Thursday 27 March 2008

Near Dark (1987)

I don't know how anyone could not like a movie in which Lance Henriksen is a confederate vampire. This particular one also has Tim Thomerson and Bill Paxton, and just to add to the good reasons to see it there's a score by Tangerine Dream. The real lead is Adrian Pasdar, playing a young buck from the backwoods of Oklahoma called Caleb Colton, who is unfortunate enough to be attracted to a free spirited vampire called Mae. She's pretty and everyday and different all at once and she's played very nicely indeed by Jenny Wright, who was shaking off the Brat Pack connections with a role this dark.

I'm sure it'll be no surprise to find out that she turns him into something like her. The real catch is that it's nearly dawn and his truck won't move so he gets to walk across the fields while the sun rises and starts to slowly burn him to death. He gets home, after all he's only just been turned, but just as he does, slowly melting, he's grabbed by Mae's memorable pack of vampires in their camper van right in front of his dad and little sister. He gets to start adjusting to his life of night while his dad searches for him.

Memorable is a perfect word for Jesse Hooker's vampires. This is 1987 and vampires were being reinvented in every medium there is. It's far enough back to have been released the same year as The Lost Boys but this plays a lot more seriously. There aren't any Frog brothers here, but there's crazy Bill Paxton as Severen, very 80s looking Jenette Goldstein as Diamondback, Joshua John Miller (half-brother of Jason Patric from The Lost Boys) as a child vampire: big on the inside but small on the outside. And then there's Jesse Hooker himself, played by a wild looking Henriksen who fought for the south.

What makes them special is that they're a solid extrapolation of what vampires would be like. They don't turn into bats, they can't fly, they don't wear capes, they don't sleep in coffins, they don't rise from the dead and keeping out of the sun is a serious problem. They're also far from heroes but that doesn't mean they're the distillation of pure evil. They're people who are different. This approach is one of the key reasons that the film is so successful at what it does: as unearthly as these characters are, they're real right down to the dirt, the lack of makeup on any of them and the matter of fact reactions they have to things that would certainly not be matter of fact to us. The story is courtesy of Eric Red, who also wrote The Hitcher, and director Kathryn Bigelow, who also made Blue Steel and Strange Days. It gets better every time I see it.

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