Darke Reviews | Near Dark (1987)

No, this is not the film hinted at yesterday. That film requires and deserves more effort and attention than I can provide tonight. Instead I review a slightly lighter fare that resides within the same vein. As I go into this review I need to make it clear that not once in this film is the word Vampire used. Also much like a movie I reviewed the other day it falls into the Vampire Western genre; of which there are more films than you would think.

The year is 1987, it has been one year since James Cameron released Aliens with surprising success as he turned the gothic / sci-fi / horror of Alien into a shoot-em up actioner with only the barest moments of horror. He recommends some of the stars of his cast to friend and eventual wife (and even more eventual ex-wife) Kathryn Bigelow for her new Western/Horror movie. She’s a rookie director with only one film under her belt and a far cry from the woman who would give us Point Break, Strange Days, The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty. Yes that Kathryn Bigelow, the only female director to win a Best Director Academy award.

Not only did she direct the film, she wrote this one with Eric Red another novice but who had written The Hitcher, a rather creepy cautionary tale. They had a solid idea on the story they wanted to tell – Sex, Blood and Cowboys. They picked great locations and used music that had the right western beats and the edgier tone of 80s synth music. I should mention on the “Great locations” much of it was filmed not too far from me in Coolidge and Casa Grande – and it shows for those who have driven through there. You’ll recognize some of the landmarks.

The story is that of Caleb (Adrian Pasdar) a young farm hand who encounters the mysterious Mae (Jenny Wright). His attempts to woo the western beauty land him square with fangs in his neck and sunlight rising. Mae’s family Jesse (Lance Henrikson), Diamondback (Jenette Goldstein), Severen (Bill Paxton), and Homer (Joshua Miller) kidnap Caleb before the helpless eyes of his father and sister. The movie centers around Caleb trying to fight what he is, his romance with Mae and despite it all Mae’s family trying to adopt the unfortunate Caleb as one of their own.

The movie is deeply atmospheric using natural shadows and elements of the desert night to enhance the mood. There is a barren lonely quality that one can really only experience in the middle of nowhere that comes cross in how the movie is shot. Bigelow, even this early knew how to shoot and bring you in. Even though, ostensibly, the vampires are the antagonists, the “hunt” draws you in with its ingenuity and you find yourself cheering for them. When the climax comes you are torn between the needs of the stories final resolution and wanting the Vampires to win. It’s light on the gore and the FX are simple but effective through out.

While it was not successful in the box office due the bankruptcy of the studio that produced it the movie remains a cult hit amongst vampire aficionados. The original box art stood out for years as original and memorable to those who came across it. Sadly the current rights holders decided to “Twilightize” the cover art and so much of what made it interesting was lost.

For vampire and horror fans this is a must see film. It is an iconic movie in the vampire genre not to be missed for all of its elements which at the time were relatively new and original. It is a bit dated, so watch the eye rolls.

Tomorrows review knows that it’s tradition.

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