Vatican "sponsored" vampire hunters endure quite the setback when the head honcho, the very first vampire, slaughters almost all of them. Can the two still alive, and a new priest assigned to them, stop him or will this vampire claim a special cross that will grant him access to the light of the day.
I have been reevaluating some of John's work lately, and Vampires (1998) was specifically on the agenda. Some say Ghosts of Mars (2001) is as close to a western as John ever directed, but I watch Vampires and think maybe it is. I think this film is kind of a springboard off the success of From Dusk Till Dawn (1996). Well I use success loosely as Dawn didn't exactly set the world on fire at the box office, barely making back the budget, but it's cult status is healthy. I'm quite happy this was a hit for John, reaffirming he could still make a hit. And it was late in his career so this films success was also a feather in his hat. And it was neat seeing John and James Woods doing a film together.
The plot isn't what John is worried about. This film's desert motif affords him the opportunity to shoot action in a simmering, sun-baked setting which is not exactly the most ideal location for vampires. The Forsaken (2001) would piggyback off this film not long after, following a similar motif which allows a director the chance to take the genre elsewhere. You could say, though, that the desert, after sequels to Dawn, was exhausted of its uniqueness.
Woods, Daniel Baldwyn, and their Vatican approved posse of badasses run afoul of Super-vampire Thomas Ian Griffith (Excessive Force & The Karate Kid Part III). Hot hooker Sheryl Lee (Twin Peaks) happened to be at a desert inn when Griffith (the "first" vampire) goes on the attack, just annihilating Woods' crew. This massacre Woods will have to clean up later. Maximilian Schell, of all people, is Cardinal who Woods answers to. Lee was bitten by Griffith and will gradually turn if he isn't killed. She holes up in a hotel with Baldwyn at Woods' request, knowing she is an asset...and possible threat.
The twist involving Schell left much to be desired but he just looks suspicious...something sinister about him despite his seemingly "in God we trust" mission in the leadership for The Church. It seems like a desperate need for a swerve. Griffith is a fierce looking monster and fits the bill of a serious menace not so easy to plan for conquering. That's the real point of emphasis in the film: Woods and the boys normally get the upper hand but Griffith is no ordinary bloodsucker.
The ancient cross so desired by Griffith's Valek is one of those MacGuffins that is sought after but merely a device to bring the hero and adversary towards a showdown. It is a frightening thought...vampires not confined to the dark of the night. Predictably Griffith underestimates Woods and pays for it. He is put in a pickle and appears to be in trouble, but a certain ally, played by Tim Guinee, truly wants to represent The Church with honor, coming in when needed the most.