Near Dark (1987)

A mid-western farm boy reluctantly becomes a member of the undead when a girl he meets turns out to be part of a band of southern vampires who roam the highways in stolen cars.

    Tagline: In one hot hungry kiss, he gave her everlasting love. She gave him everlasting life.

    Directing:
    • Kathryn Bigelow

    Writing:
    • Eric Red
    • Kathryn Bigelow

Release Date: 1987-10-02
  • Country: US
  • Language: English
  • Runtime: 95
  • Budget: $5,000,000

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  • I've never really been a fan of vampire films, and I'm more than willing to admit it. Yeah, there is a certain mythology and level of awe that it held towards them, I just can't find it. Vampires are typically made out to be all-powerful and charmingly seductive, when in reality they're just people who are afflicted with a condition that means they must stay out of sunlight and avoid all religious paraphernalia. I know to many those are exciting and romantic qualities, but I just never found the attraction to it. Once again however I find myself at a loss, as I have found a film from a genre I don't have much interest in that, well, I find pretty damn cool. 1987's Near Dark is a decidedly different vampire movie, with more in tune with a modern day western than most any horror flick, a combination that ultimately proves to be a very cool 80's classic.

    The Story
    Caleb Colton (Adrian Pasdar) is a typical young man in rural Oklahoma. He loves his father and little sister dearly, enjoys working on the farm and like any red-blooded American young male he is more than a little interested in the ladies. One night while driving through town he meets the mysterious young woman Mae (an incredibly hot Jenny Wright), and it is apparent that there is chemistry between the two. They drive about, chat amongst themselves and have a legitimately good time, even though Caleb is more than aware that there is something slightly off about the girl. He can't quite finger it, but there is something about her that is just not right. Maybe it's that she doesn't say much about herself, maybe it's the fact that she scares any and all animals she's near, or maybe it's the fact that instead of a kiss she bites the side of his neck. Fearing dawn, she runs off into the distance as he is left confused as to what is going on.

    Running back home, Caleb soon finds things to be surprisingly difficult. He is feeling sick, sicker than he's ever felt before, and the sun beats across the back of his neck mercilessly. Soon getting within shouting distance of home, the boy can see his family just as smoke begins to snake its way out from under the collar of his jacket. He cries out for help, and they rush to save him, yet off in the distance a vehicle approaches. The RV with its windows all blacked out closes in on the boy like a large, wild beast. With its side door flung open, a pair of hands wrench Caleb from his feet and pull him into the vehicle as it speeds off.

    Inside the belly of the beast, Caleb finds out that his troubles are only beginning as he is indoctrinated into a group of immortals whose sole goal in life is to travel the countryside, sleep by day, ride by night and drink people's blood to survive. Ain't it cool?
    I can't say I've ever seen a movie quite like this. Here vampires aren't treated with any reverence. They have no powers aside from being really strong and invulnerable to most anything. They've got no fangs, so they have to bite through your throat the old fashioned way. They are more a roving band of outlaws than a group of monsters, while Caleb is the perfectly normal kid thrown into the fray. He is scared of those around him, and maybe even more afraid of what he is becoming, as unlike the others he does not want to be a part of this lifestyle. It's an awesome show through and through with amazing style, more than a little bit of violence and it's fair share of surprises.

    The Acting
    It's often been said that the bad guys are the most interesting parts of horror movies, and in no film is this as evident as Near Dark. Sure, Adrian Pasdar plays a solid conflicted hero and Jenny Wright the blonde bombshell conflicted with her blood-sucking lifestyle, but the real standouts are without a doubt the rest of the roving band of vampire cowboys. Lance Henriksen plays Jesse Hooker, the family patriarch and leader of the vampire clan as they make their way across the American south. He's the wisest of the bunch and by far the oldest (as he says regarding his age, "Let's put it this way: I fought for the South. We Lost."), and as always he delivers the goods with his wise and weathered look. Jenette Goldstein plays his wife Diamondback, a sexy femme fatale and mother figure in sharp contrast to her role in Aliens the year before, though she is no less deadly. The young Joshua John Miller plays the youngest of the clan, the vampire Homer, who is much older than his immortal body belies and is on the lookout to find himself a little sister.

