Movie Review: Near Dark

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A country boy gets in over his head when he’s turned into a vampire.

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Kathryn Bigelow, 1987

On a night out in his small country town, farm boy Caleb Colton (Adrian Pasdar) comes across the beautiful Mae (Jenny Wright), who, as he astutely points out several times, is not like other girls. When he pushes her for a kiss, it goes further than he’d like and she ends up biting him. Soon enough he’s feeling decidedly unwell, and he’s taken by Mae’s gang of roaming vampires and introduced to their killer lifestyle. Led by the quietly dangerous Jesse Hooker (Lance Henriksen) and the psychotic Severin (Bill Paxton), the gang draws Caleb in. When they pose a threat to the life he left behind, Caleb has to make a choice.

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This moody vampire Western from Kathryn Bigelow is one I’ve been wanting to see for a while. It came out in 1987, the same year as personal fave ‘Lost Boys’, and the two films have a pretty significant overlap – vamp girl lures innocent boy into vamp gang, newly vamp boy must choose between being young and cool forever and protecting younger sibling. There’s even a little boy vamp in both films, though this one is far more disturbing. Stylistically, Bigelow’s tight, sparse story is pretty different from Joel Schumacher’s rocking teen romp, but they also boast equally great crazy-evil turns from Bill Paxton (his Severin is terrifying and impossible to look away from) and Kiefer Sutherland. Near Dark can be taken pretty literally. It’s almost entirely shot at night or twilight, and the sunlight we do see has a hazy, washed-out look to it. The style is effective in depicting the lure of the night. Much like the more recent vampire Western ‘A Girl Walks Home At Night Alone’, Near Dark plays on its aesthetics to tell the story. It’s low budget, but the gruesome kills are effective. A scene where the gang terrorises a small-town bar is particularly fascinating, and the draw Caleb feels is palpable.

The fact that Adrian Pasdar didn’t get any other big leading roles after this surprises me, because he nails Caleb’s mix of country boy small-mindedness and relatable big-heartedness. He certainly learns his lesson for pushing Mae beyond her boundaries at the beginning of the film. His relationship with his firecracker of a younger sister, played by Marcie Leeds, is touching and effective, and he has good chemistry with Jenny Wright, who I’ve never seen since. Lance Henriksen plays Jesse just a little too low-key to really be scary, leaving Bill Paxton to capably do the heavy lifting. Aliens’ Jenette Goldstein…is also there. The gang plays like an evil family, with the old-soul child Homer (Loy Colton) simultaneously protected and one of its most violent attackers. Seriously, I hope that kid was okay after being in this movie, because that role was downright upsetting. There’s a genuine sense of creeping malice that comes across nicely, with Near Dark presenting a fairly straightforward vampire story with a stylistic twist.

Near Dark on IMDb

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