“Normal Folks, They Don’t Spit Out Bullets When You Shoot Them, No Sir.”

The sad thing is, there are only a handful of vampire movies that I really enjoy. I had high hopes for Near Dark, though, because let’s face it: how do you beat Bill Paxton as a vampire?

Well, Paxton was fairly fun, anyway. But unfortunately, I didn’t like this movie nearly as much as I was hoping to. Blasphemy!

SUMMARY:

Caleb (Adrian Pasdar) likes Mae (Jenny Wright), and Mae likes Caleb. Sadly, Mae is a vampire, but this doesn’t stop her from turning Caleb and trying to make him a part of her redneck vampire outlaw family.

NOTES:

1. There were two main reasons I wanted to see this: cast (specifically Adrian Pasdar and Bill Paxton) and director (Kathryn Bigelow). Let’s talk Pas and Pax first.

Adrian Pasdar

I first saw Adrian Pasdar in Heroes, but despite how much they mangled that show (and his character), I liked the actor a lot. (Particularly in Season 2, when he grew the angst beard. Mostly, Season 2 was when Heroes went downhill, but the man can pull angst beard; I can’t lie.)

It’s funny to see Pasdar here, much younger and with much, much blonder hair. I don’t dislike him as Caleb, exactly, but I can’t say I much care about him either. Caleb has some character in the beginning — it’s not exactly what I’d call winning character, but it at least smacks of personality — but as things get worse for him, Caleb seems to become blander and blander. I’m not convinced it’s an acting problem as much as a writing one, though. Writing is one of my main problems with this movie. There are some cool ideas, none of which I think are taken to their full potential.

Bill Paxton

I have nothing to say about Bill Paxton except that he chews the scenery like mad, and it is clearly delicious.

2. As for the rest of the cast, well . . . again, no one’s particularly bad; it’s just that no one’s particularly great, either. Jenny Wright is serviceable as The Girl. Lance Henriksen and Jenette Goldstein are enjoyable, but neither of them are given nearly enough to work with. I did like Tim Thomerson as Caleb’s father — there’s just something about his Rugged Cowboy Vet Dad that I found appealing — but again, I don’t know that anyone’s acting chops are really being stretched, and nobody’s character (save possibly Severen {Paxton}) really stood out for me in any way.

am amused, however, that this is basically an Aliens reunion with three of the cast members (Henriksen, Paxton, Goldstein) playing vampires. Maybe it was James Cameron’s very early wedding present to Kathryn Bigelow?

3. Speaking of Kathryn Bigelow, by the way . . . not only was Near Dark her first solo feature film, it’s also the first film of hers that I’ve ever seen. (I haven’t gotten around to The Hurt Locker yet, despite my adoration for Jeremy Renner. I also haven’t seen Point Break, and I have no adequate excuse for that.)

I really wanted to see Near Dark because while there’s a shortage of female directors in general, there’s particularly a shortage of female horror directors. (Mary Lambert did Pet Semetary and Mary Harron did American Pyscho, if you count American Psycho as a horror movie. That’s . . . well, that’s about it, really.) So, I wanted to like this one more than I did, but . . . but I just couldn’t.

4. Look, stylistically, I think Near Dark has a lot of things going for it. It’s sort of a neat genre mashup of western and horror, which is an awfully good combination. I would like to see more horror westerns. (Successful ones, anyway. Skinwalkers had some western elements but never fully utilized them. Dead Birds was one of the most boring films I’ve ever seen in my life, and while I never actually got around to watching it, most people seemed to agree that Jonah Hex was fairly terrible.) Anyway, Near Dark has got a certain amount of atmosphere that I really like. It’s going for this dark, sexy, hillbilly vibe that I think it pretty much hits . . .

5 . . . but I can’t get around the fact that the story hinges on a romance that I never really buy.

There’s something about the way you rant like a crazy person that just really turns me on.

We have discussed this before on this blog, and we will undoubtedly discuss it again (and again and again until the day I die): it is extremely hard to sell “I met you four minutes ago, and now I’m desperately in love with you” love stories. The writing has to be incredibly sharp. The chemistry has to damn well sizzle. You have to be rooting for the characters involved to stay together against whatever odds are challenging them. (In this case, the odds are bloodsucking monsters, which is clearly the very best kind of challenge. Think of how much more awesome Romeo and Juliet could have been! Ooh, project.)

Here . . . the chemistry is okay, the characters are bland, and the writing mostly just convinces me that these people are idiots. (More on this in the Spoiler Section.) And you’re saying, yeah but Carlie, Caleb and Mae are young, and all young people are idiots!