    However, the standout of the bunch without a doubt is Bill Paxton (rounding out the trio of Aliens alumni) in his portrayal of the vampire thug Severen. No matter what he's in, Bill Paxton always delivers, and he delivers it well. He's always been one of my favorite underrated actors, and Near Dark proves why. Severen is the muscle and the mouthpiece of the group, audacious in style, quick to anger and more than willing to party. One minute he'll have you laughing and the next minute he'll slit your throat with a spur. He rounds out a perfect cast in an awesome, underrated road horror flick.

    The Directing
    In watching this balls to the wall vampire action movie I'll admit I was a bit surprised that it was indeed a woman directing the film, but Kathryn Bigelow proves her skills to be on par with any of the other 80's horror greats. In sharp contrast to vampire movies that are dark and brooding, much of this one takes advantage of the American southwest setting, with stark vistas and abandoned towns acting as the perfect backdrop for some vampire mayhem. It's of no surprise that stylistically this film takes a lot from The Hitcher, as Hitcher scribe co-wrote Near Dark along with Bigelow. The end result is a film that alternates well between all out action, graphic horror and the story of a man who's afraid of what he's becoming.

    Special Effects
    I'm as big a fan as any of special effects when they are all out and deserved, but the minimalist approach is one that can often be used with greater effect. Near Dawn is one of those films that doesn't require much in terms of special effects, as the situation itself is more than enough to make the movie what it is. As such, I will give no rating in this category, relegating its makeup effects to the gore category.

    The Gore
    I love a good 80's gore flick as much as anyone, but at the same time I also rather enjoy a film that uses a minimalist approach. Either approach is good when the film warrants it, but when the film is middle of the line in terms of gore, that's when it becomes a bit of a gray area. Near Dawn is not a gore film, but happens to use more than a little to progress it's storyline, and while many flicks tend to stumble in this regard, Near Dark knows how to strike the perfect balance between tact and gore. When the vampires tend to off people, they do it in the usual biting the throat fashion, and more than a few other times we are given some slit throats and gunshot wounds. More often than not the gore is relegated to the grisly burn effects that occur when any of the roving criminals enter the sunlight and burst into flame, and as far as burns go these are pretty fucking brutal. These vampires burst into flames, their flesh charring and peeling before our eyes as they howl out in pain and occasionally explode. It is incredibly realistic and is damn near painful to watch, even if they do happen to be unholy spawn of the night. Of all the film's effects, the most eerily effective and damn near hilarious occurs after Severen gets hit by a truck, getting damn near skinned alive in the process yet still has the motivation enough to climb over the hood and attack the driver. Very classy stuff here.

    Wildcard Category: The Vampires
    Like I said earlier, I've never really been into vampire movies. There's just too much romanticism to it, with vampires either being portrayed as boring dilettantes who like to drink blood or seducers and corrupters of the innocent. Rarely are vampires played for just what they are: blood sucking monsters who are allergic to sunlight. Near Dark takes the vampire genre rules and throws them out the window, deciding to create it's own as they go. Vampires are no longer beautiful or seductive, they're just people and carry with them all the flaws of people, like the fact that these people are career criminals and mass murderers. Additionally, most of the powers and weaknesses that vampires tend to have are gone entirely. Religious symbolism, wooden stakes, holy water, transforming into animals of any sort, all are gone. These creature possess no mental capabilities beyond what they have when they were first turned, so don't expect any mind-controlling gazes. In keeping with the species tradition however, some rules still do apply. Yes, these creatures are more or less invulnerable, super strong, are allergic to the sun, and yes they still drink blood. And, oh yeah, the word vampire or any of its derivations is not mentioned once in the entire movie.

    Additionally, the way the movie handles vampirism is unique enough in its own right to help keep it unique in the genre. Because of their unique angle on the subject matter, vampirism is handled more as a disease and a lifestyle choice than as a traditional monster movie. These are people who are conscious that they have a condition that separates them from everyone else, and they like it.
    I've never seen a movie handle vampires like this before, and for that I am glad, as it makes this one that much more unique and special.

    Summation
    It's not hard for me to call this my favorite vampire movie, and although it may not be counted among the all time horror classics, it carves its own niche in an overloaded genre rather nicely.

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