NEAR DARK (1987)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 34 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

Near Dark poster

Directed by: Kathryn Bigelow

Written by: Eric Red, Kathryn Bigelow

Starring: Adrian Pasdar, Jenny Wright, Lance Henriksen, Bill Paxton

Kathryn Bigelow recently made huge waves with ZERO DARK THIRTY and THE HURT LOCKER. Most people don’t realize that her previous efforts included a science-fiction thriller titled STRANGE DAYS and this vampire-western hybrid. NEAR DARK was her second effort as a director and co-writer. It also has the distinction of being widely recognized as one of the best vampire films ever made. It was not successful upon its original release, but over two decades of time has brought it a second life.

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We open on Caleb, a country boy, meeting a beautiful young woman named Mae. Instantly smitten, the two begin a night of playful banter and the possibility of something more romantic in the near future. As dawn approaches, the two make out in Caleb’s truck and Mae bites him on the neck, then frantically runs for the hills. The sun rises and Caleb finds himself burning alive. Just as he’s about to stumble towards his house, an RV pulls up and Caleb is pulled in. It turns out that Mae is actually a vampire and has been traveling with a nomadic group of bloodsuckers. While the vamps are reluctant to keep Caleb around, Mae convinces them that he can fit in with them. Caleb is morally conflicted with the whole matter. He’s given the choice to make his first kill or die, all while his father and sister come closer to finding him.

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NEAR DARK is a vampire film that’s wholly original. The word vampire isn’t even used once in the dialogue by the characters. The entire film blends together many different genres. There are incredible set pieces throughout, such as a shoot-out scene that seems to be pulled right out of great Western. A showdown in the middle of a deserted street between two characters works in the similar way. The vampires also behave like a gang of violent bikers. The best scene in the movie takes place in a bar that becomes the background for a bloodbath (pun completely intended).

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The film is beautifully shot and the music is simply great. As far as the cast goes, Adrian Pasdar (who would later star in the underrated HOME MOVIE) is likable as Caleb. Lance Henriksen gives a memorable performance as the leader of these nomadic vampires. Bill Paxton is by far the best actor in the film though. He plays the resident psychopath and will always be one of the first things to come to mind for a lot of people discussing this movie.

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That’s not to say that NEAR DARK (though near perfect) is without a couple of faults. I really didn’t care about Jenny Wright’s character, the love interest. She’s pretty and does a good enough job, but it just doesn’t seem like there was enough personality there. I definitely dug all of the evil vampires, but the “good” one seemed to be little more than a doorway for Caleb to enter this world of the undead. There is not only one, but two, cop-outs in regard to the ending. The first of which doesn’t make much sense and comes off almost as an afterthought. The final moment feels like it’s garnering for something that was undeserved too.

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Even with these problems, NEAR DARK is a great vampire flick and unlike any you’re likely to see from the bloodsucking subgenre. The effects hold up really well to this day. The music melds perfectly with the film. The acting is nearly solid all the way around. It also delivers some unforgettable moments. Highly recommended!

Grade: A-

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