Vampires: Los Muertos (2002)

A vampire hunter for hire (Jon Bon Jovi) receives a big job offer for which he needs to find himself a crew. Even at that early stage, things are not going all that well, and the mission becomes increasingly personal, with the hunter having to ask himself how far he is willing to go…

[one minor spoiler ahead]

Recently, I watched the sequel to John Carpenter’s 1998 film Vampires for the first time. I say “the first time”, but (as with its predecessor) I had seen bits and pieces of this film many a time on various TV channels. This was the first time, however, that I made a conscious effort to see it from the first minute till the last.

John Carpenter only stayed on as an executive producer for this sequel, which is set in the same universe as his original film, but is only very loosely connected to it story-wise. There are no shared characters. Also, Los Muertos is rated one-and-a-half stars lower than the 1998 original. So, this straight-to –video film had all the warning signs of a cash-grab sequel.

Surprisingly, this is not such a bad film. Admittedly, the story is a bit of a carbon copy of the first film’s plot, but not a bad one at that. In fact, I believe that writer and director Tommy Lee Wallace learned a lesson or two from the weaknesses of the first filmAnd while the narrative may be very much by-the-numbers (“mission?” – check; “assembling a team?” – check; “Chekhov’s Gun?” – check; “McGuffin?” – check; “someone sacrificing themselves for the team?” – check), it is still solid.

The narrative flow is at times a bit tiresome and the arc of suspense lamentably flat – both things that this film has in common with its predecessor. Still, this is not a horrible film at all. One thing that this film does right – and that many similar films could learn from it – is that it does not dally on some grand, epic prologue: if you have not much of a story to tell, you should at least get straight to the point. And this film does exactly that.

What sets this film apart from really bad cash-grabs is the fact that it looks as if the film makers where actually putting in some effort. The cast is very solid. I am not the biggest Bon Jovi fan, but he does a very good job here as the leading man. And I must admit that I prefer his acting very much to the performance by James Woods in the original. The team Bon Jovi’s character Derek assembles for his mission is not his first choice, more his last option. The cast is chosen perfectly to portray this assembly of misfits, and each of the actors does a good job.

Apart from the very average story and a certain lack of suspense, there are only minor things to criticise: Natasha Gregson Wagner’s character gets to deliver a very forced (yet effective) exposition about herself. Also, there is some unnecessary gore, for gore’s sake. And an additional character gets a somewhat late admission into the Derek’s dream team: Ray (played by Darius McCrary) is the only black guy in the film, and I leave it to your cinematic expertise to assess his chances for survival….

Things I had wished for include some more insight into the lead vampire’s desire, the driving force behind the big scheme, if you will. Of course, we have the first film as reference, but I still wanted to get to know our new villain a bit better. Also, there is a decision by one team-member that is set up a bit weakly, and thus does come across not quite as necessary as the film would like us to believe it is. A slightly better set-up would have been nice.

Positive things include the practical effects, which, like in the first film, are very basic, but effective, and mostly look the part. (While some of the special effects, including delaying and speeding-up time, seem rather clunky.) The general design, the wardrobe, sets, locations, and gadgets, are all pretty neat.

This is definitely not a must-see film. But I do not regard it as a waste of time either. It is simply a solid, mildly entertaining vampire flick which looks nice; and it is by no means worse than its predecessor, especially not 1.5 points worse, as the imdb-rating suggests. Compared to other sequels, I would say this film is superior to From Dusk Till Dawn 2, and more or less on par with From Dusk Till Dawn 3. So I’d rank this somewhere between 5.5 and 6.0 out of 10.


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