Kathryn Bigelow. I know what you’re thinking: “I know that name.” And you probably do. You might know her as the first woman to ever win the Academy Award for Best Director for her film The Hurt Locker, or you might know her as the person to thank for giving us the Keanu Reeves/Patrick Swayze epic Point Break.
Either way, what you may not know about Kathryn Bigelow is that she directed an often overlooked vampire film in the late 1980s, and it’s that film that will be the focus of tonight’s review: Near Dark
Year Released: 1987
Written By: Eric Red, Kathryn Bigelow
Directed By: Kathryn Bigelow
Starring: Adrian Pasdar, Lance Henriksen, Jenny Wright, Bill Paxton, Tim Thomerson
Caleb Colton is a young man living in a small town in Texas. Wanting to let off some steam and with few options to do so made available to him, he goes to a local bar. While there, he meets the beautiful young Mae and they share a connection. A connection that soon turns hot, resulting in Mae biting Colton on the neck. Upset by what she has done, she runs off, as Colton gives chase.
As Colton searches for Mae, he begins to notice a change happening. He feels weaker, as the sun rises his skin begins to bubble and smoke. He is reunited with Mae, though she’s brought her “family” along, and they tell him that he’s been initiated into a very rare group of people. As the next few days and nights unfold, Colton’s family searches for their missing boy, while Mae and her clan try to convert Colton to their very special way of life, and Colton fights to hold on to his humanity.
Near Dark is a grossly underrated film. It doesn’t stack up next to some of Bigelow’s later works, like The Hurt Locker (for which she won the Academy Award for Best Director, not to mention the film won a number of other Academy Awards, including Best Picture), but I feel it’s a nice entry into the category of 1980s vampire movies.
The funny thing about this movie, and you don’t really notice it on your first viewing (at least I didn’t), is that no one in the movie ever really calls the characters vampires. Nor do we ever actually see fangs, for that matter. We see the characters drinking blood, however, and there are more than one reference to the characters not aging. But I’ve always thought it interesting to very clearly portray the cast as vampires but to never actually mention it at all. It brings a tone to it that the filmmakers don’t care to keep shoving what these monsters are down your throat. You see them drinking blood and talking about the downside of eternal life, along with their skin burning to a crisp in sunlight and you get a general idea of what they are. The film does not talk down to the viewer, and I enjoy that.
Since they don’t go into stereotypical vampire visuals, there’s not too much to say as far as practical “creature effects” are concerned, though there are some great effects used whenever any of the characters venture out into the sun. Bill Paxton’s character, Severen, finds himself in a consistent decline in health, shall we say, throughout the film and by film’s end, he is battered, bloody and burnt to a crisp. Those effects are all quite wonderful and I feel hold up very well.
The acting is pretty typical of the cast, meaning that Lance Henriksen and Bill Paxton are both wonderful and do an excellent job of conveying to the audience that they are completely crazy, whereas some of the other cast give less than stellar performances. Fortunately, the film is presented with a very beautiful, if not odd and downright haunting, tone and visually it’s all very dark and brooding, so the sort of performances put forth by even the lesser known cast members fit in very well.
Should You See It:
Near Dark was one of those horror movies that my family watched on a fairly regular basis while I was growing up. It’s a part of my upbringing, movie-wise, so as cheesy as it might seem, even to me, upon review so many years later, it still entertains me.
That said, a couple of years ago, I showed the film to my wife, who had never seen it.
“So, it’s a vampire movie?” she asked. “Yes, it’s a vampire western, kind of.” I replied.
She sat silently through the entire film and at the end said four words to me: “Well, that was bad.”
I was taken aback, as I thought she would at least find entertainment in the cheesy bits and the very obvious 80s hair and clothing seen throughout, but apparently it was not to be.
So take this tale to heart, if you’ve never seen it. I would say give it a chance, but I also said this to my wife, who went on to hate it.