Near Dark – Decent
It was only a matter of time before I’d sneak a vampire review in here, and I tried to think of one of the most obscure ones I could. This brings me to “Near Dark” and if you pay close enough attention, or use your imagination you might think this is a vampire sequel to “Aliens”
Out tale begins with Caleb, a cowboy on the prowl for a lady love; he finds one in Mae, a mysterious girl who needs to be home before dawn. Caleb bites off more than he can chew after he asks for a kiss and soon finds himself turning into a vampire. He is kidnapped by Mae’s “family” which includes Severen (Bill Paxton) and Jesse (Lance Hendrickson). Jesse tasks Caleb with making his first kill within two days or the family will kill him.
Meanwhile, Caleb’s father, Loy, along with his sister are on the hunt to find him and find him they do, while they narrowly escape from the family with Caleb in tow. At the end of the day Caleb figures out a way to stop the vampires and lives happily ever after.
There are a lot of interesting things about this film. First is the cast, which is pretty much half the cast of James Cameron’s “Aliens.”The other tie-in is the director, Katheryn Bigelow, who was married to Cameron at the time. I almost feel like as soon as “Aliens” wrapped Paxton and Hendrickson walked over to a set right across the street and started filming this.
Speaking of Paxton, he steals the show as Severen, the most loony of this vampire family. His antics in the bar scene make the film and show his comedic timing as well as his acting mania. People might give him crap for his overacting in “Aliens” but his overacting in “Near Dark” is exactly what is needed in this film.
Overall, “Near Dark” is a fun film and you can see the tidbits that shows like “True Blood” stole from this offbeat look on our favorite onscreen bloodsuckers.
Hey! You know what the entertainment world needs more of? Vampires!!! I’m sorry. My sarcasm is turned up to eleven because I’m a little jaded. This will probably sound like an old man boring his grandchildren about the “Good Old Days”, but I truly long for the days when vampires were frightening, bloodthirsty monsters. The days when they were wolves in sheep’s clothing, and that clothing wasn’t True Religion jeans or Tom Ford suits. The days they plucked at the entrails of their victims, not their own body hair. The days of Blade, Bram Stoker, and Buffy The Vampire Slayer. I know I’m not covering any new ground here. No one can argue that over the past decade, Hollywood’s use of vampires has…well…sucked. Oh, there are some outliers. However, for every Let The Right One In, there’s a fifth sequel to Twilight. For every Angel, there’s a Vampire Diaries. Even True Blood has steadily declined into nothing more than an oversexed softcore porn film set at a Louisiana college frat’s Halloween party. (Seriously, I’m more afraid of the city of Compton than Bill Compton.) Now NBC, with all the timing of a Jay Leno punchline, tries to pick the bones of this dead genre with a show about the king of all vampires. A show about Dracula.
Dracula comes to us from Cole Haddon and HBO’s Carnivale creator Daniel Knauf. The show centers around Dracula, going by the name Alexander Grayson, as he hunts down the members of an evil Illuminati-esque organization in 19th Century England. That concept might sound interesting on paper. However, when Dracula explains his reasons why, something feels a bit strange. I mean, he is a vampire after all. It works when a Hannibal Lecter punishes people he finds disgusting, but here it’s like watching Freddy Krueger take out members of Halliburton. I know it’s an attempt to place Dracula in the sympathetic protagonist role. Though, after watching the first episode, I’m not sure if it totally works. No matter how evil of an organization it is, no matter what they did to Dracula (I won’t spoil it), do you really think he’d have any difficulty taking them down in about eight seconds? Do you really think we as an audience can look at them in a light harsher than that of a demonic creature that randomly slaughters innocent people? Hypocrisy aside, I hope Knauf and Haddon don’t end up neutering the character in an attempt to make us like him. We like him because he’s a wicked, deadly, unscrupulous creature of the night, not some mopey introvert.
There are some positives I took away from the premiere. First, Dracula doesn’t sparkle in the sunlight, he burns. Thankfully, most of the traditional vampire motifs are back at play here. Secondly, it is pretty graphic for a show on NBC. The limitations broadcast television presents hasn’t seemed to hinder the bloodshed. Third, the show looks very expensive. Making a show a period piece tends to shoot the budget up a few million dollars. That’s something networks usually shy away from or alter into modern day re-imaginings. (See Elementary & Sherlock) NBC says that Dracula will be a limited series for now, which may account for the liberal use of elaborate costumes, sets and locations.
In regards to performances on Dracula , this show is totally a John Rhys Meyers vehicle. I think he’s a solid actor and I’m happy to see him in something for mass American audiences. His run on The Tudors and a brief role in Mission Impossible 3 had him poised to be a big star at one point. (We’re not gonna talk about From Paris With Love) As Dracula, Rhys Meyers is good. He has the charm, the air of mystery and brings the appropriate…um…bite when the character needs it. Sadly, everyone else in the cast stands out as well as wooden furniture in a log cabin. The closest you get to a pulse is Nonso Anozie as Renfield and Victoria Smurfit as Lady Jayne Wetherby. They appear to be having fun with their parts and relish every bit of the setting. No one else manages to grab your attention. Even Thomas Kretschmann’s Van Helsing feels ORDINARY and boring. To be completely fair, Francis Ford Coppola did have in Bram Stoker’s Dracula a British speaking Keanu Reeves and a supposedly sultry Winona Ryder. So, glass houses and all that. But the gulf between fun acting to forgettable acting wasn’t as large as it is on this show.
