Director Kathryn Bigelow is one of my heroes and maybe the most unconventional woman filmmaker working today. While most other female auteurs seem to focus on women and their relationships, Bigelow's resume is teeming with testosterone. Besides today's film, she also gave us the buddy surf/crime flick Point Break and the cyber-punk sci-fi thriller Strange Days. And her latest film, The Hurt Locker - a non-judgmental film set around the Iraq war - is on most people's Oscar short-list for Best Picture (and probably Best Director as well). But five years before Clint Eastwood wrote the book on western revisionism, Bigelow started chipping away at the John Wayne version of the West herself, while at the same time puncturing the traditions of another genre - the vampire film, which up to that point was still rooted in the school of Bela Lugosi.
Near Dark's "family" of vamps owes a bit to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, I should think - the family that slays together stays together and all that. Like The Addiction, this movie also plays on the idea of vampirism a drug (or, perhaps more fittingly, alcohol) abuse - there's a real co-dependency and sense of enabling going on with these characters that's eerily like a group of strung-out drifters. Like Miriam and her lovers in The Hunger, these vamps don't have the characteristic fangs. As in most vampire stories, being bitten by a vampire but left alive is all it takes to turn a human into a vampire. But not all of the superstitions are true. We see no stakes here. From all available evidence, sunlight is the main thing they have to fear (along with, apparently, fire).
Our hero Caleb is out one evening and sees a girl he'd like to get to know better. But she's not like other girls. He persuades her to let him kiss her, and she kisses back. Hard. On his neck. She doesn't bleed him, which means her bite has made him a vampire, and he instantly feels the hunger for blood (not to mention pretty extreme sensitivity to sunlight - as in, OMG I'm on fire!). The girl, Mae, convinces the other vampires she lives with to take him in and let him try to adjust. They agree, but if he doesn't take to it in a week, they're going to kill him. Well, Caleb just doesn't dig being a vampire. He can't bring himself to kill, so Mae kills for him and lets him drink from her. Caleb's father, meanwhile, has been looking for him, and there's a familiar element that we saw in The Lost Boys of Caleb having fallen in with the wrong crowd and the pain that causes his real family.
There's some cheese in this movie, but in general it's a really well-made movie whose music is really the only thing that puts the 1980s stamp on it. There's some pretty wicked awesome violence - such as the famous bar scene. Lance Henrikson and Bill Paxton are standouts in the cast, along with Joshua John Miller, who plays the little boy vampire, and Tim Thomerson as the Caleb's father. And you Heroes fans would no doubt recognize a quite young and twang-talking Adrian Pasdar in the lead role of Caleb.
There was talk of a remake of this a few years back, from the guys who have sodomized nearly every cherished horror flick of my generation, Platinum Dunes. Bizarrely, it was decided that it was too similar to The Series Which Will Not Be Named, which makes me think the PD folks are not familiar with either story - because they're like the exact opposite in terms of themes and story. Far from a protagonist who wants to be a vampire, Caleb is made one from the beginning and doesn't take to the life at all, instead figuring out a way to cure himself and the girl vampire he loves so that they can both be human together.
This one is a cult classic, and for good reason. It works on pretty much every level. Here's a taste - the aforementioned bar scene. Bill Paxton rocks pretty hard here.