Tuesday, February 22, 2011

"Near Dark" (1987)

Starring Adrian Pasdar, Jenny Wright and Lance Henriksen
Written by Eric Red and Kathryn Bigelow
Directed by Kathryn Bigelow

Near Dark [Blu-ray]I've heard a lot about "Near Dark" since it was released on DVD and Blu-Ray in 2009.  To be honest, despite my love of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and it's spinoff "Angel," I've never really been all that intrigued by vampires in general.  "Near Dark" doesn't do much to really improve my feelings about them, but it's certainly a well-made and decently entertaining romp. 

Caleb (Adrian Pasdar) is the young son of a veterinarian in the small town of nowhere, Oklahoma.  One night while out clowning around with his friends he meets a girl named Mae (Jenny Wright) and immediately takes a shine to her.  Mae asks Caleb for a ride home, and he attempts to seduce her.  She tells him she needs to be home before dawn, and he asks here for a kiss first.  But in the midst of it, Mae bites Caleb on the neck.  Soon after, Caleb begins to change.  Sunlight becomes painful, and he's extraordinarily weak.

Worse, his truck breaks down, requiring him to walk home as the sun rises.  As he's about to collapse in front of his house, an RV pulls up and Caleb is kidnapped before the astonished eyes of his younger sister Sarah (Marcie Leeds) and father Loy (Tim Thomerson).  Caleb is introduced to Mae's "family" - Jesse (Lance Henriksen), Diamondback (Jenette Goldstein), Homer (Joshua John Miller) and Severen (Bill Paxton).  This sort of hillbilly vampire group roam the countryside, stealing vehicles and killing people for food as they see fit.  But they know that they must stay one step ahead of the law, living in the shadows.

Caleb is grudgingly accepted by the group, who see him as a hassle, leaving responsibility for him with Mae.  She attempts to teach him about his new life, and what it will require him to do - to kill for his food.  But Caleb is reluctant to take a human life.  One night the group kills the owner and patrons of a small bar, but Caleb allows his victim to escape when the man begs him.  Unfortunately, this proves a dangerous mistake: the next day as the group is sleeping, the police descend on them and Caleb is forced to make a dangerous run in the daylight to save them. 

Meanwhile, Sarah and Loy, frustrated with the slow progress of the police investigation into Caleb's kidnapping, have gone on the road in search of Caleb.  One night, they finally find Caleb at a motel in the middle of nowhere.  This leads to a confrontation with the group.  Caleb must decide who he is and where he belongs - at home with his family, or on the road with Mae and these other vicious creatures of the night.

"Near Dark" is the second feature film by director Kathryn Bigelow, who would later find fame and acclaim as director of "Point Break" and "The Hurt Locker."  As such, it shows signs of future greatness, but is a bit rough around the edges.  The film seems underwritten, and the romance between Caleb and Mae is repetitive.  Where the film shines, however, is in its technical production and sequences involving the vampires clashes with human culture.  The bar sequence and subsequent police shootout are inventive and fun.  The vampire characters themselves are well-played by the cast, especially Henriksen who simply oozes menace, and Paxton who's having a ton of fun.

Pasdar and Wright do share some chemistry, it's just too bad that their scenes together seem to be the same bits over and over again.  They're both fine leads, but they function best with the rest of the group, rather than on their own. 

If you're looking for a vampire story that's not "Twilight," you should check out "Near Dark."  It has some faults, but it's entertaining and well made.