Movie Review: Near Dark (1987)

Well this is embarrassing.  I wrote this review back in early January 2010 and just realized now that I never posted it.  Yeah I know; shut up!! So here it is:

If you think the romanticized, faggy, androgynous vampires that Anne Rice and Stephenie Meyer’s write about are scary or “cool”, then you can probably stop reading this review right now.  For those of you who love the pasty, Euro-trash type of vampire (you know the ones … they look and act about as scary as your typical teen goth poseur); well, Near Dark is definitely NOT for you.  On the other hand, if you like your vampires nasty, ferocious, and brutal (this is starting to sound like a Thomas Hobbes quote!!) well then you’ve come to the right place.

Near Dark is what a fast, violent vampire flick is all about. The vampires here are gritty, dirty, violent, and pissed off creatures who don’t have any plans of world domination or enslaving humanity. They just live to survive.  The story begins with Caleb (Adrian Pasdar) meeting and falling for Mae (Jenny Wright).  Writer-director Kathryn Bigelow (director of the amazing The Hurt Locker) does a great job tricking us into believing we are watching a touching love story as we follow these two on a date.  But Mae is actually a vampire and even though she genuinely likes Caleb and doesn’t wanna hurt him, she is also hungry.  In a very tense scene Bigelow builds an amazing amount of tension as we feel Mae’s conflict as she contemplates kissing or killing Caleb.  Right when you think she’s going in for the kill, she pulls back at the last minute and gives him a little nip on the neck.  It’s a great scene and Mae hits all the ‘Wright’ notes (ha!):  She is cute and innocent but also has a raw animalistic side that she struggles to keep below the surface.  It’s a great performance.

This kiss will change your life!!

Mae’s nip was enough to turn Caleb into a vampire, but he doesn’t understand what’s happening to himself; he’s hungry but can’t stomach any kind of food and he’s becoming very sensitive to sunlight.  As Caleb stumbles home after his encounter with Mae, just as the sun is rising, he looks as though he is gonna burst into flames.  Just as he’s about to get to his house, an R.V. comes outta nowhere and swoops him up – right in full view of Caleb’s dad, played by the always great Tim Thomerson.

All this takes place in like the first 15-20 minutes.  It’s a great beginning that really sets the tone for the rest of the flick.  Inside the R.V. are Mae and her “family”: Jesse (Lance Hendrikson), Severin (Bill Paxton), Diamondback (Janette Goldstein), and Homer (Joshua Miller).  The first three starred together in James Cameron’s Aliens (1986), and you can feel a genuine chemistry among them all.  (Fun piece of trivia:  When Caleb is staggering through the town he passes by a drive-in and the movie Aliens is playing in the background).  Everyone in the R.V. are vampires.  They’ve all been changed at different times.  The “family” isn’t happy that Mae turned Caleb and they are ready to just kill him to get rid of him. But Mae convinces them to give him a chance and to let him make his first kill thereby becoming a full vampire after his first feeding.  So they take him to a honky-tonk bar in the middle of nowhere to see if he has what it takes to survive as a vampire.

The calm before all hell breaks loose in the bar.

Oh that bar scene.  This is probably the most famous part of the movie.  It’s both humorous and absolutely horrifying. The “family” walks into the bar as normal customers and slowly begin to terrorize the few drunk locals.  Bill Paxton shines as one violent son of a bitch; a far cry from his whiney space marine character in Aliens.  What they end up doing to the guys in the bar is hard to watch.  You know it’s not gonna end well for the customers.  Again, Bigelow does an amazing job building tension and elevating a sense of dread and escalating violence.

He should be full; he just ate a bar-full of people!!

The rest of the movie has Caleb’s dad tracking him down to save him from the “kidnappers.”  And just wait until the final battle between Caleb and his dad and the “family” of vampires.  Awesome stuff here.  This is Bigelow’s first solo directing job and she was warned by producer Edward Feldman that if she couldn’t handle the job as director she’d be replaced after the first five days of filming.  What a douche.  The last thing Feldman produced was the shitty K-19: The Widowmaker back in 2002.  Bigelow is now up for an Academy Award for the incredible The Hurt Locker.  Eat me Feldman.  Bigelow has a great eye here.  The action sequences are beautifully shot making it feel as though you’re actually in the movie, and the horror scenes are absolutely terrifying.  The scene in the bar could be used in a film school as the perfect example of how to set up a shot and build the tension to an explosive and violent ending.

These two are just downright scary!!

All the performances are incredible.  If you only know the Lance Henriksen from his later career as a “straight to DVD” B-movie whore, well you need to see him here.  This movie will remind you why Lance is a star.  His performance here is fantastic; he’s like a tightly coiled spring that’s ready to explode at any moment (and he does explode … quite a few times).

