Toole' in DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER.  And you'll recall that her line readings were so... creative that she had to be dubbed over in post."
"Oooh.  I see."
–"Eddie Winslow (Darius McCrary) from FAMILY MATTERS shows up, and infuses the movie with some mid-point badassery.

But then, after ten minutes of screentime, he falls victim to a vampire blowjob."


"Seriously?  Would you call that a (J)BJ?"
–"Oh, shut up.  He lurches along for a while after that, but he's already a 'dead man walking' and has already settled into the cliché of 'expendable black guy.'"
"That's too bad."
–"Rounding out the all-star cast is priest/poolboy Cristián de la Fuente, whom I correctly guessed has a more than extensive telenovela résumé."
I could never keep a secret from JBJ.

"Sounds like with this scrappy crew, he's... LIVIN' ON A PRAYER."
–"That's enough."
"So what else?"
–"There's a bunch of horrible CGI 'fast-forward' vampire action..."
"Why do they allow that to happen?"
–"I don't know.  Then the vamps mess up a bar like in NEAR DARK, so that's a nice vampire Western nod, but you'll probably just wish you were watching NEAR DARK instead.  But every once in a while something spectacular happens, like Bon Jovi dropping a one-liner like 'HEY VAMPIRE!'

And I guess it all ends up okay, cause the finale involves a slo-mo flying car and an exploding decapitated head."



"That's the kind of thing I can sink my teeth into."
–"Har har har.  Then I even listened to some of the Tommy Lee Wallace audio commentary.  I might be the only person in the world who'll admit it.  But I had to.  He talks about what it was like to direct JBJ– I mean, Jon Bon Jovi."
"See?  You just did it, too."
–"Hush.  Apparently there were legions of adoring fans everywhere they went.  And he had the problem of Bon Jovi doing a lot of overemoting.  Tommy told him to tone it down, to play everything smaller.  But Bon Jovi apparently learned a lot– he said, 'Tommy, thanks for letting me dare to suck.'"
"Is that a vampire pun?"
–"Stop.  Interestingly enough, Tommy Lee Wallace also goes on at length about how Carpenter makes films about Hawksian heroes, and he made a film about unlikely heroes."
"The kinds of heroes who live on a prayer?"
–"I said, cool it."
"ONCE UPON A TIME, NOT SO LONG AGO
TOMMY USED TO JUST BE A COUPE DE VILLE
CARPY USED TO THROW HIM A BONE
HE'S BEEN DOWN ON HIS LUCK...IT'S TOUGH, SO TOUGH

CARPY'S BEEN KIND OF RETIRED
THANKS TO BAD REMAKES, HE STILL BRINGS HOME HIS PAY
FOR LOVE, FOR LOVE

CARPY SAYS WE'VE GOT TO HOLD ON TO WHAT WE'VE GOT
CAUSE IT DOESN'T MAKE A DIFFERENCE IF WE MAKE IT OR NOT
WE'VE GOT TWO VAMPIRES FILMS
AND THAT'S A LOT
FOR LOVE– WE'LL GIVE IT A SHOT

WHOOOOAAA WHOAA, WE'RE HALFWAY THERE
OOOOH WAAA LIVIN' ON A PRAYER
TAKE MY HAND–"
–"Stop it!"
"But don't you get it?  The protagonist of 'Livin' on a Prayer' is actually named Tommy!"
–"I'm cutting you off."
"You can't cut me off– it's the holidays!"
–"Yes, I can."
"You can't stop me from picking the next movie, then:  JINGLE ALL THE WAY."
–"Dear Lord."

(to be continued)

–Sean Gill

3 comments:

Mike B. said...

Ho ho ho! Apologies for getting to this so late, but I was kinda offline for some holiday visits. Bless you for keeping the Poor Man's Carpy series alive, and you pointed out so much good stuff in this one! First of all, I'm definitely going to watch this now that I know Tommy Lee Wallace was at the helm. Seeing as how I consider myself to be at least in the top 1% of Halloween III fans in the world, I'm frankly ASHAMED that I haven't seen this yet! And listing Wallace's first qualification as "member of the Coup de Ville's" was absolutely fantastic, by the way. Second, one of my all-time favorite Christmas presents was when I was 15 and I got a brand new Sony Discman (high-tech!) and two CDs, one of which was Bon Jovi's "Keep The Faith" album (The other was "The Bodyguard" soundtrack -- I have some regrets). I can blame some of the embarrassment of picking up Bon Jovi's latest when the rest of the world had already moved on to grunge by pointing out that I grew up in Memphis, and we were always a little behind the times. But in any case, let's just say that I may or may not still have a little lingering nostalgia for ol' JBJ myself. Hey, remember when JBJ was supposedly an up-and-coming acting talent? No? Anyone? Well, I hardly remember it myself, but sometime in the 90's, I recall he had a bit part in some awful rom-com and people were positively BUZZING about his leading man potential. And then, well, he ended up in things like Vampires 2. Ah well, it cant be that bad of a place to end up. I can think of worse fates than working with Tommy Lee Wallace and Natasha Gregson Wagner. Sure, she might be the most "2002" actress ever, and practically evaporated after that, but oh that toothy grin of hers is quite fetching! Thanks as always for this, now if you'll excuse me, I've got a movie to watch! Happy Holidays!

J.D. Lafrance said...

I rank this film right up there with the FROM DUSK TILL DAWN sequels, but at least FDTD 2 had a pretty decent B-movie cast. VAMPIRES 2 really doesn't and tests anybody's tolerance level for JBJ.

Such a shame that the original VAMPIRES didn't take more from its source novel, which was actually pretty good, but I can see why Carpy didn't as he just didn't have the kind of budget to make it happen. Oh well.

Fantastic review, as always. On to JINGLE ALL THE WAY! *gulp*

Sean Gill said...

Mike,

You'll have to let me know what you think of LOS MUERTOS. Gotta love JBJ and his occasional attempts at legitimacy– I've been meaning to check out U-571 for a while now: it's a WWII submarine movie that brings together Paxton, Harvey Keitel, Matthew McConaughey and JBJ! I don't see how it could disappoint. Also, I'll confess– I had a blast revisiting all the old JBJ music videos on YouTube in preparation for this review. Pretty intense stuff!

J.D.,

Thank you, sir! I remember discussing the VAMPIRE$ novel with you on one of our respective reviews, and I just added it once more to my lengthy "books to read" list. FROM DUSK TILL DAWN 2 has been in my instant queue forever, but I'll take the plunge one of these days– the Trejo/Robert Patrick/Bo Hopkins factor seems to be high.