Near Dark (1987)

Posted: by Findlay

Near Dark (1987); Directed by Kathryn Bigelow

In One Sentence: A young Oklahoma cowboy inadvertently becomes part of a “family” of vampire misfits.

Why you should watch: Hoooo boy! Paxton-mania continues! It’s going to be hard for me to really condense into a review what is one of my favourite films of all time and one of the best modern vampire films ever created. Hell, I even stole my copy from a shop I worked in at the time and, a few years ago, got Lance Henriksen himself to sign it(!) 

The story is one of a Neo-Gothic leaning, focusing on young Oklahoma cowboy Caleb who picks up quiet sweetheart Mae on a regular night in his small town. After a few hours of shy flirting and her very suspicious prose, they kiss and she bites him. He’s soon picked up by Mae’s “family” of vampires as they move across America, feeding and living in the night. All the while Caleb’s dad and sister look for him, presuming he’s been kidnapped.

The story is all about redefinition. 
Redefining vampires and their lore.
Redefining the pomp and decadence associated with vampirism.

These are dirty, low, struggling romantics. Savages of the night taking a new member under their wing. A member who doesn’t quite grasp what the fuck is happening to him, but knows that it’s unholy.

This whole factor is delivered so beautifully by the incredible cast of characters. From Bill Paxton’s rootin’ tootin’ leather wearing shitkicker vampire Severin, to Lance Henriksen’s father-figure slinky southern menace Jesse, to Jenette Goldstein’s tough-as-nails mothering badass Diamondback, all the characters are so well defined that you fucking love each one for different reasons. Even their backstories are interesting because they’re never explained fully as to patronize the audience. A lot of it is hidden in throwaway dialogue you probably didn’t notice first time watching. There are hints at Jesse’s Confederate background and the starting of a certain great fire in Chicago that give these characters some incredible depth, never mind how brilliantly written and played they are. All are done with such relish, the film just fucking POPS.

Bigelow’s directing not only serves as a conduit for these characters but also frames them in the most beautiful way with help from DOP Adam Greenberg. Night shots are oily and deep, the playground for the “family”, whereas dawn shots are warm and fearful. Sunlight bleaching your eyes out, nothing compared to what it’ll do to the vampires.

Slow motion is used for a few scenes as well but it isn’t hokey or building up fake tension, it mirrors the beauty and slowburning depth of the film overall.

The way vampirism is handled serves as another reminder that it’s what we don’t see that makes all the difference. We aren’t shown fangs. No big gnarled up faces. No big crazy claws. Nothing like that. Blood is there to be drank, people are bitten and killed, but these vamps aren’t here to be potent, exhaustingly demystified monsters. They’re surviving. Who’s got time to change into fucking bats?

Rounding off the dense gothic brilliance of Near Dark is the soundtrack by the inimitable Tangerine Dream. Synth-heavy pulsing and electronic beating fortify scenes effortlessly. Redefining again the old stereotypes of the vampyr. No heinous old organs or creaky old arcane violins are to be found. The original scores from vampire films were there as grandiose gestures of fear for the victims, Near Dark’s score is a soundtrack of the night, aswell as a soundtrack of struggle and the will to survive. At any cost.

Near Dark is truly a cult gem and is sometimes forgotten in the vampire pantheon, which could be down to the fact it came out the same year as some film called The Lost Boys (?) but I wholly suggest you check it out for a cracking spin on vampirism.

Also, amount of times the word vampire is said? Zero.

Favourite Line: “What do you people want?”
“Just a couple more minutes of your time, about the same duration as the rest of your life.”

Rating: 10/10 – Always hook up with someone AFTER dawn