Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #380
Number of Views: Three
Release Date: October 2, 1987
Country of Origin: United States
Box Office: $3,369,307
Running Time: 95 minutes
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Producer: Steven-Charles Jaffe
Screenplay: Eric Red, Kathryn Bigelow
Special Effects: Gordon J. Smith
Cinematography: Adam Greenberg
Score: Tangerine Dream
Editing: Howard E. Smith
Studios: F/M Entertainment, Near Dark Joint Venture
Distributor: DeLaurentiis Entertainment Group
Stars: Adrian Pasdar, Jenny Wright, Lance Henriksen, Jenette Goldstein, Bill Paxton, Tim Thomerson, Joshua John Miller, Marcie Leeds, Kenny Call, Ed Corbett, Troy Evans, Bill Cross
Suggested Audio Candy
Tangerine Dream “Near Dark”
Some times in life it is necessary to make a choice. Whether that be Sophie’s Choice or, for any keen gamers amongst us who owned a Playstation, taking sides between Crash Bandicoot and Spyro The Dragon, it is requested that we select carefully. I never really understood the urgency to pledge my allegiance to only one which probably explains why, when asked for my favorite eighties vampire film between Joel Schumacher’s The Lost Boys and Katheryn Bigelow’s Near Dark, I throw a cat amongst the vampire bats by suggesting Richard Wenk’s neon-drenched Vamp be my personal darling. In truth it is not fit to lap up the boot leather of either film but it gives me a warm fuzzy feeling and enables me to diffuse the argument. Besides, the word “vampire” is never actually uttered once in Near Dark and it couldn’t be farther removed from its distant cousin.
Bigelow and co-screenwriter Eric Red were hellbent on making a western but were mindful that interest in the genre had severely waned of late, so decided to fuse genres instead. Her spouse-to-be James Cameron offered her a nugget of wisdom by suggesting she recruit a number of players from Aliens. Lance Henriksen, Bill Paxton, and Jenette Goldstein signed up in a heartbeat but, shamefully, Michael Biehn declined to play ball on account of being dissatisfied with the script, thus preventing the royal flush. I love Biehn dearly and, if I was ever gifted two Labradors, chances are I would call one Hicks and the other I’m Hudson Sir He’s Hicks, but must still pose the question “what the hell kind of script did you receive for all that’s good in God’s green kingdom man?!” Just do the film already! Alas, in space no-one can hear you scream.
Near Dark was the very last movie released by DeLaurentiis Entertainment Group before the crippled studio filed for bankruptcy and, as a result, the film missed out on precious publicity which led, in turn, to it sinking without a trace at the box office without so much as recouping its $5m outlay. Not that it will have been of any consolation to Dino De DeLaurentiis, but the film’s release on the thriving VHS format offered a new lease of life and it took no time for it to amass a devout following within horror circles. Vampire films were in vogue with both The Lost Boys and Tom Holland’s Fright Night hitting a chord with the teenage demographic but here was a motion picture more in-line with The Coen Brothers’ Blood Simple and disinterested in following the trend setters. Instead, it had a hillbilly style all of it’s ownsome.
It started, as with any classic love story, with a simple case of boy meets girl. Young gunslinger Caleb (Adrian Pasdar) came across the lithe, flaxen-haired Mae (Jenny Wright) with “skin softer than a preacher’s belly” and the mutual attraction was instantaneous. Caleb was smitten enough to not see her incisors protracting and she left him with a love bite as a token of their time together before fleeing to the hills at dawn. As if this wasn’t already disheartening enough, come sunrise, his flesh began to smolder and it appeared he had been royally duped with something far more heinous than any Southern fried STD he could have contracted. Thankfully, his love returned for him and he was introduced to her nearest and dearest as they bundled him in their RV.
While clearly thrilled to be reunited with his slice of cherry pie, his enthusiasm wasn’t shared by her reluctant buddies, a nomadic group of bloodsuckers named Hudson, Vasquez, and Bishop. No, no…that’s not right. Severen, Diamondback, and Jesse. Anyhoots, to add to his list of grievances, it was soon revealed that he would be required to quench or starve, and this placed rather a lot of moral conflict on his young shoulders, especially given that Caleb’s father (Tim Thomerson) had already sent out the search party for his only begotten son. Things continued to escalate as the Eddie Munster of the vampire’s bloodline, Homer (Joshua John Miller), got his first stiff winkle over Caleb’s sister Sarah (Marcie Leeds) and insisted she be his companion. Things got mighty strained at that point and the injured Caleb retreated with his family to attempt relinquishing his undesirable curse.
Whilst clearly partial to fresh blood, the vampires in question here were more your rowdy bikers than anything else; the kind of scum that had Charles Bronson shuffling out of retirement for Death Wish III. Hoodrats, vagrants, vagabonds, not to be trifled with; they made a formidable band of adversaries and were played to perfection by the ready-made ensemble. Paxton, in particular, was superb as psychopathic Severen, adding the kind of edge to the character that had made Hudson such a firm favorite previously. As for Henriksen, whenever is he anything other than superb?
Bigelow followed the western formula to the letter with elaborate set-pieces, deserted town showdowns, and a bar room brawl to smash glass across the toughest skulls. In addition, Adam Greenberg’s lush cinematography married beautifully with a score by one of Keeper’s all-time favorite bands, Tangerine Dream. While the compositions here weren’t their finest work, they liberally applied layers of intrigue and assisted in lending Near Dark a most exclusive vibe from stem to stern. The film was drenched in neon colors but this was countered by dusty exteriors and grungy interiors which kept this rooted firmly in western territory. Had Yul Brynner turned up unannounced, then I likely wouldn’t have batted an eyelid, aside from the fact that he’d been dead for two years already.
I refuse to be drawn on the debate over which is the best eighties vampire flick and prefer instead to ponder my own personal favorite. Bigelow’s film could never endure the repeat viewing of Vamp but, perhaps, that’s because it never need fire its six shooters to gain the recognition it deserved. It’s a true original, almost poetic in a sense, and I would rather suggest it to be one of the eighties’ finest unpolished treasures… period.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 9/10
Grue Factor: 3/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers: Name me a western that ain’t violent (which doesn’t feature Seth MacFarlane or Christopher Lloyd) and I’ll gladly get off ma horse and drink ma milk. Near Dark was as bloody as it needed to be in order to make its point and the grisly creations of Gordon J. Smith were a thing of wince-inducing wonder. We finally got to see what came of Hudson after the Xenomorphs pulled him through the grill and no amount of foundation could never have concealed that shit. Game over man? I’d say you’ve used up that last continue Bill yes. What a legend!
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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