Sunday, November 1, 2015

#1,903. Near Dark (1987)

Directed By: Kathryn Bigelow

Starring: Adrian Pasdar, Jenny Wright, Lance Henriksen

Tag line: "Vampires can only kill you once, but they can terrify you forever"

Trivia: Both Johnny Depp and D.B. Sweeney auditioned for the role of Caleb

Directed by Kathryn Bigelow, Near Dark is a horror / western that, along with its unique love story, features some of the most fascinating vampires ever to grace the big screen.

Caleb Cotton (Adrian Pasdar) had no idea what he was getting into when he asked Mae (Jenny Wright) out on a date. That’s because Mae is more than just a pretty face: she’s a vampire, and when she puts the bite on Caleb, he, too, is transformed into a creature of the night. 

Taken in, albeit reluctantly, by Mae’s “family”, which includes patriarch Jesse (Lance Henriksen), Jesse's main squeeze Diamondback (Jenette Goldstein), the overly-aggressive Severen (Bill Paxton), and the adolescent Homer (Joshua John Miller), Caleb must face the brutal truth that, in order to survive, he has to kill. Alas, it’s a lesson that doesn’t come easy to him, threatening both his standing in the group and, ultimately, his life.

Of all the classic monsters, the vampire is far and away the most romantic, often relying on his or her powers of seduction to lure their prey. Yet the central relationship that drives the story in Near Dark has a different feel to it. Never once do we sense that Mae views Caleb as just another meal. In fact, their first night together, where they spend most of the evening driving around in Caleb's truck, could have easily been lifted from a teen romance. 

Mae doesn’t even try to conceal her true nature in these early scenes; as the two are staring up at the night sky, she tells Caleb (who has no idea she’s a vampire) that the light leaving the stars at that exact moment will take billions of years to reach the earth, and, unlike every other girl Caleb has ever known, she’ll still be around when it gets there. Once Caleb has been “turned”, their relationship changes, yet at the same time becomes more intense. Because he’s having difficulty adjusting to the reality of his condition (that he must kill to survive), Mae allows Caleb to drink her blood instead (moments that give off a strong sexual vibe).

As for Mae’s “family”, they are a direct contrast to her in almost every way. Led by Jesse, they're a coarse, abrasive bunch of nomads traveling from one Midwestern town to the next in a Winnebago, leaving a trail of drained bodies in their wake. Needless to say, Jesse and the others don’t welcome Caleb with open arms: Severen threatens to kill the new arrival on the spot, and even young Homer is none too happy to have him around (Homer has a crush on Mae, and is plenty pissed that she’s focused her attentions elsewhere).

We never learn much about the backstories of these aggressive creatures of the night (when asked by Caleb how old he is, Jesse avoids giving a direct answer, saying only that he was once a soldier in the Confederate Army). And while we do spend a little “one-on-one” time with each of them (in a brief scene, Homer reels in his next meal by lying in the street, making it look as if he was injured riding his bike), it’s when they’re all together that things really get crazy; a visit to a roadside bar is easily the film’s most brutal sequence. Near Dark also makes great use of its sparse western setting as well as the minimalistic yet effective musical score composed by Tangerine Dream, but it’s this unique cast of characters that's so unforgettable.

With Near Dark, director Bigelow tells a touching love story while also taking what has traditionally been a gothic creature and stripping it down to its most basic elements (feeding at night, avoiding the sun by day). In so doing, she has given the cinematic world a visceral, and truly intriguing, band of vampires.

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