Near Dark (1987)

DVD Cover (Lions Gate)
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Overall Rating 67%
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Ranked #2,456
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A mid-western farm boy reluctantly becomes a member of the undead when a girl he meets turns out to be part of a band of southern vampires who roam the highways in stolen cars. Part of his initiation includes a bloody assault on a hick bar. --IMDb
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Review by Crispy
Added: September 24, 2007
When I first read the synopsis for Near Dark and learned that it was a vampire western, my initial thought was that it would be like the video game, Darkwatch. You know, a vampiric outlaw using a combination of guns and supernatural powers to cause a lot of death and destruction. While it does have its fair share of action scenes, I wouldn't call it an action movie by any means. As it turned out, that wasn't a problem in the least.

Caleb is a lazy teenager with not a lot of ambition in life. One night, he runs across a young woman named Mae and decides to put on his A-Game. Not put off by the fact that his horse is scared to death of her, her talk of living forever or "listening to the night," or the fact that she's terrified if she doesn't get home before dawn, he's able to manipulate her into kissing him. After a brief make out session, she bites him on the neck and takes off running. In disbelief, Caleb's situation only worsens when he discovers his truck won't start. Cursing his luck, he starts off on the long walk home, but something is amiss. The sun is literally burning him; he's smoking as he's walking in broad daylight. The worst still isn't over for our young vampire, as a Winnebago pulls up along side him and kidnaps him. Mae is part of a 'family' of vamps, the rest of which are none too happy with Mae's decision to turn Caleb. Said family is led by Jesse Hooker (Lance Henriksen) and his wife, Diamondback (Janette Goldstein). Balls-to-the-wall Severen (Bill Paxton) and Homer (Joshua John Miller), an old vampire forever trapped in an eight year olds body, make up the rest of the group. Realizing that Caleb has been thrust into their little clique, they give him the option of learning how to be a vampire real quick and in a hurry, or else.

Our main focus here is Caleb trying to get a hold on this new bloodthirsty way of life; his relationship with Mae thrown in there to give him some motivation. Even though it was a bit quick, their relationship isn't completely unbelievable as long as you don't have a problem with love-at-first-sight. It's obvious that they care for each other, but it's not laid on overly thick, so it works out. The story moves along at nice pace, most of it focused on the family. Despite the fact they're probably all stemming from backgrounds like Caleb's, randomly forced in, they act like a real family would. They all have a mutual respect for each other, yet they're not afraid to dish out the "fuck you's" when there's a disagreement. This helps brings a bit of familiar comfort to these characters, which is enforced even by some of the quips that are more supernatural. For instance, when Jesse is asked how old he is, you can't help but smile when he replies "Well, I fought for the South... We lost." The chemistry between these people is not the only thing going for this movie, as the action scenes are all extremely well done as well. Caleb's first outing with his new family is at a roadhouse, which is where he gets his first glimpse at just what he's gotten himself into. The combination of Caleb experiencing some of his new powers for the first time and the others laughing at his amazement (again, helping that familiar feel for the viewer) has made this one of my favorite scenes in the movie.

As far as acting goes, we're running the gauntlet from great to terrible here. Adrian Pasdar, Caleb, does a nice job with the emotional aspect of his performance; however his line delivery isn't quite what one would like it to be. His chemistry with Jenny Wright, Mae, is also easy and believable, although like I said, it is a tad rushed. Little suspension of disbelief is needed here and there in these films though, so no complaints from me. Lance Henriksen shines in his role as Jesse. Maybe it's just me, but when I think Lance I don't think "badass." Typecasts be damned, the man can pull it off. He did an extremely good job with the quiet-but-deadly archetype. In contrast, Bill Paxton was completely on the other end of the spectrum. If you've seen Aliens or Predator 2, you know the kind of character we're dealing with. He's loud, cocky and has the energy of a speedfreak. Now, while I like this role of his, I can definitely see why a lot of people don't; but I have to point out that it's a bit different here. You see, the difference between Private Hudson and Severen is that Severen is a sadistic son of a bitch. While we're usually seeing this act in the downtime between action scenes to lighten the mood, here he's doing it as he's slicing a man's throat open. What you get is a character that's having a blast killing people, which places the same act in a completely different light. Hell, Paxton's performance was a huge factor in the aforementioned bar scene being as memorable as it was.

The albatross around this film's neck is Joshua John Miller. Child actors are rarely up to par and this one is no exception. His voice is annoying as hell and he can't act worth a damn. I'm not sure at what point they decided they needed a child vampire, but they could at least have gotten one who wasn't so worthless. Couple that with the fact that the entire climax is centered on Homer, and it's definitely a depressing situation.

Bad child acting aside, Near Dark is definitely worth a viewing. It's got a decently original story, characterization is surprisingly well done and I liked it just as much as I hoped I would when I heard the basic premise for the first time, even if it was for a completely different reason than I initially had thought. 8.5/10
bluemeanie #1: bluemeanie - added September 24, 2007 at 11:15pm
Not a bad little vampire film. A little boring, at times, but I dug it. 7/10.
waxtadpole3657 #2: waxtadpole3657 - added January 4, 2008 at 8:35pm
Bill Paxton is the most badass vamp ever.
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