But I kind of think that’s a cop-out — sure, young people are often prone to making more reckless decisions, but they’re not all witless morons, and I think there’s a way to show how deeply adolescents feel things without making them utterly ridiculous. It’s certainly not the worst I-loved-you-almost-as-soon-as-I-saw-you on-screen romances (off-hand, I’m leaning towards Bruce Wayne and Vicki Vale in Tim Burton’s Batman, although I’m sure there are countless other examples), but it’s definitely not good, and the whole plot kind of centers around a love story I just don’t care about.

Besides, I really don’t think I’m asking for too much to want main characters who are likable or well-drawn, preferably both. Here, I don’t know that you get either.

6. And while I can’t really talk about this without going into spoilers . . . there’s one aspect of the story that made me go, Seriously? SERIOUSLY? That’s just bullshit. That may, in fact, be the most convenient bullshit I’ve ever heard.

7. On the upside, this movie was made in the 1980’s, so we get to talk about hair! Here’s what I can tell you about hair:

A. Blond is not a good look on everyone. Case in point: Adrian Pasdar.

B. A rat tail is not a good look on anyone. Case in point: Lance Henriksen and anyone else who has ever worn this hairstyle ever.

C. Poodle hair should also not be attractive on anyone, but if you’re badass enough, you can actually make it work for you. Case in point: Jenette Goldstein.

8. I should say that I did enjoy the bar scene a lot. It’s dark and horrific but also funny, and it fits the tone of the movie perfectly. They have some very good violence in this film that I approve of. Actually, there are a lot of things I approve of, at least in theory. I like child vampire Homer’s basic storyline, and I like the basic shape of the plot. I like that this isn’t a fate of the world! movie, and I really like the atmosphere and tone.

Still, even the things I like could be improved on, and there are a number of flaws in the film, mostly in the script, that I don’t think can be ignored. It’s an interesting vampire film, sure, but the best one? Maybe in 1987, but not now.

9. Oh, also? There are definite editing flaws. We have some serious night to day transition problems and some shots where the filmmakers aren’t being nearly careful enough with the whole sunlight hitting their vampires thing. I think the effect of sunlight on vampire skin could be a lot more consistent when it comes to length of exposure versus how much you are currently deep-frying.

10. Finally, this is one of those monster movies that never mentions the monster of choice. Vampire is never once said in Near Dark. I’m not sure why. You’d think it might occur to Caleb at some point or another. “Wait, I’ve seen this story before . . .”

I also don’t ever remember seeing fangs. And this, actually, I do kind of like, maybe because vampire fangs often look so terrible, or maybe because the idea of the vamps tearing out people’s throats with their normal teeth just seems more brutal and fitting with the tone of the film.

If you want more details with your blasphemy, continue onward . . .

SPOILERS

SPOILERS

SPOILERS

SPOILERS

SPOILERS

So, here is my reenactment of Caleb and Mae’s love story. (The first ten minutes, anyway.)

Caleb: Ooh, look at that hot blonde chick. I’m going to go hit on her . . . say, howdy, Hot Girl.

Mae: Hey. You’re cute. Want to give me a ride home?

Caleb: Boy, do I. I’m getting laid tonight!

Mae: Wait, pull over so I can talk like a crazy person about how beautiful the night is and how I’m immortal.

Caleb: Wow, you’re kind of weird, but still so hot. I’m not at all concerned that you apparently think you’re going to live forever. Let me show you my pony!

Mae: Your pony doesn’t like me, and I’m still talking like a crazy person. Wait, what time is it? I HAVE TO GO HOME RIGHT NOW!

Caleb: Jeez, you’re freaking out. Here, I’ll refuse to take you home until you kiss me because that kind of behavior is charming and not at all douchey.

Mae: All right, I’ll kiss you, but I’m going to bite the hell out of your neck.

And . . . yeah. That’s how those crazy kids get together. Caleb runs off back home, slowly burning under the sun. His dad and kid sister see him weaving across the fields. They also see a beat up van swing by and abduct him. Mae and her hillbilly vampire family are in the van, of course. They family wants to kill him — particularly Severen — but Jesse Hooker (Henriksen), the leader of this merry band, reluctantly lets Caleb ride along, provided he can learn how to kill people. Problem is, Caleb is really anti-killing people. He screws up twice, the second time letting a guy get away who can identify them.

The vampire clan is all like, dude, you’re dead, and the only reason they don’t kill him immediately is that they need to get inside before the sun hits. While they’re sleeping, the cops find them. Caleb, miraculously, manages to get them out alive. Of course, he’s still the reason they were in danger in the first place, so I would still kill his ass dead, but Jesse Hooker — and that is, indeed, the most perfect Western name I’ve ever heard — decides to give him a brief reprieve.

