Saturday, December 3, 2011

Near Dark

1987, R, 94 min.
IMDB says, with curious syntax... A young man reluctantly joins a travelling (sic) "family" of evil vampires, when the girl he'd tried to seduce is part of that group.

The 73rd Virgin says... If you need some space from the Twilight series, True Blood, etcetera after endless etcetera, look no further.

I saw this in a theater in 1987 and it is every bit as good and original as back then. Probably the only character-driven horror movie in which all the most interesting characters are monsters. There is almost no horror template (crime, yes, but not horror) for these gleefully amoral, filthy, and permanently amused villains. The RV and vans that they tear around in with foiled-up windows look like public housing. Their clothes are permanently grimy with the gore of their occupation, plus frequent accidental exposures to sunlight which cause parts of their bodies to burst into flames. Compare this to the glacial pace and posturing of Interview with the Vampire. No soul-searching here.

Bill Paxton, Lance Hendricksen, Jenette Goldstein, all recently from “Aliens”, plus 13 year-old Joshua Miller genuinely enjoy their work of harvesting hicks. Jenny Wright is Mae. The word ethereal was invented for her. She was only turned 4 years ago and is less gleeful but just as realistic about the need to feed. “The night has its price”, is how she puts it. Adrian Pasdar is Caleb, a nice farm kid just looking for some action when she decides to turn him and greatly screws up the vampire family unit. Caleb can't bring himself to kill despite repeated warnings and threats from the family. He survives by nursing off of Mae's wrist.

The story itself is no smarter than most horror and much of the ending is a direct lift from director Kathryn Bigelow's husband's Terminator movie. I also had no idea that vampirism could be cured. But like the best action/horror screenplays it manages to pack all manner of background character information into the cracks and corners while the story itself moves along at a nice clip. In snatches we learn that one of the vampires fought for the South, they probably started the Chicago fire, two of them met over a flat tire, one of them fancies himself an old west gunslinger, and probably was, and they no longer really think in years. I could use probably one less scene with Mae and Caleb rhapsodizing about the night, but there is a payoff, and Tangerine Dream's soundtrack fits nicely.

The shootouts are stylish if noticeably filled with dumber than average police, supporting actors are broad and predictable, but Hendricksen and Paxton are just great. Hendricksen reportedly dropped to about 140 pounds and he already had one of the great faces. Paxton is a bundle of creative energy who really, really likes killing.

Finally, the Bar Scene: There is almost nothing in movies or fiction to compare this to in terms of outright horror. You look away not because of the gore, but because of the undiluted gleeful evil on display. These are the most dangerous people, the smartest people, and the funniest people all rolled into one, let loose in our monkey cage to extract as much fun and terror out of the situation as they possibly can.  Paxton says he had a migraine during filming and a medic gave him a "B-12" shot before this scene. You can kinda tell. I would feel shabby if I excerpted much. Here is a YouTube link of the first couple minutes. You can watch as much as you want there.

Almost all vampire horror movie development stops with this movie. Put a retroactive fork in us, we were done.

Director Bigelow got her due with an Oscar for The Hurt Locker, reportedly the lowest grossing Best Picture, so her magic continues. Pasdar is still a TV star and I've seen his name as a director of music videos including Paula Abdul of all things. Paxton has gotten a little dull since about the time of "A Simple Plan." Hendricksen was ubiquitous for years, and Jenny Wright became a great mystery by more or less disappearing, some say into a marriage. She did not participate in the 20 year reunion. In the special features section of the BluRay, Pasdar looks directly at the camera and says "Jenny, if you're watching this, we all miss you...I don't know where she is."

There is a not very good 10-minute collection of clips on YouTube. I don't much recommend the clips but the first comment is, “i like when vampires were monsters instead of goth fags. drakula used to be someone you were afraid of not some dude who turned 13 year old girls on.”


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