Saturday, September 11, 2010

NEAR DARK Movie Review

NEAR DARK (1987)

near dark movie poster
Caleb is just your average midwest town boy, who cares for his family, and likes to ride horses. But after an evening of hanging out with Mae, a shy young woman he meets while at the bar, he is indoctrinated against his will into Mae's "family", a dirty nomadic band of vampires. Caleb tries multiple times to escape the nightmare from which he can't wake up, and begins to feel a new, but very natural instinct within himself, to feed on human blood. Eventually, Caleb escapes into the darkness, but is swiftly followed by his vengeful co-blooddrinkers. He knows he must make a stand, alone, or his family may be the next to fall victim to the ravenous neck-biters.

This is one of the crown jewels in the overlooked list of 80s horror, that due to poor advertising and a genre-defying storyline, fell to the side to make room for unending franchise sequels and generic slasher rip-offs. Here, the vampire mythos is turned completely on its head, and remains to this day a unique entry in the genre. In NEAR DARK these "nightwalkers" do not call themselves vampires (the word itself is never even mentioned in the film), are not aristocratic, do not have fangs or fly, and more-so do not even enjoy being what they are. These are "cursed" souls doomed to live forever, and have taken a nasty turn to violence and cruel humor to pass their evenings.

Director and writer Kathryn Bigelow, who would go on to create the nigh-perfect STRANGE DAYS and most recently THE HURT LOCKER, brings a modern blend of horror, western symbolism and mythology to the screen, shrouding it in shadows, blue-washed light, and crimson red. Even with her limited behind-the-camera experience at the time, Bigelow is able to pull off just the right angles, framing and pacing that keeps the film exciting and moving along. The writing is a little over-the-top at times, but in the quieter and subtle conversations, lies more character development and back story than most films can hope to accomplish in their 100-minute running times.

Much like a pop-punk song right out of the 80s, NEAR DARK has a tremendously enjoyable flux between chaotic and noisy choruses, and soft and melodic verses. Bigelow cuts her teeth on just about every action style, which she would later incorporate into her following productions. Between a holed-up hotel shootout with some inventive ideas that would later be seen in FROM DUSK TILL DAWN, car and foot chases, and tense one-on-one stand-offs including a western-style showdown between a vampire and a semi-truck, there is a little something for everyone.

Adrian Pasder takes on the role of Caleb, and does a decent job portraying a newly-turned vampire, as does Jenny Wright as the shy and sweet Mae. The real fun though, is watching Lance Henriksen, Bill Paxton and Jennette Goldstein, fresh off their stint on James Cameron's ALIENS. All three of them relish in their vampire roles, and the friendship the actors created on ALIENS shines through in their characters' friendship here. You can almost sense the rich bonds between them. Henriksen's Jesse Hooker is the leader, and his longevity as a creature has brought about a wisdom that can only be cultivated from centuries of living. Paxton's Severin is a loose cannon, who still languishes in his power over humans. Goldstein's Diamondback is a cunning thinker, and something of a den mother within the group. And while the scenario may be somewhat far-fetched, each of them portray their characters with total sincerity.

Although failing at the box office, NEAR DARK has gone on to collect a dedicated following through the years in the home video and DVD circuit. It is one of the more unique releases from the 80s, and through some impressive practical special effects work on a low-end budget it has aged quite gracefully, and has avoided being trapped in the constriction that is known as "80s horror". Sadly, as with many films that have enough of a cult following to make the name marketable but not well-known enough to leave it be, a remake is being planned. No word has been set as to how faithful the adaptation will be, or who is attached, but it is coming. Hunt down a copy of the now out-of-print Anchor Bay released 2-disc DVD set that gives the film the justice it is due.


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