This is possibly the best vampire movie ever made. Writer-director Bigelow really injects some originality into an otherwise listless genre (and interesting enough, the term “vampire” is never used once the entire movie). She doesn’t try and re-write the genre, just update it and make it fresh. She doesn’t shy away from the violence either. The above-mentioned bar scene will have you peeking through your fingers and really empathizing with the guys in the bar. It’s got it all: great acting, great f/x, and a great ending.  Bigelow offers a pretty damn clever solution to “curing” vampirism.  Really clever.  Definitely check this one out.

Sorry; I like my vampire more medium-rare!!

My Summary:

Director:  Kathryn Bigelow (also writer)

Rating:  5 out of 5 stars

Gore:  6.5 out of 10 skulls

Zombie Mayhem:  0 out of 5 brains

Afterwards:  Here’s something to make you pretty sick to your stomach.  Last year in July 2009, Near Dark was re-released onto DVD.  But to try and cash in on the success of the Twilight (yech) movies, Near Dark got some new DVD cover art.  Check it out below and compare it to the cover art of Twilight.  I don’t think I need to say anything else … Yes I do:  Why the FUCK would they wanna compare a classic masterpiece like Near Dark to that shitty Twilight series??  Yeah yeah yeah; I know the answer is money.  But for fuck’s sake …

Yeah this made me nauseous too!!

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38 Responses to “Movie Review: Near Dark (1987)”
  1. autumnforest says:

    I am thrilled you reviewed this. It was about a week ago, I wanted to see something that was more hardcore vampire and a little more dark stylish like Dusk to Dawn or even Lost Boys and I knew there was another movie I saw long ago and had forgotten the name of. You just gave it to me. Sw-eet!

  2. So happy you reviewed this. This is by far my favorite “dark” vampire movie (Let the Right One In is my other favorite, for obviously different reasons). Bill Paxton with the spurs and “It’s finger-lickin’ good” alone makes it worth the watch, but it’s got so much more. I’ve always been a Lance Henricksen fan (I still miss Millennium) and it was so cool to see the Aliens cast reunited in this. And the little vampire is creepy as shit, with his mini-pervert ways…

    • I remember cringing the 1st time I watched this one when they introduced the mini-vampire. I was expecting the character to be really annoying and a pain in the ass … BUT the little guy was written really well and ACTED extremely well. He was a creepy little bastard; especially when he was hitting on Caleb’s little sister….. yuck; I need a shower.

  3. This is my favorite vampire flick for the innovations alone (taping up the windows and sleeping in bathtubs, even the return to the idea of a transfusion helping the infected). As much as I deplore the Hollywoodization of vampire mythology, Near Dark took that cinematic mythology in new directions. As horrible as the characters were, their personalities were well developed, even likable. I liked the dynamic of their dysfunctional family, and I think that the movie explored the problems of human aging in an immortal form better than Ann Rice’s foray. The vampires of Near Dark were not theatrical vampires; they were real, believable characters.

    • Well said Candace!!! The vampire “family” is the perfect example of what happens when a family comes together not because they want too, but because they have no one else!!! Awesome performances by everyone involved.

      When was the first time transfusions were used in a vampire novel/movie as a cure?

  4. Katie says:

    I’ve never seen this one, but i will be sure to check it out! I am like you in that I am tired of these wimpy vampires. When did being a vampire become cool and something you want to fall in love with? These creatures were invented (along with werewolves, frankenstein, etc.) to scare us and warn us about what could happen if we don’t change our ways. They are supposed to scare us, not make us fall in love with them. Anyway, I will certainly check this one out and hpefully the world will get over Twilight and get back to scary monster movies. By the way, I saw the Wolfman remake and I must say I thought it was pretty good. They still injected some love into it, but it made sense and wasn’t the whole damn movie! And the werewolves were still scary as hell!

    • It’s time for the horror world to reclaim vampires BACK. Screw you Anne Rice and Steph Meyer!!! If ya love vampires Katie and want a different take on them, check out the series of books by Brian Lumley titled Necroscope. Its a long series but totally worth your time!!

      I agree with ya on the Wolf Man remake. It wasn’t too bad. Great atmosphere and tone and a scary looking creature (even though we didn’t get to see it too much).

      • You know… I really didn’t like his Necroscope books. I love his Lovecraftian stuff, but I just couldn’t get into his vampire novels.

        For totally awesome, savage vampire stories, check out Nancy A Collins. She has a series of books based on the character Sonja Blue, but she also has a limited printing of short stories using vampires, werewolves, even a play on Frankenstein/necromancy all set in the Wild West called Knuckles and Tales. I like all her work, but that collection is probably my favorite.

