For horror aficionados, vampire movies have a long history of being hit or miss. For every Dracula or Thirst, there are a dozen cheap knockoffs. And let’s not even get started on that Twilight nonsense. Back in 1987 a vampire movie appeared on the screen and instantly became a classic with movie fans, grossing $32 million dollars and spawning two sequels. That movie is The Lost Boys. The biggest shame about that film, while it’s certainly entertaining and retains a special place in my heart, is that it overshadowed a much better movie, released months later and directed by Kathryn Bigelow, who would later go on to direct the Oscar winning The Hurt Locker. If you count yourself a horror fan you owe it to yourself to track down and watch Near Dark, Bigelow’s third film and one that we had the pleasure of seeing in glorious 35mm at Terror Tuesday.
Caleb Colton (Adrian Pasdar, Heroes), a cowboy from a small town in Oklahoma is hanging out one late evening with friends at a convenience store when his eye is caught by an attractive, short haired blonde licking an ice cream cone. Putting on his best moves, Caleb convinces Mae (Jenny Wright) to come take a ride with him in his pickup truck. Pasdar, sufficient in his role as the grabby Colton, during his ride with Mae can’t seem to keep his paws off her and then takes a rapey turn when he stops the truck on the road and insists Mae make out with him before he gets her home before dawn. It is no wonder the girl bites him on the neck before running off. On his way home, Colton himself starts to burn in the rising sunlight and stumbles his way across his family’s cotton field when he’s picked up by a small group of vamps in an RV, much to the dismay of his young sister and veterinarian father, who witness this kidnapping and begin their own manhunt alongside the police to find Colton.
Combined with a highly effective soundtrack from Tangerine Dream, Near Dark’s high point is its vampire characters featuring the re-pairing of Lance Henriksen, Jeannette Goldman, and Bill Paxton who had previously worked together in Aliens the year before. By and large the highlight of Near Dark is Paxton’s portrayal of Severen, a vampire so in love with being immortal and with so little regard for human life that his over the top actions are endlessly entertaining. The bar scene, wherein Colton has his final chance to redeem himself in the eyes of the vampires by finally killing a human, is a standout with Paxton telling the trucker who’s drink he knocks over to lick it up before it escalates into some hilarious and gory violence. It is one of Paxton’s best performances in a long history of great ones. Henriksen is much more subdued, paired with Goldman, as two imposing forces that one knows by looking at them are not to be messed with.
Truly giving the audience a feel for the back roads of Texas and Oklahoma, the sprawling shots of empty cotton fields and abandoned buildings where the vampire family holes up, Near Dark is no slouch in the visual department. The country is nearly an entire character unto itself. It must not have been a fun place to shoot, however, as Zack Carlson, the host of our evening told us a story about how Paxton and Henriksen were tooling around in one of the cars, in full makeup, looking half-burned up from the sun, dirty and scary as can be when they were pulled over by the police for causing a disturbance. After one look at them the cop just let them go. We’ll probably never know if it was because of how they looked or if they were recognized from Aliens, but either way it makes for an awesome story.
While Near Dark features vampires, at its heart it’s a story of two people brought together under outrageous circumstances and who fall for each other despite their differences. Unfortunately this part of the story is never really fully developed and if I had any complaints about the movie it’d be this lack of fleshing out of the relationships. Caleb and Mae’s whirlwind love story seems to happen within days and one can only imagine that in a sequel they’d be broken up a week later. Also, far too much time is spent with Caleb stumbling around in fields and train yards hurting from lack of blood due to his refusal to kill. We get it, it’s not easy being a vampire when you’re not downing the salty red stuff. There is also a ridiculous vampire cure, topping even the one in the Blade trilogy, which shows up in the last twenty minutes that will leave you scratching your head. Still, these are minor squabbles and despite not being a perfect film, Near Dark does deserve much of its critical praise and is a classic in its own right. With so many terrible vampire films out there it’s good to know there are some winners.
Given the cult status of Near Dark, the turnout at Terror Tuesday was large, playing to an appreciative and packed house. The bar scene played to some laughs and cheers and on the credit roll there was a round of applause from the audience. It’s unfortunate our regular master of ceremonies, Zack, wasn’t there live, but his taped into, interrupted by his dog taking a crap, was filled with his usual hilarity and we got the inside knowledge that he and Lars were on the way back from picking up a stock of 35mm Asian exploitation and horror films. The crowd was completely jazzed for that and we all cannot wait to see what will come from that trip.