One of the Coolest Vampire Movies Ever: Watching Near Dark with Scott Weinberg

By  · Published on October 30th, 2015

I am a film critic, but almost all of the movies I watch are new releases. That is going to change. With Jeff Bayer’s MODERN HORRORS: An A to Z of Horror Movie Reviews. Each section begins with a quote from the film.

“Howdy. I’m gonna separate your head from your shoulders. Hope you don’t mind none.” (Weinberg explains): When Bayer asked me to pick a great horror film for him to write about, I picked Kathryn Bigelow’s Near Dark because it’s a remarkably novel spin on old-school vampire tropes, it moves like a shot, and it features a big sweaty fistful of fantastic performances. I think it’s one of the coolest vampire movies ever made, and certainly one of the most impressive indie horror films of the 1980s. It is my hope that Bayer enjoys this motion picture.

“Normal folks, they don’t spit out bullets when you shoot ’em, no sir.” (Bayer watches): Good gravy there is a lot to dig into here. For me, two names stood out for Near Dark, which I had never even heard of before Weinberg assigned it: Kathryn Bigelow and Bill Paxton. Bigelow is behind Point Break, The Hurt Locker, and Zero Dark Thirty. She’s good. Paxton is the name that had me more excited. Everyone should worship Paxton because he is extreme. He attacks almost every role. What I didn’t realize is, Near Dark turns Paxton up to levels I didn’t even know existed.

The beginning of this film is melodramatic to the extreme. Small-town country boy Caleb (Adrian Pasdar) falls for the beautiful stranger in town, Mae (Jenny Wright). I couldn’t figure out if this was a joke, who the lead was, or if I was supposed to fall in love along with them. It’s a rough 10-minute lead, but it doesn’t matter. An RV shows up and annihilates everything. It’s an awesome moment that left me truly bewildered. Mae is with a group of misfit vampires. Jesse Hooker (Lance Henriksen) is their leader, Jenette Goldstein is Diamondback, and the mother figure of the group (kind of). Homer (Joshua John Miller) is a kid vampire, and Paxton is Severen (the insane). Later on in the film, Paxton has his best moment when he’s in a bar and the song “Fever” is playing on the jukebox.

Once Caleb is turned into a vampire, he’s expected to kill to fit in the group. Thing is, he’d rather not. He’s just not a killer, plus, he realizes this isn’t your typical refined group of sharp-teethed killers. Hell, they don’t even suggest breaking into a blood bank.

There are a plethora of vampire tropes used here, but then again this film is from 1987. Were they even tropes yet? Let’s ask Weinberg. Can you recall an earlier time when human food tastes terrible to a newly-turned vampire? The smoke and fire produced by these vampires in the sun might hit a new all-time level, complete with explosions. Most importantly with this, the stunt work is fantastic. They only use CGI once, and it’s with Homer on fire (and it fails to look good by today’s standards).

Bigelow and cinematographer Adam Greenberg make this film look amazing, but the double- and triple-swipe cuts are hilarious.

Let’s remake this, because I said so. Caleb and Mae must remain unknowns. Paxton is now Jesse. The big question now is, who could currently pull off the role of Severen? Caleb needs to like being a vampire for a little bit longer, and explore exactly what that means. Also, there needs to be a greater focus on Homer being interested in Caleb’s sister.

Here’s some more rapid fire questions for Weinberg. How many times have you seen this film, and how did you discover it? Is Caleb a little too aggressive in trying to sleep with Mae by today’s standards? Refusing to drive someone home until the gets a kiss just isn’t cool anymore. When Caleb’s dad (Tim Thomerson) does the homemade blood transfusion, instead of taking his son to a hospital, or at least talking it out a little more, is it the most insane leap of logic you can recall from a quality film? Also, has there ever been an easier way to get rid of vampirism? I assume Bill Paxton is in your top 5 of all-time favorite actors, am I close? Joshua John Miller has always bugged me, and I can’t explain it, what about you? Who is your favorite between Troy Evans, Tim Thomerson, and James Le Gros? This is more of a statement, there is a classic telephone booth in this film. For me, when I was a kid, seeing these in movies felt magical. It meant big city, adulthood, or something I couldn’t grasp yet. This movie reminded me of that. It’s also just a flat-out fun vampire flick that everyone should see. Thank you, Weinberg. You didn’t disappoint.

Movie Score: 8/10

“You’re not gonna look so good… with your face ripped off.” (Weinberg responds):
1. “I never drink… wine.” That’s from the original Dracula. So there is a precedent of vampires not liking normal foodstuff.
2. I’ve seen this film at least four times. I “discovered” it during my normal life during the 1980s. I’m sort of a horror film aficionado.
3. People were a bit sluttier in the 1980s. So Caleb doesn’t seem all that amorously aggressive to me.
4. The “total” blood transfusion is actually one of this film’s cleverest conceits. I think it’s pretty neat.
5. Bill Paxton is a great actor, especially when he gets roles as colorful as this one.

Very glad you liked the movie. I knew you would.

“Just a couple more minutes of your time, about the same duration as the rest of your life.” (Bayer concludes): I guess we’ll never know who was the first vampire to vomit from regular human food. It will be one of life’s great mysteries. Since you decided not to remake this film along with me, I’m going to cast Robert Pattinson. Mainly because it will destroy the minds of millions of Twilight fans for him to play a different kind of non-glittering vampire. Not only that, I can’t see him pulling this off at all, but it’s be fascinating to see him try. Give yourself a treat this Halloween, go find Near Dark.

Your Next Assignment: Guest critic Eric D. Snider selected The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. It is available for free on Hulu, and Vimeo, or for rent/purchase on iTunes. Your due date is Friday, November 27.