** I forewarn you. I cannot say enough exciting things about this spellbinding film! **
NEAR DARK (1987) directed by Kathryn Bigelow is by far one of the best vampire movies I’ve ever seen and perhaps the best one ever made. With incredible special effects makeup surpassing the need for CGI tweaking and a cast assembled from James Cameron’s ALIEN what’s not to love about this new take on the vampire genre? I don’t even think the word “vampire” is even mentioned in the narrative.
It all begins with the classic boy meets girl narrative but the exception is girl bites boy for not getting her home before the dawn breaks. Boy then becomes a blood thirsty creature of the night only he didn’t ask for this lifestyle but alas people do crazy things for love. The boy our main protagonist known as Caleb (Adrian Pasdar) is a southwestern farmer’s son who meets Mae (Jenny Wright) who’s a pretty little creature of the night living with a group of troubling outlaw vampires all caravanning in a Winnebago throughout the southwest.
The problem is Caleb’s farmer dad and little sister witness his rescue and kidnapping from these devilish misfits as he was about to go up in flames after recently being bitten by Mae in a beautiful shot sequence by cinematographer Adam Greenberg who also shot THE TERMINATOR. I went gaga over the cinematography which is one of main reasons why I love this film so much. Greenberg’s use of natural light in these warm tones specifically in his night sequences are absolutely glorious. What also struck me was the pacing and Bigelow’s choice to slow up certain moments such as the seductive make out session that turns into a steamy love bite also shot at the break of dawn. It really had an enchanting affect like some twisted fairy tale gone array but with sadistic characters. Groovy!
What’s also highlighted in this romance, horror, drama, thriller is it also kind of feels like a western primarily because these dirty outlaws have no regard for obeying the law other than to survive their own humanity. Meaning they’re going after anyone who looks like a good meal ticket while sleeping in the dilapidated Winnebago by day and get down to business by night. This brings me to the violent bar scene. I feel like I should insert a joke here. What happens when a pack of vampires enter a bar? Complete and utter pandemonium. Did I mention Bill Paxton is in this film and he totally steals the thunder in this sequence? It’s a twisted blood bath combined with a distorted finesse accompanied by a convincing group of actors that make this entire scene viscerally compelling. It’s perfection in these eyes of a horror fan because you have the song, “Fever” covered by the band The Cramps playing in the background while Bill Paxton’s character taunts every living patron in the bar instigating some exhilarating blood pumping fight. It’s and I quote, “finger- licking good”! There’s so many great elements to the bar scene incorporated with the western motif perhaps cliché but it works with the rusty spurs, shattered shot glasses, the bartender and his shotgun, even how the ceiling fan casts shadows on the face of Lance Henriks. The blood splatter is not overly done as seen in b-movies, but in an almost humorous moment where a waitress gets her throat slashed and is used like a human tap. Blood drinks all around for these elite of savages. It’s gnarly but oh is it clever for bar humor.
Let’s not forget the technical effects; vampire burning up in broad daylight! The special effects makeup artist, Gordon Smith came up with a prosthetic that concealed tubes on the faces and clothes of the actors all of which were connected to a special device that spewed out “smoked tobacco under pressure” all bundled up in a harness. How badass is that!? And it looks strikingly natural. The detail entailed in the charred up faces of these marvelous characters was exquisite even down to some of the final shots of their eyes. Again aesthetically pleasing and there’s no trace of CGI anywhere. Even the freaking flames were real here guys!
Despite all the vampire tropes in this film, Bigelow hits the nail in the coffin demonstrating her prominent style and talent. This is one of my favorite Bigelow films, (second goes to POINT BREAK) and it just so happens to be her first feature. Bigelow is fiercely known for her forte of action films, and NEAR DARK is enriching, entertaining, daring to be different from all its predecessors and successors for generations to come. It’s dirty, grisly, and embellished with stereotypical redneck characters all having one hell of a time tied with amusing one liners that probably seem cheezy but that’s one of the elements that makes the horror genre noteworthy. And that sequence with the tractor-trailer, with Bill Paxton’s grotesque face, cuing in 80s music and the entire showdown between he and Caleb has western written all over it. “Bulls Eye!” as Paxton’s character exclaims. It’s a one of a kind kind of film, sorry LOST BOYS, you just weren’t the right kind of bad. I’m aware of the oxymoron. (insert wink). NEAR DARK is a grungy, non-pistol whipping western, packed with heat and blood that will probably make you yearn for the 80s all over again.