      • I’m sorry you don’t care for the Necroscope series!! What about them don’t you like? I’ve never read any of his Lovecraft stuff but I hear it is really great. Lovecraft is his main influence and the reason he began writing. From my limited exposure to Lovecraft’s works I find various aspects of the Necroscope series to have a lot of Lovecraft influences … mainly the Wamphyri themselves. Many of the descriptions of them seem pretty Elder-ish :-)

        I admit that I had trouble getting into the 1st Necroscope novel … it was very dense with a lot of history in it. Just as I was about to give up on it I decided to read one last chapter. That was a defining moment in my horror life. If I’d have quit reading I would have missed out an amazing series (for me)!!! Lumley’s Lovecraftian writings have been on my list forever!!

      • Like you, I found the first novel to be dense and tedious. I interested enough in the characters to keep reading. I’ve heard it was very Lovecraftian too, but I just couldn’t get into it. I guess I just prefer his more overtly Lovecraftian work.

      • From limited exposure to Lovecraft I’d say the Necroscope at best is loosely inspired by Lovecraft’s writings. At best!!

  5. A transfusion was never used as a cure before Near Dark in so far as I’m aware. The nearest equivalent is in Dracula where Lucy is given an experimental transfusion for her “anemia.” It’s really not clear if she would have been cured by the procedure if she had not been attacked again. In vampire fiction and even folklore, vampirism is a blood-borne pathogen. In folklore, if a person does not succumb to blood loss, they can live a normal life right up until they die. Normally it was only if a person died of the bite that they would become a vampire. So whether they died immediately or decades later, once you were attacked, you were a danger to everyone around you. There were things a person might do to prevent their immediate death (eating dirt from the grave of their attacker or mixing the blood of their attacker -after s/he’d been staked- with flour or wine to eat), but they were still doomed to become a vampire eventually.

    If we assume that the vampirism in Near Dark was connected in some way to anemia, a direct transfusion of healthy blood might be enough for the victim to shake off the “virus.” It was a medical assumption early on in the “legitimate” study of medieval vampirism that porphyria was the cause of most vampire and werewolf sightings. Doctors assumed that victims were driven to attack others for the nutrients/hormones in the blood and that by attacking others who shared their genetic propensity for porphyria, the blood loss caused more “vampires.” The only problem with this is that blood does not pass directly from the stomach into the blood stream. It is digested like anything else that’s ingested, destroying many of the nutrients that might help alleviate the symptoms of porphyria. Further, blood is an emetic. Drink enough of it, and you will throw it up. So the porphyria angle does not work… except by following the logic through fiction, you get the idea that maybe a transfusion would cure vampirism, allowing the body to recover its equilibrium to shake off vampirism with the rise in healthy platelets/white blood cells. That part is never really clear in Near Dark, and I tend to interpret the transfusion as a direct homage to Dracula. However, it would be interesting to see a sequel which explores the idea that they became vampires again at some point- possibly through death, just as in folklore.

    • As always, Candace, you have proven to be my go-too-girl for these questions!!! That’s really interesting that in folklore if a person doesn’t experience blood loss they can live a normal life until ….. I never realized that. That seems like a really interesting idea that has a lot of potential today!!

      • I try. ;-) Yeah, that’s often left out of the vampire fiction. If a person didn’t die of the bite, basically nothing happened to them until they did finally die years later after everyone had forgotten they were a victim. Then the trouble started. There were other ways a person might become a vampire (or in some cases a werewolf, and in some other cases, a werewolf in life and vampire in death)… eating meat that had been killed by wolves, excommunication, a curse from a parent, being born on Christmas or Easter, dying in any unnatural way. From the folklore, it often seemed that there were more ways a person might be infected than not.

      • I was just thinking what you said in that last sentence: It seems there were more ways to become infected than not!! Awesome info Candace! Thank you.

  6. spyderkl says:

    Wow! I vaguely remember this when it first came out. Now I really want to see this again.

  7. l3pr3chaun says:

    I need to Netflix this one. It’s only been 23 years since I last saw this masterpiece. Holy crap, how the hell did I forget this one?! Your review brought it all back. Damn this was soo good!

  8. John says:

    Great vampire movie, i agree man! FUCK Anne Rice and Stephenie Meyers with their queer vampires even of the sparkling kind. This movie has been a fave of mine since 98 when i was 16.

