Near Dark

Near Dark (1987)
"They can only kill you once, but they can terrify you forever."

Name a movie that stars Lance Henriksen, Bill Paxton, and Jenette Goldstein. Aliens, right? So how many of you have heard of (or better yet, seen) Near Dark? It was a new one on me. The DVD cover image—a rather gory and mostly unrecognisable Paxton—caught my eye. The names Lance Henricksen and Bill Paxton, listed one beneath the other, inspired me to pick it up and scan the back cover for details. The line "This is more than simply the most ferociously original vampire move of our generation: NEAR DARK is one of the best horror movies of all time" convinced me to buy it and give it a chance. I must have been twenty minutes in before I got a good look at one of the other characters and thought "hey waitaminnit, that's Vasquez!"

(I realise now that I have actually seen Jenette Goldstein in two other movies without recognising her. Silly me!)

I'm actually quite a fan of what I like to call the 'Modern Western Vampire' genre; the vampire idea stripped of all the Gothic baggage which has grown up around it, and transplanted to the American West (ideologically, if not geographically.) It was probably From Dusk Till Dawn which kickstarted the genre for most of us, although I'd read a great 'Modern Western Vampire' novel (I believe it was They Thirst, by Robert McCammon) long before that movie hit the screens. Such classics as John Carpenter's Vampires and The Forsaken: Desert Vampires fit the bill nicely. But Near Dark was one of the first. (Apparently it opened, a small independent vampire flick, in competition with the major studio effort Lost Boys—certainly a Modern Vampire movie, but with more than a few of the old Gothic elements built in—and hence was missed by most people.)

So anyway: Near Dark. The tale of a 'family' of drifters, roaming the countryside, doing whatever they have to do to survive. Of course, to survive, they need blood, and they need to stay out of sunlight. Into this family unit comes the new guy, recruited (okay, 'turned') by young Mae, who obviously saw something in Caleb that she liked. Caleb has to come to terms with the changes inflicted upon him, and decide how far he will go to continue living.

This is a vampire movie in which the "v" word is never mentioned, and the thirst for blood is treated almost as an addiction more than anything else. The subject matter—and the characters—are treated with respect. Jesse "I fought for the South. We lost." Hooker and his family of misfits are not soulless evil demons, they are people afflicted with a disease, a curse—another word the movie never uses—who have given up their humanity to do what they must do. (I found myself thinking of The Hills Have Eyes at one point; if that movie were told through the eyes of Ruby, it would be similar to Near Dark.)

What did I think of it? I loved it. Sure, some of it was a little silly, and I don't know that I'd call it "one of the best horror movies of all time"—but then, it is a horror movie in the same way that Aliens is a horror movie: by association more than anything else. It is difficult to call Near Dark a horror movie when the monsters are examined this closely... Certainly, though, it is a "ferociously original vampire movie", and well worth watching.

IMDB: Near Dark

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