Near Dark

There’s been some noise lately about a remake of Kathryn Bigelow’s groundbreaking 1987 genre-bender Near Dark.  And while praying to a merciful god to prove this lamentable rumor false, I realized that the time had long since arrived for a rewatch of that beautifully strange film.

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Kathryn Bigelow is that rare and wonderful beast in Hollywood—a female director who has never helmed a romantic comedy. Her résumé tends towards thrillers such as Strange Days, action movies like Blue Steel and magnificent specimens of awe-inspiring badassery such as Point Break. Near Dark, however, is unlike any other movie she has ever directed—actually, it’s unlike any other movie anyone had ever directed, up until Rodriguez and Tarantino ripped her off for From Dusk Till Dawn. Like that movie, Near Dark is a vampire western, although the v-word is never mentioned in the film. There are no stakes, no fangs, no crucifixes or holy water. This is a uniquely reticent, poetic little film that builds in tension so gradually that you’re stunned to discover, half an hour in, that you’re watching a horror movie.
Adrian Pasdar plays Caleb Colton, a good old boy who’s bored with his small-town life.
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He meets the vapory, mysterious Mae (Jenny Wright) outside of an ice cream parlor and falls hard. Wouldn’t you?
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Mae and Caleb share an instant, untamed attraction and, against her better judgment and almost her will, Mae nips Caleb on the neck. Ashamed of what she’s done and apprehensive of the imminent sunrise, Mae runs away. Caleb gives chase but soon, as the early morning rays touch his skin, begins to feel violently ill.  He stumbles through the field, smoke rising from his skin and his face twisted in agony as the music swells in harrowing expectation.
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He’s picked up by Mae’s ambulatory family of vagrant vamps and, upon Mae’s desperate plea to let him live, told that he has eight days to kill and prove that he belongs in the vicious clan.
The patriarch of this roaming society is Jesse Hooker, played by our favorite android Bishop, Lance Henriksen:
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Jesse’s woman and mother to the motley crew is Diamondback, played by Jenette Goldstein:
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Mae’s “brothers” consist of eternal child Homer (Joshua John Miller), who sired Mae and is jealous and hurt to discover that she turned Caleb:
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and the exuberant and impetuous Severen (a sublime Bill Paxton):
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Near Dark doesn’t boast many true shocks and scares, but it’s rich in chilling atmosphere. German electronica group Tangerine Dream provides the kick-ass synthy, suspenseful score and cinematographer Adam Greenberg welcomes us to a sumptuous landscape that’s more Leone than Romero.
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Near Dark isn’t just a gritty western or unnerving genre film.  It’s also a heartfelt romance. Caleb and Mae are the archetypal star-crossed lovers who must overcome cosmic obstacles to embrace their passion. Caleb yearns to be equal with Mae, to subscribe to her strange and mystifying lifestyle. But he cannot bring himself to commit murder, despite his growing hunger and Mae’s weakening health as she carries him by offering her own blood when he can’t provide for himself. Mae, despite her bloody addiction, never lies to Caleb. She is piercingly honest and fair. When they first meet, Caleb whispers in her ear, “I’ve never met a girl like you.” Mae looks sad and knowing as she replies, “No, you sure haven’t met a girl like me.”
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But they’re united in their boredom. Caleb is restless with small-town life and Mae has grown antsy and uneasy with night-walking immortality. They both want something more, something new, and they find it in each other.
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This is also a film about the discordant context of family. Caleb, aching for change and stimulation, endeavors to be accepted into the aberrant vampire crew that is bound together by common need. He’s intoxicated by their mysterious lifestyle, roaming brand of dangerous recreation and their eternal bond.
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But as he becomes more deeply involved in their dangerous affairs, his father and younger sister trail behind, determined to find Caleb and rescue him from the unknown threat. Caleb must eventually choose between Mae and the menacing but enthralling existence she represents, and the safe, loving but monotonous life he shares with his family.
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The pinnacle of this movie is the riotous bar scene, when Jesse, Severen and the others lock the door and decide to give Caleb one last chance to prove his worthiness. Bill Paxton as Severen is particularly rousing and intense in this scene, and the growing bloodshed never comes off as obvious, artificial or extravagant. We’re with Caleb as he battles repugnance and exhilaration at the brutality we witness.
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Near Dark came out the same year as the far more popular Lost Boys and was somewhat overshadowed by that far different film.  I love Lost Boys—it’s a silly, boisterous tribute to the 80s that’s a complete blast to watch. Near Dark is an entirely different animal, and it’s unnecessary to compare the two, although most reviewers find the comparison unavoidable.  Near Dark is both savage and symphonic, a compelling journey to the extraordinary beauty of the southwest, as well as a timeless ode to the seductive power of possibility, no matter how treacherous.
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6 Responses to “Near Dark”

  1. Cool! Nice write-up.

  2. I am ashamed to say that I’ve never seen this film. I too must have been blinded by the awesomeness that is Lost Boys. It’s too bad because it seems really cool. I am always a fan of horror films that try to do their own thing. I will definitely be watching this one soon. Thanks for the recommendation.

  3. i haven’t seen it either, matt. and i love vampire movies!

  4. given the fact that i’ve never seen it either, you’ve given this film the publicity it deserves, meredith! i really want to watch it asap (and, you know, i never say that about the movies you review. ha ha).

  5. I love love love this movie! My favorite vampire movie of all time. I never forgot it but couldn’t remember the name. All i had to type in was “vampire movie with the tin foil car windows” and came up with Near Dark and was like, Oh Yeah! So many cool scenes in this film. Isn’t even in the same league as Lost Boys. Bill Baxton is perfect.

  6. I just saw this movie and had to look it up to see who that beautiful young vamipress was. Jenny Wright.
    Damn. She is a real beauty.

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