Friday, November 30, 2012

The Night Has Its Price: NEAR DARK Revisited

I was thrilled when I found Near Dark on Blu-ray for ten bucks at the grocery store a few weeks back. Thrilled, because it's an underrated little gem of '80s horror, but also a bit grossed out because it came packaged inside this fugly little bit of Twilight-bait cover art.
I think any hapless Twihard who picked this movie up based on the cover would be pretty disappointed. If anything, Near Dark is kind of the anti-Twilight. It's a vampire movie for people who don't like vampire movies. The word "vampire" never once shows up in it, and there's not a single fanged mouth to be found. It's also a stylish early feature from A-lister Kathryn Bigelow, whose The Hurt Locker nabbed her a few Oscars, and whose upcoming Zero Dark Thirty looks set to do likewise. Near Dark opens as a Texas kid named Caleb (Adrian Pasdar) meets Mae (Jenny Wright), an alluring young girl with cold skin and a taste for blood. When Caleb gets bitten, he finds himself abducted by Mae's bloodsucking kinfolk--gravel-voiced Jesse (Lance Henriksen), bleach-blonde Diamondback (Jenette Goldstein), stone-cold psycho Severen (a scene-stealing Bill Paxton), and embittered eternal youth Homer (Joshua Miller). While Caleb's frantic father (Tim Thomerson) searches for him, the family of vamps is busy inducting the kid into their world of nightly mayhem--feeding on long-haul truckers and whole honkytonk bars full of unlucky rednecks.
The script, by Bigelow and Eric Red (who also wrote The Hitcher--the guy definitely had a thing for scary desert highways), plays more like a gritty western than a brooding vampire flick. There are some great throwaway lines alluding to Jesse and Severen's extended lifespan ("Hey, Jesse, remember that fire we started in Chicago?", "I fought for the South. We lost."), and the cast is terrific all across the board. Bigelow was married to James Cameron at the time, and she makes the most out of her then-husband's Aliens cast members (a movie theatre has the 1986 sequel listed on its marquee in the background of one shot). Shot by Terminator 2 cinematographer Adam Greenberg, the film looks gorgeous, particularly in high definition--the combination of dusty highways and slick neon gives the film a look unlike any other. And I don't know if Garth Ennis or Steve Dillon have ever acknowledged it, but their still-classic Preacher comic series owes it a debt, particularly when it comes to their portrayal of blood-drinking Irish rogue Cassidy.
And man, wouldn't Lance Henriksen make a great Saint Of Killers?
Come to think of it, Jenny Wright would have a made a swell Tulip, too.
25 years later, Near Dark has aged just as well as its undead heavies. We'll just have to wait and see if Twilight and its pasty-faced kin can say the same in 2037.

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