REVIEW: Near Dark [1987]

“Normal folks, they don’t spit out bullets when you shoot ’em”

Before cult classic Point Break and sci-fi winner Strange Days, Kathryn Bigelow had an 80’s vampire gem called Near Dark. Having heard a lot of good word of mouth on this one, and my love for Days, I needed to check it out. Vampire films have a tendency to become redundant, always following rules and never being creative. Seeing 30 Days of Night add a little something to the genre, it was interesting to see what Bigelow and co-writer Eric Red brought to it two decades earlier. For one, the word vampire is not used even once to my knowledge. Our lead character has turned and is experiencing all the symptoms, yet when asked what is happening, all he can say is you won’t believe me. It is just too easy to say, “I think I’ve been bit by a vampire,” and that’s why I love the innocent naïveté here. He is just scared of what he’s been seeing; there are no words to explain it. I also must say that I enjoyed the way in which the story was told. Rather than be about the clan killing, it is instead about a new convert and his understanding of the situation. This is the victim’s film, not the monsters.

I don’t quite know the complete story on Bigelow, but it appears she has many friends in the sci-fi genre. For one, James Cameron wrote Days for her, and we have a connection with actress Jenette Goldstein, who appeared in Terminator 2. Oh, and she was married to him for a couple years. The thing I don’t know is her relationship with Ridley Scott. Between Bill Paxton and Lance Henriksen being in the cast and a movie theatre marquee in the background having Aliens on it, I have to believe there is a connection. One thing is for certain, however, she should keep using them. Point Break, is nothing but a guilty pleasure, K-19: The Widowmaker is solid, but unspectacular, and I’ve only heard bad things about The Weight of Water. Hopefully Bigelow will get a project that has a bit of ingenuity in it again. Heck with Cameron back behind the camera on Avatar and Eric Red back in the biz with 100 Feet, a new collaboration would be welcome.

Back to the film at hand, despite it dripping 80’s-cheese, complete with a soundtrack from Tangerine Dream, it is quite well made. Visually, the effects are kind of outstanding. While it never goes too crazy, these aren’t the vampires of stories we might think of, the gore factor is nicely orchestrated. The burning from daylight is realistic, the smoke emanating off of the characters is great; when Paxton is hit by a truck, his face is bloodied and pulpy, but never cartoonish; and when a character at the end is running in the sun, the effect of adding flames on him is pretty astonishing for 1987.

Then there is the acting. No one does crazed mania better than Bill Paxton. Channeling his great over-the-top role in Aliens, his Severen is the best part of the movie. Between the one-liners and the facial expressions, the guy creates a persona like no other. He carries the best scene of the film, a bar fight, with ease. Well, he does get some help from his ragtag bunch of friends. Henriksen is just plain scary as usual and Goldstein is a good companion for him. When they ask the waitress for just a glass, although you know where that will go, it is a vicious sequence nonetheless. Little Joshua John Miller also brings something to the group. I like the concept that he is an old man in a small body, being immortal that is, and his attitude and smoking/drinking is pretty jarring and impressive considering I’m sure his parents needed to sign off on the part.

True, although the supporting cast is what becomes ultimately memorable from the film, the two leads do a nice job as well. Jenny Wright has the look and delivery needed for her role of the girl in love trying to keep a bit of humanity in her life of darkness. Then there is Adrian Pasdar as Caleb, the young man thrust into a life of nightwalking. I had never seen or heard of him until tv’s “Heroes,” but he does well in an early role here. With his morality coming in direct conflict with his survival, not only as a vampire, but as a member of Henriksen’s gang, his lack of being able to commit murder adds a layer to his role that lets the audience truly relate to him. His struggle is the most interesting plotline of the story and he holds it up well.

As a final note to the ingenuity of making a vampire film without ever falling into the traps of one, comes the blood transfusion thread. Besides the immortality, need for blood, and aversion to sunlight, there really isn’t much more to the myths you hear. The most intriguing of the changes is with the ability to cure oneself of the “illness.” I cannot think of another instance where one could be cured of the affliction. When Pasdar’s Caleb asks his father whether he had ever transfused a man, I was blown away. The concept seemed so simple and surprisingly foreign to me. The ability to pull it off could never have happened if these monsters were verbally coined vampires, though. Like Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later, not being constrained in the conventions of the genre leads to innovations that may never have been possible otherwise. As far as the three characters involved in the transfusing having the perfect blood type match, that’s a completely different question.

Near Dark 8/10 | ★ ★ ★


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