High on adrenaline and his love for Mae, Caleb now feels like he’s really a part of the vampire family. Unfortunately, Caleb’s real family has been out looking for him, and wouldn’t you know it? They’re staying at the same motel as the vamps! Homer meets little sister Sarah at the vending machine and is immediately obsessed with turning her into a vampire too. Caleb tries to get his dad to leave but, when push comes to shove, ultimately picks his birth family over the vampires. They go home, and Veterinarian Daddy Loy cures Caleb of his vampirism with a transfusion of human blood.

Okay, let’s just stop here. Look, the idea that you turn into a vampire after you drink their blood has always been a little silly — you don’t turn into a cat if you drink a cat’s blood, do you; do not try just to prove me wrong — but it’s well-established silliness that I have come to basically accept as vampire canon. You know, magic, it’s fine. But in Near Dark, it’s simply the initial bite that causes the infection . . . and we’re just going to cure it with a transfusion of Daddy’s human blood? Come on, that’s lame. That’s really intensely lame. I am not the girl to bring up science concerns because science is boring and I don’t care, but even I can’t help but wonder if Daddy and Caleb and (later) Mae all conveniently have the same blood type, or there are suddenly no real blood types but Vampire and Human.

I mean, come on. If you’re going to cure vampires like this . . . and generally, I’m of the school of thought that curing any monsters in a story is a bad idea . . . you at least need to write it better than this. For God’s sake, we should at least address the issue, shouldn’t we? Hang a lampshade or something? And Caleb probably shouldn’t just think, “Hey, what if my dad gave me a transfusion?” out of nowhere and be cured three minutes later, right?

Well, anyway. So Daddy and Caleb and Sarah are all happy again, seemingly content that they are free of the vampires because they are morons with no sense of plot structure at all. Of course, the vampires do come back and abduct Sarah. Caleb chases after them. He (sadly) kills Severen by basically exploding a truck on him. (And fulfilling the foreshadow that I was waiting most of the movie for. *Does the foreshadow dance*)

Mae switches over to the Forces of Good and runs away from her family with Sarah. Homer burns up chasing after Sarah. Jesse Hooker and Diamondback (Jenette Goldstein) have a Mexican standoff with Caleb, which ends a touch anticlimactically when they burn up and drive off the side of the road. Mae gets her own transfusion of Human Blood and becomes a Human herself. She and Caleb look at the sun, and all is right again in the Land of Oz (er, Texas).

A few more things before I conclude:

A. I mostly like Homer, but I still think he could have been done better.

Homer is an angry little child vampire, an immortal trapped in a kid’s body. Now, this has be done before — a lot — but I still like the idea of him. I like that he’s so desperate to have someone like him that he pretty much destroys himself trying to get it. Still, the character arc could be written a little better — his obsession with Sarah seems a little sudden — and the acting could probably be a bit better too. The kid’s not horrible or anything, but that part where he’s like, “Mispronounce my name and I wouldn’t want to be you?” Not actually all that threatening. Kind of funny, really.

Besides, how many ways are there to pronounce Homer, anyway?

B. Caleb tries to get home once after he’s been bitten, but that’s mostly because he doesn’t really want to kill people, not because he’s panicked for his life. Even after the family has pretty much said, “Yeah, we’re going to kill you,” Caleb never seems terribly concerned. Nor does Caleb ever seem particularly angry at Mae for turning him into a vampire. I know they’re supposed to be in luv, or something, but one, being undead changes things, and two, there is no relationship between these two characters. He harasses her into a kiss, she bites the fuck out of his neck, and suddenly they’re a power couple? Please.

C. Again, it’s not just Caleb and Mae that don’t have much in the way of character. Nobody has personality. Severen, maybe, but that’s more due to Bill Paxton being manic and awesome than anything else. Of course, not every story needs well-defined characters, but they never hurt, and I just feel like the vampires here are more defined by their hair than they are by actual personalities. In a better story, I might not care so much, but here I think the loss is felt.

CONCLUSIONS:

Gritty, sexy atmosphere . . . but not a lot else. This is far from the worst vampire movie I’ve ever seen, but if it even makes it in my top five . . . and I’m not sure that it does . . . well, that’s mostly by default.

MVP:

Bill Paxton

TENTATIVE GRADE:

B-

MORAL:

If a pretty girl bites you, turns you into a monster, kidnaps you, and tries to force you to murder people so that you and she can spend all eternity in a shitty RV with her awful family, maybe she isn’t worth dating, after all. Oh, wait, that’s what the moral of this story would be if had written Near Dark.

Um. How about this instead: if you’re a traveling vampire, permanently black out the car windows so you don’t have to frantically put up newspaper every time you have to leave in a hurry. Nitwits.

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