    Have you seen The Hunger, Lifeforce, Captain Kronos Vampire Hunter, The Keep (1983), Planet of the Vampires, Cronos, Ravenous, The Omega Man, Last Man on Earth, Vampire’s Kiss, Vampire Hunter D 1 & 2, etc.? those portrayed unique and different kind of unconventional vampires before Twilight. You should check out those movies.

    • Hey John. Always great to have another reader who hates Anne Rice & Stephanie Meyers!! I’ve seen a lot of solid vampire flicks but I always heep returning the NEAR DARK as my favorite.

      That list you wrote … I’ve seen all of them except VAMPIRE HUNTER D 1&2. THE HUNGER is another one of those really atmospheric, stylish vampire flicks that I totally enjoyed. LIFEFORCE is another underrated flick!! I was disappointed with THE KEEP; there are no vampires in the novel, so I was a little annoyed with that one but its still a satisfying flick. Have you seen Carpenter’s VAMPIRES? I really love that one.

      • The second Vampire Hunter D is better IMO than the first. I don’t know how else to describe it beyond saying the people in the first movie had bubble heads. If you ever get a chance to see it, you’ll see what I mean. Beyond that, I felt the plot in the second movie was more cohesive and more of the world and character of Vampire Hunter D was explored.

        Technically in the Keep novel, the ancient undead sorcerer the Keep contains could be construed as a vampire. It feeds as much on the blood of the Nazis it kills as it does on the terror it creates. The sorcerer is in fact more of psychic vampire in the book than in the movie which I barely remember from when I was 11 and saw it on a Saturday afternoon. Thirst is another book to movie that isn’t quite as good as the source, though it has David Bowie, so that kind of makes it a bit more awesome. If you get a chance though, read the book and the others in the series.

        I own Omega Man and Last Man on Earth, and I’m a big fan of the original I Am Legend story by Matheson. Both Charlton Heston’s version and Vincent Price’s version use elements of Matheson’s original story, but I refuse to own the Will Smith version of I Am Legend. Compared to the other two, which are classics, the only thing Will Smith’s version added was better special effects and demolition. I had head they wanted to do a sequel, and I am so glad that has not come to pass.

        I liked Lifeforce. It really put a new spin on vampirism, and it’s not often that throwing the vampires into science fiction actually works well.

        I would not lump Ravenous in with the vampire movies as it was not a vampire movie. It was a retelling of the Wendigo myth, which is used to go effect as the story unfolds. I think it has more in common with the movie, Manitou, than with any vampire story.

      • I get what you’re saying about the novel The Keep … “psychic vampires” describes it best. I also read an interview (a while ago) where author F. Paul Wilson said he regretted describing it as a “psychic vampire”. I agree; the term “vampire” is such a loaded word that you can’t help but think of the traditional blood suckers. But I love the book and enjoyed the film.

        I’m with ya 100% on OMEGA MAN and LAST MAN ON EARTH … absolutely love those flicks (and I own them as well). I really didn’t care for the Will Smith I AM LEGEND flick at all. Hated the CGI creatures and the pacing of the entire flick (I also thought the flashbacks weren’t placed in the best spots). But Matheson’s book “I Am Legend” is one of my favorites … I even used it when I taught a class in existentialism.

        RAVENOUS … is that the one during the Civil War that takes place at the remote outpost? If it is, I thought of that one as more of a mainstream cannibal flick than a retelling of the Wendigo myth. But I may be thinking of a different flick.

      • Yes, Ravenous is set in the civil war, and they do get into the Wendigo myth towards the end of the story, as an explanation of why the men became addicted to the taste of human flesh. The main character had survived being buried alive under a pile of his dead comrades by drinking the blood which dripped into his mouth as he lay beneath them. They don’t really go into detail about the mythology, which is probably a good thing considering most people’s short attention spans, but they do explain that it’s how the villain of the story, who had been ill, became better after hearing about and acting on the story of the Wendigo. I thought the end of the movie was especially ironic, with the captain eating the soup without knowing what was in it and smacking his lips. heh

        I have a thing for civil war/colonial horror. I’ve only seen a few that I thought were crappy. (And no, I didn’t see Jonah Hex, not that I think it could be classified as horror.) The third Gingersnaps movie was great, Ravenous, Dead Birds…. In my opinion, it’s an underutilized setting.

      • It’s obviously been a long time since I saw RAVENOUS because I don’t remember the Wendigo being thrown in there AT ALL!! lol I’m gonna have to watch that one again. I do remember liking it and thought it was well done.

        I agree with ya on liking Civil War/Colonial settings for horror flicks. We’ve talked about it before, but I also really liked DEAD BIRDS; it has an awesome setting with a really creepy atmosphere. It also has a great payoff!! I wasn’t crazy about the 3rd GINGERSNAPS flick … but then I was one of the few people who thought the original GINGERSNAPS was overrated. It was good, but wasn’t the fantastic movie that people refer to it as (in my opinion).

