Near Dark (1987) / Horror-Thriller
MPAA Rated: R for disturbing images, violence, some gore, sensuality, and language
Running Time: 95 min.
Cast: Adrian Pasdar, Jenny Wright, Lance Henriksen, Bill Paxton, Jenette Goldstein, Tim Thomerson, Joshua John Miller, Marcie Leeds, James LeGros, Theresa Randle (cameo)
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Screenplay: Kathryn Bigelow, Eric Red
Review published June 20, 2005
1987 would see two vampire movies released, Near Dark and The Lost Boys, and while the latter would earn the money and the fame, it is the former that won the respect of the critics and film buffs in the end. Released by a dying distribution company in DEG, Near Dark just didn't have the benefit of good marketing or release strategy when it was available to the public, causing it to be removed from theaters shortly after it opened. Thanks to home video, it gained a cult following among many, and today, it is considered a modern cult classic. It's an altogether different kind of vampire film (indeed, there is no mention of "vampires" within the film itself), fusing western styles with modern action pieces, forming a hybrid form of horror/thriller/action/romance/western that had never been seen before.
Adrian Pasdar (Cookie, The Pompatus of Love) stars as Caleb Colton, a young small-town guy in Oklahoma who has his eye set on a visiting mysterious beauty named Mae (Wright, The Lawnmower Man). Caleb and Mae spend the night talking and flirting, but Mae has to make it home before sun comes up, for reasons that aren't too clear for Caleb. Before the end of the evening, Mae bites Caleb on the neck, although she doesn't really drink his blood, setting forth a reaction in his body that makes him fry up in direct sunlight and crave human blood himself. Before Caleb can get home, he is "adopted" by his new family, a clan of immortals with the same condition he is in, although they aren't taking too kindly to Mae's decision to "turn" Caleb into one of them. Caleb doesn't want to kill other humans like the others, but to be part of them, he finds he must, because he can't survive on his own. Tensions flare in the group, as well as within Caleb himself, as to what the proper thing to do is.
Near Dark is no masterpiece by any means, but it is ingenious within its genre, and definitely offers a new spin on a genre that had long been cycled repetitively to the point of farce. What immediately sets Near Dark apart from other vampire films is that of solid character development. We see and recognize the need for the vampires to practice self-preservation, and yet, we also know that they are bad, not because they kill, but because they relish it, inventing new ways to entertain themselves with every slaughter. Meanwhile, the people that they kill aren't just nameless fodder. Each scene is set up to show that there is great fear and tragedy involved in the killings, making such scenes as a bar scene where each patron and employee is slaughtered in turn frightening, because we see the realistic terror in every victim's eyes.
Near Dark marked the second film for writer-director Kathryn Bigelow (K-19, Blue Steel), a friend (and future wife) of director James Cameron. The Cameron influence can be seen not only in the action pieces, but also in the cast, as three of the vampires (Henriksen, Paxton and Goldstein) are actors featured in Cameron's film from the year before, Aliens, as well as all being in a Terminator film. Trivia: an homage is paid to Aliens by being the movie that is features on the billboard of a movie theater in town. Bigelow would also direct a James Cameron script in 1995 with Strange Days.
Although vampire flick lovers will most likely enjoy Near Dark, I can attest that this is also a film for viewers that usually aren't into these kinds of films. The themes underneath are universal, about a boy who must choose between family and love, and a girl who must do the same in turn, both opting for different conclusions, and yet, both doing what's right in their own way. Horror junkies are probably already familiar, but for those who typically ignore that section at your local video store, Near Dark proves worth going out of your way for.
©2005 Vince Leo