NEAR DARK Makes Bigelow Queen of the Vamps

Near Dark. 1987. Directed by Kathryn Bigelow. Screenplay by Bigelow & Eric Red.
Starring Adrian Pasdar, Jenny Wright, Bill Paxton, Lance Henriksen, Marcie Leeds, Joshua John Miller, Jenette Goldstein, & Tim Thomerson. F/M Entertainment.
Rated R. 95 minutes.

posterI’ll admit it right off the bat, other than Blue SteelStrange Days, The Weight of Water, and this movie, I’m not Kathryn Bigelow’s biggest fan. All the same, on these alone I find her a solid director. Okay – I dig Point Break, too.
Near Dark, though. God damn. I consider a lot of movies 4 to 5-stars, after having seen over 4,200 films (and counting). However, that doesn’t mean they’re perfect. Just means in my subjective opinion they’re amazing. When it comes to Bigelow’s 1987 vampire flick – that one where they never say the word vampire – I honestly think it’s perfect. I would not change a single bit. This is one of the horror movies out there, amongst my favourites, which doesn’t need a thing to make it better.
There’s a nice dose of horror, some blood and burning bodies, that type of thing. A dash of romance. Several great action scenes. The dialogue is top notch, from Bigelow and Eric Red (The HitcherBlue Steel), and the performances – specifically that of Bill Paxton – only make what’s on the page come more alive.
If there ever were an award for best modern vampire flick, this would certainly be in the running for first place.
pic1The practical special effects are great fun and they start rather quick. After Caleb (Adrian Pasdar) gets a bite from Mae (Jenny Wright), he turns into a vampire. Running through a field trying to make it home, he begins burning up in the sun, and there’s an awesome effect where they ran tubes around in Pasdar’s jacket with smoke billowing out to make it look right. Everything about the film is impressive, well put together. For instance, the set design and locations are between Western and horror, from a dusty little bar where Severen (Bill Paxton), Jesse Hooker (Lance Henriksen) and the rest of the gang terrorise the patrons, to the inside of their RV with the windows mostly blocked, keeping the sun at bay so that they all don’t burn up. Then there’s also the makeup itself, which I can never get enough of – when the vampires start to burn a bit, it’s some of the best stuff out of the ’80s. Later on they all burn a good deal, so there’s a chance for the makeup artists to show off. My favourite moment is when Jesse and Diamondback (Jenette Goldstein) hold hands as they charge into the sun in the car, a close-up shows us the extensive, kick ass makeup work with Jesse’s crispy black hand taking the brunt.
Dying ain’t easy. Then again, neither is becoming a vampire.

We keep odd hours


Caleb’s transformation is especially confusing, for him, and terrifying for both him and us. It’s painfully cruel, his mind and body struggling to adapt. What’s worse, really: the moral or physical pain of the vampire? Strangely enough, Caleb refuses to kill yet feeds off Mae, with whom he’s fallen in love. He can’t kill, so the other vampires want nothing to do with him. Mae loves him enough to feed him from her wrist when necessary. There’s a romantic angle to the story. Not in that it romanticises vampirism. In the end, Caleb finds a way to combat the vampire infection and helps Mae, as well. But the way Mae and Caleb fall for one another is unique, in that they don’t fall into being vampires together – she doesn’t want to turn him in the start, she actively tries repelling his advances. Only because of his insistence. He pushes himself on her until she bites. Almost like he was asking for the consequences. Only he didn’t realise this love was wrapped up in being a bloodsucking, undead creature.
The most unsettling part of the movie, for me, is how the crew are highly organised vampires. They don’t just live somewhere trying to make a life for themselves, someplace they can easily find prey and dispose of bodies, et cetera; y’know, vampire shit. No, Hooker and the gang travel in their RV, or any vehicle which they can rig for their purposes, and make a road trip out of their infection. It’s the All-American Family on the ultimate, perpetual vacation. Caleb isn’t ready to leave behind his old life and his real family, nor are his family willing to let him go so easily, chasing after him until they too are in danger.
So what’s the lesson? Love is the drug. The one to bring people back from the life of the vampire. Hooker, Severen, Diamondback, they’re all loveless. No joy except for blood and murder and death all around. Caleb, his father, his sister, and finally Mae, they want for more. They need love to sustain them, not blood.

Dyinfor a bite

Always enjoyed the finale, the big showdown as Hooker’s crew goes up against Caleb, trying to save himself, his family, and Mae. The gorgeous Tangerine Dream score has this great part with this brass arrangement before snapping into typically gnarly Tangerine Dream-type stuff. A savage, ominous tone that takes us through these last bits, wondering who’ll burn up and who will leave to see another day. What’s fun is that it’s essentially two families pitted against each other: the vampire family v. Caleb’s real, human family. The father shows his son yet another act of love, helping him to conquer the vampires for good. Everything about the end is incredible.
A 5-star classic that isn’t all hype: Near Dark has the goods. Bigelow did the horror genre a service by trying to do something not typical, merging pieces of Western movies with that of the vampire sub-genre. She did so much on a small scale, making these vampires feel part of the real world while not going overboard. The movie’s wild, no doubt. But whereas certain other filmmakers might go for bigger, more lavish vampire flicks, Bigelow does something more contained and, in turn, comes out with great characters, a unique plot, and makes sure never to do skimp on some bloodiness.


