If Fright Night got me into horror movies then Near Dark, the next vampire film in DK Canada’s Monsters in the Movies book showed me that the undead could be vicious, occasionally hate their existence and live on the edges of the night.
Despite the ending (actually the return to humanity sequence) of the film, the rest of it is incredibly well put together. Marking Kathyrn Bigelow’s directorial debut the cast included Aliens alumnus Lance Henriksen, Bill Paxton and Jenette Goldstein. The trio play vampires, Jesse, Severen, and Diamondback, who also count Mae (Jenny Wright) and the immortally young Homer (Joshua Miller) among their brood.
They wander the back roads of America, stumbling through small towns, slaughtering and feeding. When Caleb (Adrian Pasdar) falls for Mae, she turns him, but he is reluctant to kill, something that Jesse and the rest demand he do if he is to remain with them. Kill or die, is the edict of the day.
Through it all Mae and Caleb grow increasingly in love, but the blood and the violence may be too much for him. And she may be too in love to take his life.
There are some standout sequences in the film, the bar scene, and the shootout in particular are great moments, and they remain favorites.
Bigelow keeps the story tight, the film moving, and keeps the mythology of her vampires a little ambiguous. They mat not disappear, or shapeshift, but wow, do they kill.
Henriksen is just incredible on the screen, his presence is almost overpowering and so stunning to watch, he’s just a bundle of energy that is vicious, monstrous, and something to watch. Paxton is manic, and barely restrained wild dog, while Goldstein is the matriarch and exudes trouble.
There is a physical realism to these vampires, they aren’t impeccably dressed, they are dirty, bloody, burned, they look weathered, and aged. Their look hints about their history just as much as the brilliant pieces of throwaway dialogue that hints at their undead lives.
Near Dark, Fright Night, and one other vampire film that came out in 1987, and is coming up, showed me that vampire, and horror films could be fun, cool, and scary. It seems that everything just sort of came together for me (horror film wise anyway) in the late 80s, and I loved being introduced to them when I was.
There’s more fangs coming as I continue to explore the macabre tome, Monsters in the Movies, available now from DK Books.