Near Dark (Kathryn Bigelow, 1987)
[originally posted 10Apr2000]
Yes, you’ve all seen The Lost Boys, and it was a pretty good flick for what it was. Now, you should all go rent the year’s best vampire flick and see what The Lost Boys overshadowed. While the leads in this film (Adrian Pasdar and Jenny Wright, both of whom are still playing mostly minor roles) never went anywhere, a good portion of the supporting cast went on to greater glory– Lance Henriksen (still a character actor at the time), Bill Paxton (in one of his first major supporting roles), Jennette Goldstein in her second film role, Joshua Miller (who, at the same time, had the role of a career in River’s Edge), and more.
While Near Dark is a vampire film, sure as can be, the vampire aspect of it isn’t played up as much as it was in its more visible twin. The story centers on Caleb (Pasdar) and Mae (Wright), who meet one night and fall into, not love, but more an obsessed infatuation with one another. Mae is one of a band of vampires, led by Jesse (Henriksen) and Diamondback (Goldstein). On impulse, she bites Caleb, beginning his transformation, and so the group are forced to take him with them when they leave town. The rest of the film focuses on Caleb’s moral struggle with the idea of killing to survive, and the way the ever-deepening love between Caleb and Mae causes a rift within the band.
Near Dark gives both enough ugliness and gore to satisfy the horror film fan and enough of the human factor to satisfy the critical crowd, who raved about this movie to no avail when it came out. Bigelow overdoes the cinematography now and again, but even the cliché scenes (the band of vampires coming over a backlit hill and casting shadows onto the lens, for example) come off looking slick and well-done. But despite the style, the movie never loses a charming naivete that characterizes much of Bigelow’s work (“Homicide,” “Wild Palms,” Point Break, Strange Days, etc.). This film not only stays on my 100-best list, but it’ll probably move up a few notches. Thirteen years after release, it looks even
better. **** ½
(Note: Bigelow’s next project, the first since 1995’s millennium flick Strange Days, is an adaptation of Anita Shreve’s critically-acclaimed The Weight of Water, starring Cathrine McCormack, Sean Penn, Elizabeth Hurley, and Skeet Ulrich. It is presently filming, and set for release later this year.)