There Are No Answers for Evil in HOME MOVIE

Home Movie. 2008. Directed & Written by Christopher Denham.
Starring Adrian Pasdar, Cady McClain, Amber Joy Williams, Austin Williams, Lucian Maisel, & River O’Neal.
Rated R. 80 minutes.

posterThe theme of evil is a prevalent one in the horror genre. Whether through a lens of science or organised religion, there are many films that tackle the nature of evil; from where it originates, what makes a person evil and drives them to do evil to others. It’s hard to ever know, but horror movies do their best to give us all the scenarios for our sick enjoyment.
Christopher Denham gives us Home Movie – a suspenseful, eerie addition to the found footage sub-genre. Using the story of two parents – David and Clare Poe (Adrian Pasdar & Cady McClain) – who are having trouble with their young, strange children, Denham explores the idea of evil. The main plot has to do with the mother (works in psychology) and the father (a pastor) having opposite worldviews, so they’ve come to different conclusions on what is making their children act like two budding serial killers.
What makes it all so effective is attention to sticking with the found footage format, generally keeping close to making it feel like this footage was actually FOUND instead of edited together. Furthermore, Pasdar and McClain are a natural couple with positive chemistry for the roles, alongside Amber Joy Williams & Austin Williams as Jack and Emily who act beyond their years with an ability to creep you out that needs to be seen to be believed.
Trust me. If ever creepy kids were creepy as hell, Home Movie is the flick.
pic2Opening the film with dead animals being wrapped in plastic bags, put in a kid’s wagon, then quickly cutting to David flicking through the camera starting to film some nice family moments is a masterful juxtaposition. This sets the film’s tone fast. A disgusting moment juxtaposed against the innocuous, typical dad-like activity is like a thesis: we are about to witness a (semi)normal family descend into macabre madness.
There’s a lot of dragon imagery throughout the story. We see the dragon puppet the kids have, and then dad tells his children a story called “The Dragon and The Paper Bag” that concerns a dragon who disguises himself to fit in amongst boys and girls only to eat them up in a dastardly plan. Notice it’s a two-headed dragon. So, quite swiftly Denham sets up a symbolic parallel between the two-headed beast and the two Poe kids. Just as the dragon walked and talked like a child but was only pretending, we eventually come to see how the Poe kids also pretend to be children while they’re so much more in the most sinister of ways.
Our first big indication of a serious problem, as well as the kids’ affront to their parents respective fields (a conscious effort on their part), is the crucified cat. On Christmas Day, no less. They don’t just kill a cat, they don’t simply nail him to a piece of wood: they crucify him. This is their initial dig at God. Worse still, it’s likely the kids who set into motion the mistaken assumption on their mother’s part that David is abusing them. He gets drunk on New Years and ends up laying in bed with his kids; they wake up with bites all over them, deep and hard. Earlier in the movie we hear Clare tell David to stop biting her. And so the kids – who are known to be watching the tapes – bite each other. They manipulate Clare into thinking that her field of science is the one able to provide an explanation: David, as it turns out, was abused as a boy, and so statistics show many abused kids grow up to abuse their own offspring. More and more, little Jack and Emily set their parents against one another, all in the name of completing their evil without being bothered too much.
pic3So many message boards for this movie have thrived on the idea that there’s actually a chance the kids were possessed. Not true, at all. Not in any way. The children aren’t possessed, nor can psychology and all the science of the world properly diagnose and explain their evil behaviour. Just like the most famous serial killers in history, these kids are psychopaths. They’ve gone from nailing down worms to beheading dogs, crucifying cats, to first harming another child to likely murdering their own parents. The whole point of the film is that evil has NO explanation. There’s no one solitary answer. Even the FBI with their checklist of factors which lead to someone becoming a serial killer readily admit there’s no right combination; each person, and consequently their personal brand of evil, is different.
What’s positively evident at all times is the creepiness. Pasdar’s charm as the family patriarch lulls us into a complacent feeling, like these are real people, as does the relationship between him and McClain. Set against the parents, Jack and Emily are terrifying, two near emotionless children, manipulative and worrisome at every turn. The family dynamic overall is so natural that once the horror gets going full force you’re swept away by each following event. Calling back to the dragon, the kids don paper bags when committing ghastly acts, such as preparing a friend from school to eat – they don’t get to do it, but close enough. Later when they have their parents tied up, they once more put on their paper bags. Again, their likeness to the dragon is brought to the front. We see the kids for who they are: monsters. They even wear Japanese-style masks, reminiscent of dragons, as they lay siege to their parents before the climactic moments. Love the imagery that repeats, getting stronger with each appearance, until the horror is unbearable.
pic3-1This is a great found footage horror. Near the end, the kids start setting up for “The Jack and Emily Show” and it’s as if Kevin McCallister and his younger sister teamed up as killers to make his wish of never seeing his family again come true; the found footage edition of Home Alone. Most of the sub-genre is adhered to, although a couple times a bit of choice editing works its way. I can forgive some of that because Denham really makes the whole thing look like we’re seeing home movies, some messed up and static-filled, bits merging together having been taped over time and time again.
Above anything else, Home Movie unnervingly looks into the nature of evil, positing that between science and religion there are no full explanations. Try though people might we will never find an exact definition or idea of evil. When it comes to the subject of killer children, or those kids who may go on to be serial killers at a later age, there’s often no way to clue everything up in a nice package for people to say “Oh this is evil” like a coordinate on a map. No. Just as the Poe children show us, there are no ways to understand evil, and certainly not in such young people. Evil is fluid, it comes in many forms and all too often inexplicably.