Now more than ever, vampires are a proven commodity in
Hollywood. It all started with Max
Schrek in Nosferatu, but Bela Lugosi’s legendary turn in Dracula back in
the 30s made it cool to admire the undead.
Christopher Lee made a career out of portraying the bloodsucker during
the infamous Hammer era in a number of films, while Joss Whedon tried and
failed, then tried and succeeded to bring his vampire slayer Buffy to the big
and small screen.
What is it about vampires that make them relevant regardless
of decade? They are sexy, frightening
and, most importantly, mysterious. They
represent a behavior that is inside every one us; one that we are afraid to
unleash. Today, a number of vampire
films are coming down the pipeline. Lost Boys: The Tribe, the sequel to the 80s cheese classic The Lost
Boys, will be released on DVD at the end of the month with much fan
anticipation. While the quality of the
film is up in the air at the moment, it’s become quite obvious that the film
has built quite the fanbase since its release in 1987. Speaking of fanbases, at the end of the
year, Twilight will be released. Now,
if you haven’t heard of Twilight, you will soon enough. It is based on a series of best-selling
books about a young woman who falls for a vampire and have rivaled Harry
Potter in both sales and popularity since the publication of the first book.
At any rate, the vampire mythos enables filmmakers to
introduce us to wonderful worlds and characters. The only problem is, since there are so many stories revolving
around vampires, it’s quite difficult to discover the good from the bad. Which is why
I want to introduce (or re-introduce) you to a film that was released the same
year as The Lost Boys and by all accounts and purposes is a much stronger, leaner
story, if a little less polished than the Hollywood behemoth it opened opposite
of. Ladies and gentlemen… Near Dark.
Released in 1987, Near Dark is a horror-western hybrid
that tells the tale of cowboy Caleb after he meets the mysterious Mae and
shares a passionate kiss with her one night.
After a quick bite on the neck, Caleb soon comes across Mae’s “family”,
a group of travelers that may very well be vampires. The film, written by Eric Red who wrote the original The
Hitcher, is a quiet, meditative and disturbing little picture that is
confident in the audience’s intelligence, as well as the strength of the
characters that populate its world. At
times contemplative, at others brutal and horrific, Near Dark has, over time,
proven to be an underrated milestone in the horror genre and the vampire
Director Kathryn Bigelow (the former Mrs. James Cameron)
populated the film with familiar faces, which makes it all the more
entertaining to watch. Lance Henriksen
plays Jesse, the patriarch of the “family”.
Henriksen exudes an interesting world-weary perspective into his
performance, one that makes Jesse a menacing yet endearing antagonist. Jenette Goldstein (Vasquez in Aliens and John Connor’s adoptive
mother in Terminator 2) is Diamondback, the mother figure of the clan who
proves to be most deadly with a knife.
And then there’s Bill Paxton, one of the best actors out there, playing
a bloodthirsty (literally and figuratively) insane vampire. How can you go wrong? Well, in this case, you can’t. He plays Severen, the wildest of the bunch
and the one who initiates the film’s most notorious scene- the Barroom
The most notable quality about Near Dark is the fact that
it treats its subject matter and the somewhat complicated history of vampire
folklore with respect, while injecting it with a unique sense of identity that,
to this day, has yet to be matched.
The script has a very organic flow, moving from one action
set piece to another and allowing the characters to breathe and develop
naturally. It must also be noted that
throughout the entire film, the word “vampire” is not uttered once, nor is a
single fang shown. Aside from the fact
that the film is a mini Aliens reunion of sorts (considering Henriksen, Goldstein and Paxton shared the spotlight in that film), Near Dark is an original, frightening and beautiful
journey into a world that we thought we’d seen hundreds of times already. It just goes to show you that while there
may not be any original ideas left in Hollywood (that is up for debate), it’s
all in the execution.