Joshua John Miller
1 Hr., 35 Mins.
Near Dark February 28, 2018
ight around the time Kathryn Bigelow co-wrote and directed Near Dark (1987), an insidious but seductive horror Western, vampire movies were in. Columbia’s Fright Night (1985) merged the subgenre with the teen movie and raked in loads of cash; Warner Bros.’ The Lost Boys (1987) was a tough but subversive leather fest that mutinied over the virtues of the J.M. Barrie stories to which its title paid tribute and turned vampirism into something sexy and dangerous. (And who can forget about the visually vaunting The Hunger  or the demented Vamp ?)
Since half the horror zeitgeist of the period was defined by mad slashers à la Michael, Freddy, and Jason, it’s hardly unreasonable to consider the vampire movie to have made most of the other. Reflect for a time and you’ll likely notice that few other decades are as synonymous with the Stoker-indebted cinematic category besides, er, the late 2000s during which the Twilight (2008-’12) series flourished.
Although I can’t say I’m so fond of the subgenre unless Tony Scott or Werner Herzog’s involved, a soft spot’s capable of developing from time to time if enough charm’s thrown my way.
But while Near Dark made me sorta kinda soft in some moments – it’s noirish, cool, effortlessly punk – it still didn’t quite smooth over the sandpapered edges that come with an impartial viewer such as myself. In spite of admiring its visuals and Bigelow’s streamlined treatment of it all, I found Near Dark to be rather elementary and faux-tough – a swaggering B-movie playing dress-up as razzly dazzly pulp art. But sometimes it comes close to realizing genre superiority, and that gets it somewhere.
It stars Adrian Pasdar as Caleb, a wearied small-town boy whose life is thrown for a loop when he inadvertently hooks up with a sexy vampire named Mae (Jenny Wright). Seconds into their backseated, carnal tête-à-tête, Caleb goes for a kiss and Mae goes for a bite to the neck. Before the guy can so much as protest that this kink’s not one of his, blood’s drawn and he’s turned. In a couple blinks, he's gone from naïve 20-something to Dracula descendant with a sudden and insatiable thirst for hemoglobin.
He could take the forget-it-all-happened route and try to continue on with his life – or so he thinks. With the snap of a scarily long fingernail is he now unable to consume anything besides blood or mope about during the daytime. Figuring returning to normalcy won’t much suit him, he joins Mae and her vampiric comrades as they pursue debauchery and bloodletting. But even this briefly ideal situation cannot last long when you have as manipulative a leader as Jesse (Lance Hendriksen) or as wily a right-hand man as Severen (Bill Paxton).
Part of me’d like to think this is all pre-steampunk fantasy, not a lot much more besides a particularly inspired fusion of horror and the classic Western. And perhaps that’s sort of right: I can’t imagine the movie intends to be a lot else other than an especially well-shot cinematic night terror.
Yet I consistently found myself regarding Near Dark as something of a larger allegory regarding the oft-prevalent messiness of one’s coming of age. How we’re prone to abandoning what we know for something new and exciting, how we’re disposed to leaving our values and morals behind if temptations are great enough. We’ve all had these kinds of experiences in our teenage years and in our early 20s, though not, of course, with all the vampiric bullshit stirring about in the background.
But even with all the parabolic interest and innovative visuals and sequences of suspense, there’s something missing from Near Dark – perhaps the result of the material never quite being as mysterious and brooding as the tone Bigelow sets? No matter: the film’s one of the horror genre’s most stylish and unorthodox works, and is among the most memorable of the ‘80s vampire craze. B