Near Dark (1987): Cowboys and Vampires

Cover of "Near Dark (1987)"
Cover of Near Dark (1987)

I re-watched this 1980’s film today and marvelled at how beautiful it looked. Which is just as well as the pace of the film is almost snail-like.

Directed by Kathryn Bigelow (who also co-wrote the film with Eric Red) the future Mrs James Cameron (now ex-Mrs Cameron) does a pretty good job at setting the scene for this slow moving and slow paced ‘genre-bender’ and it is easy to see why it has built up such a huge cult following.

At the time of it’s release, it was following a current 80’s trend of vampire movies that were sweeping the box office. Fright Night (vampire comedy), The Lost Boys (teen vampire action) and The Hunger (vampire noir) had all done very well with the general public. A lot of other vampire films were released in the 80’s but only the vampire western Near Dark falls into the same calibre of the previous three films mentioned.

Unfortunately when the film initially opened it’s box office receipts were poor and the film did not even earn it’s budget back. The film has gone on to become a cult favourite (I know that I’ve loved the film for years) and was going to be remade until Twilight opened in theatres and now is on indefinite hold. Although why the emergence of Twilight could have any sort of impact on this film is completely beyond me.

Starring relative newcomers Adrian Pasdar, and Jenny Wright the rest of the cast was made up of Hollywood workhorses of a wide variety and talent. Lance Henriksen, Bill PaxtonJenette Goldstein and Tim Thomerson as Adrian Pasdar’s character’s Dad. Worthy of note was the decision to cast the young Joshua John Miller as the pudgy, creepy pre-pubescent vampire Homer. Miller’s portrayal of the chain smoking childish vampire who evoked a feeling of being a paedophilia  ‘wanna-be’ was clearly the most disturbing of the vampire clan in the film.

I felt at the time, and still do, that the vampires in the film headed by Henriksen and Goldstein were the vampire equivalent of the small time gangsters Bonnie and Clyde Barrows who terrorized small backwoods towns, banks and gas stations of the rural mid-west. You got the feeling that this group of killers had slid just under the radar through most of the places they moved through in their quest for blood and games.

The only problem with the film were the two romantic leads. Pasdar and Wright are just too bland as the country kids who fall in love, one a vampire, the other a cowboy. Personality did not seem to exist in either of them. Of course to be fair, when you have actors of the ilk of Henriksen, Paxton, Goldstein and Thomerson to share the screen with, unless you are very special, you’re going to  be blown off the screen. Which is precisely what happened in this film.

Ya wanna be in my gang?

The plot is pretty straight forward, Caleb Colton (Pasdar) goes into town and meets Mae (Wright). Instantly smitten he spends the night with her and she bites him. In this world a vampires bite is instantly viral and starts turning the recipient into one of the undead. As Caleb flees the rising sun (which does not make you twinkle, but instead causes you to catch fire and explode if you don’t get out of it quick enough) Mae’s vampire clan snatch Caleb up and they head for shelter.

Most of the film is then split up into Papa Colton trying to find Caleb, Caleb learning about how crazy and unforgiving this vampire clan is, and Caleb’s attempts to flee the group.

Despite its slow pacing, the film is stunning to look at and brilliant in its depiction of the vampires as a sort of social deviants. You also get the feeling   that they were the  same when they were alive.  The  character information is given out in ‘dribs and drabs’ and it adds to the feel of the story. We learn that Jesse Hooker (Henriksen) has been around since the American Civil War at least and that Paxton is his protégée. We learn how Diamondback (Goldstein) was found while changing a flat tire.

Nothing is ever revealed about Homer’s turning and this helps build the natural revulsion of his character.

I  give big points to the writers for coming up with a unique way to ‘cure’ the infected people in the film. It is certainly one that I’ve never seen before or since, come to think of it.  It is a real shame that this film didn’t do better on release and that it’s taken so long for it to reach cult status. I am relieved to hear that they will not be doing a remake as it sounds, by the press release at any rate, that it was going to have a lot in common with Twilight.

I can’t think of a more disturbing idea. Vampires who had bucket loads of personality (mostly bad) suddenly turned into brooding emo type characters who don’t burn in the sun, but twinkle in it. Whoever in the world thought that was a good idea?

I’m so full of angst!

Autopsy (2008): A Cut Below the Rest

You know that a film just isn’t that interesting when you spend more time wondering why one actors’ hand is so swollen that it looks like a cartoon hand. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Written and directed by Adam Gierasch (Toolbox Murders, Mortuary) Autopsy looks great. The cinematography is spot on and the lighting and sets are really excellent. Critic’s raved about how good the film looked and how they relied on non-CG effects.

But kind of like the old joke, looks aren’t everything. The films plot was interesting and as slashers go, it was not too ‘unoriginal’ and did not rely on the old ‘jump’ scares that most films of that genre do.

The cast list was pretty good. Robert Patrick (whom I kept expecting to turn into the T1000) and Jenette Goldstein ( a real busy actress who was also in Terminator 2, “Wolfie’s fine honey.”) and Michael Bowen (who appeared to be reprising his role from Kill Bill vol 1). The film’s heroine Emily is played by Jessica Lowndes from television’s 90210 and she does a capable job.

But.

The film begins with a group of five friends who are celebrating Mardi Gras in New Orleans. As they drive away from the city’s celebrations they run over a pedestrian and crash their car. An ambulance arrives from out of nowhere and two ‘ambulance’ men grab the injured pedestrian and strap him onto a stretcher.

After putting him in the back of the ambulance one of the men tells the group that they should go to the hospital to get checked. The five friends climb into the back of the ambulance and are taken to Mercy Hospital. When they go into reception the nurse on duty (Goldstein) gets them to fill in forms. Emily’s boyfriend Bobby (Ross Kohn) finds that he has been impaled by a long piece of grass. He pulls it out and starts bleeding and has some sort of fit.

An orderly (Michael Bowen) comes in with a stretcher and takes Bobby away. The group of young people get separated and sent to different rooms  in the hospital. Emily is called  to Dr Benway’s (Robert Patrick) office so he can question her about Bobby.

We find out that the group of  friends are being  separated and systematically murdered by the ‘hospital’ staff and they need to escape.

I wanted to see this film mainly because of Patrick and Goldstein. Unfortunately the film itself, the cast of young victims, and the murderous staff just did not grab my attention or interest. Rather than being engrossed in the action on the screen, I found my self wondering what Robert Patrick had done to his left hand.

From the first frame of film that Patrick appears in, his left hand has a plaster (band aid) across his knuckles and the hand is extremely swollen. I’m talking ‘Bugs Bunny blowing-into-his-thumb-until-his-hand-is-huge’ swollen. I suddenly found myself  looking  at Patrick’s left hand every time he came into the shot.

The Essential Bugs Bunny

I also spent more time waiting for Jenette Goldstein to turn back up. The film was okay and fairly entertaining in spite of Patrick’s ‘Bug’s Bunny’ left hand.

I suppose that my main problem with the film was Patrick’s left hand. Every scene he was in I spent more time looking at his hand and wondering how he’d injured it. I also wondered it he had hurt it doing a stunt for the film or if he’d done it at home. In essence the film was not interesting enough for me to forget about that damn hand.

So my verdict on this film is it’s a one bagger. One large bag of popcorn will see you through this film and you’ll probably still have some left over.

Oh, and if anyone can tell me just what happened to Robert Patrick’s left hand?  Let me know, okay?

English: Actor Robert Patrick addresses guests...
English: Actor Robert Patrick addresses guests at the 2009 USO Gala at the Marriott Wardman Park in Washington, D.C., October 7, 2009. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)