      • Hah, yeah, I actually like the second and third Gingersnaps movies over the first. The first was okay for a werewolf movie, but the second and third really broke new ground I thought. True it was goofy to go back in time and show the sisters in another life, though maybe it was to give them a “happy” ending? Not so happy for everyone else though. heh I think actually the second movie is my favorite. I just love “Ghost.” She was such an awesomely awful child.

      • Maybe I need to go back and re-watch Gingersnaps 2 & 3. I don’t remember a lot about them but I do remember not being that impressed by them at all. I really hated that they took the sisters “back in time” to another life. I thought it was a pretty silly gimmick. But since you talk so highly of 2 & 3 I’ll give them another shot!!

  9. Well, I wasn’t too crazy about the third flick at first either. I thought it was lame to show the girls in another time as if it was a sequel to first two films. But then I thought, if you just look at the movie by itself and not connected to the first two despite the same characters being in it, it’s really not a bad flick. In fact, if it wasn’t for the other two movies existing, it would actually be a pretty good movie.

    Though the second movie does draw on the first, it being a direct sequel to the first, it’s also a pretty decent movie on it’s own. I think, taken individually, these are all very good movies. It’s only when you dwell on their connection to one another that you begin to think they are lacking. When you watch them, don’t think about the other movies. Just watch them for their own merits and you begin to see, with the exception of the first which is a pretty standard werewolf movie, that the second and third are actually rather good for different reasons. The second one is actually my favorite. I thought the girl who played Brigitte was the better actor of the two and that when she was not overshadowed by her prettier “sister” that she gave an excellent performance. I like the third movie, but the girl who played Ginger just didn’t impress me all that much. So in the second movie, I was really impressed by the acting and characterization, while the third movie impressed me more on plot and scenery. It was really the end of the movie, where they tried to tie it to the first two that made the last movie a little lame. I think they could have left that out and it would have been better for it.

    But again, watch the movies without comparing them to the others. They’re not bad movies if you don’t view them as a series.

    • You’ve convinced me, Candace, to give the 2nd & 3rd GINGERSNAPS flicks another shot. And this time when I watch them (esoecially the 3rd one), I’ll watch it as a stand alone film. I could really go for some good werewolf films!!

  10. John says:

    John Carpenter’s Vampires was great, i loved it since i saw in the theater at age 16,

    What about Vamp (1986)? that’s a cool and fun cult classic with Grace Jones who was the original Lady GaGa of the 80’s only black. For another nifty unconventional vampire movie check out Def By Temptation or Martin or Rabid, those featured unique kind of vampires.

    Daybreakers is another cool Sci-fi take on vampirism.

    Ravenous is a vampire movie, the wendigo spirit is a spirit that brings the dead back to life as either as zombie-like ghoul, a were-couger/werewolf/werebear or a cannibalistic vampire.

    • Actually, the wendigo is a Native American hunger spirit which would usually attack isolated individuals during the winter and cause them to kill and eat their families, sometimes even when food was plentiful. It has nothing to do with vampirism, nor would it always change its appearance once it took over its host. In it’s true form however, it was said to be at least 8 feet tall, covered in fur, with a heart of ice. The only way to kill the traditional version of the wendigo was to melt its heart.

    • I’m with ya John; I really love Carpenter’s VAMPIRES. It was a much needed shot in the ass in both the horror genre and the vampire genre!! I’ve kinda forgotten about VAMP but I have great memories of it (and you’re assessment of Grace Jones as the original Lady GaGa is dead on!!).

      MARTIN is definitely a unique vampire flick but it doesn’t hold up well over the years. I’d actually like to see that one remade; I think there’s a lot to work with in that one.

      DAYBREAKERS was a pretty fun flick that finally presented us with something other than a sparkly, faggy vampire. But I’m not buying that RAVENOUS was a vampire flick. You might be dead on about the Wendigo legend, but the movie RAVENOUS was (in my opinion) most definitely not a vampire flick!! :-)

  11. Not only was this a great article on my favorite vampire flick, but I’m so glad I read through the comments because I never heard of Ravenous before and it sounds cool.

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  1. […] I have an article on Brian Lumley’s NECROSCOPE series (here) and reviews of 1987‘s NEAR DARK (here), 2009’s LESBIAN VAMPIRE KILLERS (here), and 2011’s PROWL (here).  That’s pretty much it.  […]



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  • Some of my favorite horror movies:
  • Dawn of the Dead (1978)

  • Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn (1987)

  • Martyrs (2008)

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