As a whole, Dracula does try and put some of the teeth back into the vampire genre. However, it doesn’t really grab you as much as it should. A television show focusing on the origins of the most famous monster ever should feel like more of an epic experience. This show only winds up feeling kind of ORDINARY. With its expensive budget and its Friday night time slot of death, I fear Dracula is not long for this world. Bring your garlic…and your crosses…and your holy water…and your overly elaborate staking methods…watch it…then tell me I’m wrong.
When I first heard that they were making a live action adaption of Seth Grahame-Smith’s novel Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter, my ‘BAD IDEA’ alarm went off like a tugboat horn. When I found out that Timur Bekmambetov, the director of Wanted, was helming the project, my ‘GIVE IT A CHANCE’ indicator light began to flash. But after watching Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, I’m saddened to see my ‘SATISFACTION’ tank is on E. I drive a really strange car.
Whew! Where do I start? The acting? Honest Abe is played by Benjamin Walker. Walker plays him as bland and boring as you might imagine Abe Lincoln to be. But that is the problem. You’ve resigned to the fact that your hero will be boring, and yet, give him no one fun to play off of. Well, they do but he is very underutilized. And that character is Henry Sturgess played by Dominic Cooper. You may remember Cooper as a young Howard Stark in Captain America. Now there is a film with a patriotic hero who could have easily been boring but wasn’t, while still not betraying his character. Though, Benjamin Walker is no Chris Evans. I digress. Cooper has the only performance in this film that seems to feel right. He is having fun. Everyone else is either sleepwalking or overacting to the point of mugging at the camera. Even the love story between Abe and Mary Todd seems forced. Yes, they made one of the most historically famous romances seem forced.
Visually? I’ll be frank. The special effects in this film, whether it be because of budget restrictions or laziness, are surprisingly awful. I cannot emphasize that enough. The worst vampire effects I have ever seen, by far. And that includes Van Helsing. The CGI face transformations for the vamps in this make them appear more like cheap cartoons than creatures of the night. You remember in Who Framed Roger Rabbit when Christopher Lloyd…..24 YEAR OLD SPOILER ALERT….reveals he’s a cartoon and becomes an amalgamation of live action man and Chuck Jones animation? That is what these vampires look like when they go all savage. Any moment that they are supposed to be scary is sabotaged by these lackluster effects. They could have gone practical for much cheaper and garnered a better result.
What about the action? Well, the action scenes are poorly staged and executed Which baffles me seeing as this, AGAIN, is the director of Wanted. There is a fight scene in this film that takes place during a stampede of horses. And I have no hesitation saying that it is the most RIDICULOUS action sequence I have ever witnessed. It is a perfect storm of horrible CGI, horrible action staging, horrible acting, and a horrible payoff. This was when I knew I was in trouble, because this laughable scene happens only 40 minutes in.
Despite all these things, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter’s number one flaw is it’s tone. It is something that, if they had gotten right, would allow us to ignore the other mistakes. This is a story about Abraham Lincoln, perhaps our greatest president, being a vampire hunter. And they play this film entirely serious. The title, let alone the concept, screams ‘tongue and cheek’. Yet, this film tries to invoke an emotional response from you. And they do it haphazardly. Middle of the road doesn’t work for this material. If you want to go dark with this…go really dark. If not, you have to go campy. Instead, it tries to stick with the same tired, cliched, tropes you can probably see coming from a mile away. So, here is an equally tired, cliched, summation of this film that you can probably see coming from a mile away. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter has no fangs, no teeth, no bite…it just plain sucks. Watch it…bring your garlic…then tell me I’m wrong.
I know, I’m an anthology whore. It started when I first got the box set for “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.” Reading those stories had a profound affect on me and how I saw and understood horror in general. I still go back to those books every once in a while and re-live the good old days. What can I say, I love short horror stories, and it works perfectly for the horror genre. You really don’t see drama or action anthologies, it just fits with horror. From “Creepshow” to the under appreciated “John Carpenter’s Body Bags” it had been a while since a reputable horror anthology had come out, until “Trick r Treat” was finally released, on DVD in 2009.
I say finally because the film was a wrap in 2007 and it showed up at a few film festivals, however, Warner Bros. had no idea what to do with the movie for two years, kind of like MGM with “The Cabin in the Woods.” The travesty is that “Trick r Treat”never made it to the theaters, where I think it would have made a killing with audiences. But it did finally see the light of day in 2009 when it was released on DVD, and the cult following started from there. The movie has some credentials; it was directed by Michael Dougherty, who wrote the excellent “X2” and the sub-par “Superman Returns,” was produced by Bryan Singer, and we all know what he’s known for, and stars the likes of Brian Cox, pre-Sookie Anna Paquin, and the underrated Dylan Baker.
“Trick r Trick” is more so the “Pulp Fiction” of horror movies since the stories are interwoven as opposed to the separate stories with a wrap around formula, giving the film some teeth, and making it more thoughtful than your average horror fare. The basic idea of “Trick r Treat” revolves around Halloween tradition and mythology while introducing the audience to a brand new Halloween mascot “Sam.” He is the one constant in all the segments and, in my book, the most recognizable horror icon since Freddy Krueger (sorry “Saw” fans, Jigsaw doesn’t really rank up there for me).
The acting is solid, it has great atmosphere and, for my money, should become a Halloween movie tradition right up there with “Halloween” and “Creepshow.” “Trick r Treat” is tons of fun, without all the filler, and with the right distributor (I’m looking at you Lionsgate) could turn into a yearly (clever) Halloween franchise.
Fun Fact: “Trick r Treat” is based on a cartoon short created by Dougherty called “Season’s Greetings” from 1996.