A few weeks back, Blast Magazine asked me to assemble a list of the top ten vampire movies ever made. You can see that list here.
I received much feedback on the list and was of course offered suggestions for movies that should have been included. One that kept popping up was “Near Dark”. Released in 1987, it seemed to be a good fit for a “retro review.” And while “Near Dark” is a decent enough movie, it’s definitely not a top ten all time vampire film.
Set in the Southwest, “Near Dark” tells the story of Caleb, an aimless cowboy youth, who is “turned” into a vampire by a traveling band of undead. Caleb can never fully commit himself to their bloodthirsty ways even though he is in love with one of the she-vampires. Our hero is fortunate enough to have an animal doctor for a father who performs a blood transfusion to suck out all of the bad stuff and turn Caleb back into a human. Needless to say, before the film concludes Caleb must confront and destroy the vampire clan—and save the woman he loves.
I can see why this is set in Texas and surrounding states, for it has the feel of a Western. Cowboys on horseback, spurs that jingle jangle jingle and slash throats, showdowns on main street, and a saloon or two where bad things happen. If only there was a piano player or a stagecoach in “Near Dark,” both vampire flick and western would have been equally paid for.
Concerning vampire movie codes and conventions, “Near Dark” does seem to deviate slightly. With the exception of daylight being deadly to the vampires, there is almost no other mention of how to stop them. There’s no discussion or use of crucifixes, garlic, wooden stakes, holy water or any kind of Christian iconography. Can a vampire be turned back to human via a blood transfusion? And these vampires aren’t royalty—no urbane Count Draculas here. The undead in “Near Dark” are a bunch of psychopaths who like to populate honky-tonk joints, Winnebagos, and flea bag motels.
Indeed, these are the most gripping and memorable scenes in the movie. About halfway through the film, the brood invades a dive bar and systemically murders all the humans within. It’s a gruesome and horrible scene but done very well. And only a few scenes later, the vamp gang is holed up in a motel room during daylight. Police surround the bungalow and spray the shack with bullets. Daylight begins to stream through the bullet holes and scorch the vampires when it contacts their skin. And though it’s only a moment, there’s a quick scene that was the epitome of what this film excels at: Caleb’s father tries to rescue him from the vampires and shoots the lead vamp in the stomach. The vampire coughs and then spits up the bullet: pure camp genius.
One of the other reasons I wanted to see this film was because of its director, Kathryn Bigelow, who won the Academy Award for best director for The Hurt Locker in 2010. “Near Dark” was one of her first features, made more than twenty years prior, but it’s strictly B-movie material. It’s campy and un-serious with an ending that doesn’t quite add up or satisfy, and the cast is almost unheard of with the exception of Lance Henriksen and Bill Paxton (who gives the stand out performance).
When compiling my top ten all-time vampire movie list, I tried to include not only good movies, but also ones that may have influenced the genre or had some significance where film history or pop culture are concerned. While I enjoyed “Near Dark,” I wasn’t convinced that this movie, at least in terms of my criteria, should be in the top ten. But it certainly made for a great “retro review.” 1987 was clearly a good year for blood suckers!