Movie Double Feature: Dracula (1931)/Near Dark (1987)

Looking for some non-Dracula vampire action?

You can’t go wrong with Near Dark, a 1980s horror movie from Kathryn Bigelow about redneck vampires. The movie follows a country kid named Caleb (a young Adrian Pasdar) as he falls in love with the mysterious Mae. Soon, he finds himself turned into a vampire and kidnapped by her ragtag adopted family of hillbilly vampire hobos, led by Lance Henriksen.

Don’t let that cover at the beginning of this post fool you. It was released in 2008 in the height of Twilight‘s fame and was really trying to pull in anyone who was looking for vampire romance stuff. This movie is not a vampire romance. A more accurate cover for capturing the film’s tone and mood is this one:

Near_Dark old cover

What I like most about this movie is how it complicates its depiction of vampires. Most vampire stories, at least now, seem to focus on how sad and tragic it is to be a vampire, but there’s usually no depth to that and it tends to take away from the horror aspect of it. Not here.

In Near Dark, vampirism is stressful and isolating. The gang spend a lot of their waking hours foraging for food and hiding from light and never staying in one place for very long. Each vampire has a different coping mechanism and attitude toward their fate–or lack of one–and that lends the movie a lot more psychological depth than you would expect.

The vampires are sort of pitiful and oddly normal and even likable at times, but they’re still vicious. They may find being a vampire stressful, but by and large they don’t find the murderous bloodsucking aspect of their life hard. As the movie’s memorable bar fight scene shows, they rather enjoy it. For these reasons, the movie works well as horror, but it is more thought-provoking than you’d expect. It’s also a great modern-day Western . . . if you like your Westerns with some undead action.

In much the same way that there are 3 standouts in the 1931 Dracula, there are 3 standouts in this cast, too, but they’re not the actual main characters. The best part of this story is not Caleb and Mae’s relationship but instead the dynamics of her vampire family and the characters of Jesse (Henriksen), Diamondback (Jenette Goldstein), and Severen (Bill Paxton). I’m a big Bill Paxton fan. (When I was a kid growing up in the 90s, I thought Bill Paxton was in all movies because he was in so many that I watched.) But this might be one of my favorites out of all his performances. He’s clearly having a lot of fun as the outrageous, murderous Severen. His character is hilarious but is also surprisingly intimidating.

If that cast list is giving you flashbacks to Aliens, Bigelow was married to James Cameron at the time this movie was made and easily persuaded the three into reuniting for this movie. Rumor has it she also tried to cast Michael Biehn, but he wasn’t interested. They have ready-made chemistry, though, and really do seem like vampires who have been friends for decades (or centuries). One of my favorite scenes is when they’re just hanging out and playing cards with each other because after awhile being a vampire is kind of boring and they “keep odd hours.”

The movie is not flawless. Pasdar was a bland lead. The movie starts slow at first and the ending is anticlimactic to me, but otherwise, it’s one of the most unusual and compelling vampire movies I have watched and makes for perfect Halloween viewing.

Who’s your favorite Dracula? What’s your favorite vampire movie? What books or movies do you have planned for Halloween? Tell us in the comments!

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Author: berryvillelibrary

"Our library, our future"

2 thoughts on “Movie Double Feature: Dracula (1931)/Near Dark (1987)”

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