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Near Dark (1987)

by on 2011/08/29

“I belong here. It is my family.”

* * *

Families come in all shapes, sizes and dysfunctions. Whenever you think you might have issues in your family, watch Near Dark.

When an undead Lance Henriksen is the head of your household, then you have real problems.

Hacker Renders bought me this film several years ago. I have to admit I was initially a little put off by the cover art, a hamburger-faced Bill Paxton stared malignantly back at me. I hid the DVD away for months afraid of completely traumatizing people who might happen across it.

I finally got around to watching it recently. I’ll cut to the chase, it is great. Moody, stylish and really, really bloody in all the right places, Near Dark is a film from the vampire school that teaches us the undead are dirty, dank and decidedly, discourteous. No regal, pomaded dinner guest here.

Written and directed by Academy Award-winning director Kathryn Bigelow, Near Dark is a movie that spot-welds and duct-tapes the vampire tradition onto a modern western. More than just vampires somehow co-existing with cowboy hats, Near Dark is also, at its bleeding heart, a meditation on family. Sure, the family in question here is a pack of blood-splattered, foul-mouthed cackling jackals, but it is a family nonetheless.

This terrifying brood of blood-sucking fiends is composed of pretty Mae (Jenny Wright), insane Poppa Jesse (Henriksen),  bad-seed son Severen (Bill Paxton), tough-as-nails Momma Diamondback (Jenette Goldstein) and little, evil Homer (Joshua John Miller).

Set in a series of backwater, midwestern U.S. towns, this vampire family scrabbles around in the dust, steals beaten-up cars, and sleeps in the bathtubs and armchairs of grubby back road motels. When Caleb Colton, played by Adrian Pasdar (also the star of the TV series Profit which is beloved to me), meets waifish ingenue Mae, he’s ripped straight out of his reality into a nightmare road trip to end all nightmare road trips.

Mae tells him Caleb that he’ll live forever if he joins her vampire family. “I’ll still be here when the light from that star gets down here to earth in a billion years,” she says. Unfortunately, this assertion is cast into blistering doubt every single sunrise after she utters it. These vampires, despite being natural born killers, seem fragile, bumbling and incompetent.

Dependent on the cars they steal, the huge rolls of tinfoil they need to cover the windows and the next fleabag motel room, these undead seem one sunbeam away from scorching oblivion. This constant threat keeps the “family” fused together, a tight-knit group absolutely dependent upon one another to survive.

Let’s just say the special effects used to demonstrate why vampires fear the sun put me off BBQ for a little while. Paxton is hyperactively sinister as Severen, delivering the iconic line, “It’s finger-licking good” when he dispatches a biker at a grimy little roadhouse.

Pasdar is great as the wide-eyed, hapless Caleb. Wright is entrancing as the countrified but delicate “immortal.” Henriksen and Goldstein play two parents that would never, ever have to call Super Nanny. One look from these two would be enough.

The result is a movie that’s atmospheric, affecting and visceral. Lonely cowboys and dusty vampires, what more could you want?

* * * *

94 minutes Rated R for roadhouse massacre that literally brands itself on your memory

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