Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Near Dark (1987): Near Perfect

I don't think horror movies get much cooler than Kathryn Bigelow's Near Dark (1987) a hybrid of traditional vampire films and westerns. This combination proved relatively revolutionary and broke the mold of what genre horror films could be. The vampires in Near Dark are never referred to as vampires. They can be returned to human form. They start a lot of fires. You could say the post-modern horror revolution began with Scream (1996) but I think it began 10 years earlier with a bunch of redneck vampires.

But before I get ahead of myself let's talk plot, oh true believers. Hunky Caleb (Adrian Pasdar) is "turned" by the mysterious Mae (Jenny Wright), we never quite find out what he's turned into, even Mae doesn't know. They hook-up with her pseudo-family comprised of Jesse (Lance Henrikson), Diamondback (Jeanette Goldman), Severen (Bill Paxton) and Homer (Joshua Miller). All sadistic psychos in their own way, they decide to give Caleb a chance to prove himself and live among them. But Caleb's father and younger sister are close behind them, causing problems for his vampire street cred.

I'm not a vampire kinda gal. I like things that, y'know, actually scare me. The Anne Rice stuff is too over the top for me, don't get me started on Twilight and I find Buffy to be indulgent. Fright Night I find goofy and The Lost Boys dull. Near Dark gives us lean, mean vampires with little to no romanticization to soften the blow of feeding. I think it is a bolder transition leave more questions than answers. I like the subplot of the father and sister looking for Caleb because it's not overly manipulative. If I went missing, my parents sure as hell would come looking for me. And that subplot holds its own and keeps moving forward without much indulgence.

These plot points neatly pulls Caleb and Mae between order and chaos. There is an incredible amount of pathos generated with very little. Bigelow knows that her audience is a genre one so there is no need to explain away plot points. The audience understands. We have been primed for these films in our culture. It is, however, a bold move that should not be ignored. It is a move that will repeat through the rest of Bigelow's career making her, in my mind, a singular director.

I say this film is near perfect because it is Bigelow's first "big-budget" feature. She is still playing with styles and the visual style in Near Dark does go in a couple different directions. The plot of the film suffers mostly from its leading man. Adrian Pasdar aka a poor man's River Phoenix. Hell, I think Keanu Reeves would have been more interesting. But I count my lucky stars that Near Dark provides my favourite performances by Henrikson and Paxton. While I love Goldstein, there will never be another Vasquez.

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