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WiHM: Kathryn Bigelow's Near Dark

In 1987 Near Dark - the seminal vampire flick - had a shadow cast over it's release by a glam-vamp film. It did poorly at the box office, debuting only months after The Lost Boys, with a much darker (no pun) and adult theme running through it - not reaching wide audience appeal until home release, but now firmly fixed as a cult classic.

The driving force behind it, Kathryn Bigelow.

Bringing vampire lore to the modern age, while maintaining a very adult perspective was always going to be a challenge. Bigelow, along with co-writer Eric Red (The Hitcher) created a purposefully vague mythos during the film with no mention of vampires, garlic, holy water, and the like - just that these "people" are different... and that they feed on blood, of course. Following the vampire resurgence in 1985 with the likes of Lifeforce and Fright Night bringing viewers back to the theaters, it was a bold move to create a very western feel. The band of vampires travel the roads, and when they come across towns they feed.

Originally conceived as a western - and that was a hard sell - Bigelow and Red blended the vampire theme in, creating one of the most exciting and dark versions of vampires on the screen today.

"A small-town farmer's son reluctantly joins a traveling group of vampires after he is bitten by a beautiful drifter."

When assembling the cast, Bigelow received a little help from then friend James Cameron, coming off the filming of Aliens, who suggested the casting of Bill Paxton, Jenette Goldstein, and Lance Henriksen - a pre-made family. The three of them work extremely well together, and the casting is dynamite. The addition of Joshua Miller completes the fold with newcomer, Jenny Wright, being the macguffin - the new girl who bites a small town farmer, played by Adrian Pasdar. Playing out as a dark, violent, love story, Near Dark pitches perfectly - both at the time it was released and even now. Rewatching it after all these years takes nothing from it. It's an old friend.

Bigelow handles the directorial duties like it's second nature - and this was her first solo directorial position. The film opens like a western - there's no horror movie opening kill - just people working on a farm and living in a small town, as Caleb meets Mae. He agrees to drive her home, and she bites him. Bigelow plays out the scenes like it could very well be a made for TV effort - the lighting is a little too high. There is no foreboding about it. Caleb then flees towards his home on foot as the sun rises and we are treated to him burning up under the sunlight, as an RV circles around him and drags him in. Into the darkness inside. Bigelow flips the switch on the tone, and suddenly we're in a horror film.

Gone are the shots of dusty scenery and stables. The vampire clan in Near Dark is a violent, unrepentant murderous crew - and instantly terrifying. The shots of the family at this point drip with style - and reek of terror. The only time I can remember such a pitch perfect tonal switch is in Tarantino's From Dusk til Dawn.

And from this point the fear only mounts.

Bigelow knows how to get the shot. The cleverly back lit shots of the family - of Caleb riding his horse - it's overbearingly, and naturally, scary. She pulls perfect performances from her leads. Bill Paxton chews the scenery, but if you've ever been stuck in a bar with a psychopath, you'll know the sort of scenery chewing I'm talking about. Henrikson and Goldstein play the "parents" of the twisted family true to form. Perfectly polite until you upset them. She pulls the very best out of every actor in the film.

And the darkly sinister film has one real meaning. Family. Before Mae drew the blood of Caleb, the vampire clan was a family. Two parents, one older son, one younger. The origin of Mae is never really concluded, but the family fight for their survival as the film goes on. On the other hand is the family of Caleb, his father (Tim Thomerson) and sister, as they persistently try to find Caleb, stolen from before their very eyes in the field outside the farm.


The conclusion of the film is satisfying, but one family is left bereft. Bigelow's creation of the self destructive family far out dates The Simpsons, but also solidifies that family doesn't mean blood. Or in this case, maybe that's the point. But I digress.

Should you have reached this point in your life without having seen Near Dark, you really should. It is quintessentially one of the deepest, most emotionally charged vampire films created. You also need to remember that it is strictly an adults only horror film. With the Blu Ray release coinciding with the popularity of the Twilight movies you could be fooled. I'm sure Kathryn Bigelow would not approve. I mean, this cover, with this film?

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