Greetings again from the darkness. It’s always fun to take a fresh look at a cult favorite, especially a quarter century since initial release. Near Dark is best known as Kathryn Bigelow’s first solo directorial effort … yes, the Oscar winning director of The Hurt Locker (plus Point Blank and Zero Dark Thirty). But that’s not why this one has a loyal following. It’s actually a very stylish (low budget) vampire/road trip/quasi-western that focuses on family. And it’s one of the very few vampire movies where the word “vampire” is never uttered.
Ms. Bigelow co-wrote the screenplay with Eric Red, who also wrote The Hitcher. Similarities abound, yet this one stands on its own thanks to the photography and the performances. We can’t help but notice three main actors come directly from James Cameron’s Aliens … Bill Paxton, Lance Henrickson, and Jenette Goldstein. Of course, Mr. Cameron and Ms. Bigelow were in a relationship that resulted in marriage (and later ended in divorce). Near Dark lost at the box office to another vampire movie released at the same time, The Lost Boys. Having its production company go out of business provided no marketing help and Near Dark has since built a rabid following thanks to cable, DVD and midnight showings.
The basic story has a young local (rural Oklahoma) boy (Adrian Pasdar, who is married to one of the Dixie Chicks in real life) meeting a stranger in town (Jenny Wright, who played Rob Lowe’s wife in St Elmo’s Fire). Their initial sparks lead to necking .. get it? Next thing we know he is being dragged into a speeding Winnebago by Paxton, Henrickson, Goldstein, Wright and Joshua John Miller. We soon enough figure out it’s a traveling troupe of vampires and Caleb (the young local boy) is in big trouble.
There are a couple of well known/classic scenes: the sequence in the bar where we really get to see the personalities of each of this group, and the bungalow shootout where the bullet holes in the walls allow the deadly rays of sunshine to wreak havoc with the bloodsucking clan. Additionally, you will note some beautiful shots that confirm Ms. Bigelow’s background as an artist – the backlit shot of the group in the fog, and Caleb’s horse riding scene.
For those accustomed to seeing the “cool” Bill Paxton, they will be surprised at his frenetic wild man act. You might also recall his stint a couple years prior in the The Terminator as one of the blue-haired punks that naked Arnold meets upon his arrival. Jenny Wright is fun to watch here and it’s a reminder of her talent, and what a shame that she retired/disappeared from the acting world in 1998. Others in support include Tim Thomerson as Caleb’s dad and (a very young) James LeGros as the frightened teenage cowboy playing pool in the bar scene. Caleb’s sister is played by Marcie Leeds, who played young Sarah (Barbara Hershey’s character) in Beaches.
A sure sign of 1980’s horror is the electronic score provided by Tangerine Dream. The score would be much different today, but it’s very much a part of the film’s fabric and style. In addition to the key actors coming from Cameron’s film, you will also note Aliens on the town’s theatre marquee.
Bram Stoker published “Dracula” in 1897 and since then it’s provided source material and inspiration for an amazing number of films. Some of the best known include: Nosferatu in 1922, Bela Lugosi as Dracula in 1931, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948), Frank Langella in Dracula (1979), The Hunger with Catherine Deneuve (1983), Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula with Gary Oldman (1992), Tom Cruise in Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire (1994), Robert Rodriguez’ From Dusk til Dawn (1996 with George Clooney), Blade (1998), and most recently the Twilight franchise, TV’s “True Blood“, the excellent Let the Right One In (2008) and the animated Hotel Transylvania (2012). Next up is an NBC series with Jonathan Rhys Meyers in the title role of “Dracula“. For the undead, it’s quite an impressive family tree of entertainment and horror.