Near Dark (1987)

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Near Dark is a seminal entry into the 1980’s trend of ‘cool’ vampire films alongside The Lost Boys, Fright Night and Vamp. However, Near Dark takes a very different approach to vampire films by having a character focused story with no-one uttering the word ‘vampire’. Near Dark is a vampire film about what it’s like to be a vampire instead of what it’s like to fight against them. The film’s story is about a young man called Caleb who becomes a vampire when he falls in love with a (seemingly) young woman called Mae, afterwards he is kidnapped by Mae’s vampire ‘family’ where he is forced to travel with them and become a vampire whilst trying to keep a grip on his humanity, determined not to become an evil killing machine. Near Dark was created by Point Break director Kathryn Bigelow, and it remains to this day one of the most noteworthy films of her career, but also one of her biggest failures at the box office.

Firstly, I was pleasantly surprised by how well written the story of Near Dark is. The plot is quite different as it doesn’t follow a 3 act structure per se, instead the film follows the emotional journey of Caleb, the main protagonist, as he struggles between his humanity, his love for Mae, and his frictional relationship with the rest of the vampires. The film also takes a lot of story inspiration from the Western genre of film with the ‘family’ being the outlaws and Caleb being the ‘new meat’ of the group just trying to survive – there’s even a direct reference to Western films where Caleb rides into a shantytown riding a horse to confront the villains. However, Near Dark is primarily a very emotionally driven film with a distinct focus on empathetic characters in difficult situations, especially the struggles of Caleb and Mae’s difficult relationship. Unlike other vampire movies which usually concentrate on the fight between the vampire and the vampire hunter, Caleb’s struggle is a relatable, inward struggle, which is a refreshing approach rarely seen in vampire movies. I was pleasantly surprised by the sentimental approach the film took, because this approach makes the film’s story very unpredictable, and thoroughly enjoyable.

Aside from the story, Near Dark has a lot of positive aspects. The film’s very well shot with atmospheric lighting and there’s an emphasis on hard shadows and silhouettes during the night-time scenes which are quite visually artistic. However, the greatest aspect of Near Dark is the fantastic performances from a cast full of legendary 1980’s actors: Lance Henrikson (Aliens), Bill Paxton (Aliens), Adrian Pasdar (Top Gun), Jenny Wright (Pink Floyd: The Wall) and Jenette Goldstein (Aliens). The performances given by these actors are simply mesmerizing to watch. Lance Henrikson and Bill Paxton give maniacally intense performances as villainous vampires whilst Adrian Pasdar and Jenny Wright give touching, emotionally driven empathetic roles as the ‘star crossed’ lovers, torn between their love for each other and their vampiric ways. Upon reflection, there’s very little I can criticize about Near Dark aside from the film’s obvious post production effects and the very limited use of sets and special effects, but my criticisms are over shadowed by the film’s much better aspects.

All in all, Near Dark is a really entertaining film that’s a true treat to watch amongst the typical ‘cool’ vampire films of the 1980’s. It may not have the kitsch appeal that made The Lost Boys and Fright Night really popular films, but Near Dark is just as entertaining. Near Dark may have bombed at the box office, but it’s now regarded as a cult classic vampire film with a dedicated following because of it’s emotionally driven story about love, blood, guns and vampires. In conclusion, I thoroughly enjoyed watching Near Dark and I definitely recommend it to 1980’s horror fans.

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