Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Kathryn Bigelow|
|Produced by||Steven-Charles Jaffe|
|Written by||Eric Red
|Music by||Tangerine Dream|
|Edited by||Howard E. Smith|
|Distributed by||DeLaurentiis Entertainment Group|
Near Dark is a 1987 American vampire Western horror film directed by Kathryn Bigelow and written by her and Eric Red. The story follows a young man in a small midwestern town who becomes involved with a family of nomadic American vampires. Starring then little-known actors Adrian Pasdar and Jenny Wright, the film was part of a revival of serious vampire movies in the late 1980s.
One night, Caleb Colton (Adrian Pasdar), a young man in a small town, meets an attractive young drifter named Mae (Jenny Wright). Just before sunrise, she bites him on the neck then runs off. The rising sun causes Caleb's flesh to begin to burn. Mae comes with a group of roaming vampires and takes him away. The most unsociable of all the vampires, the callous and sociopathic Severen (Bill Paxton), wants to kill Caleb, but Mae reveals she has turned him into a vampire. Their charismatic leader, Jesse Hooker (Lance Henriksen), reluctantly agrees to allow Caleb to remain with them for a week to see if he can learn to hunt and become a trusted member of their group. Caleb is unwilling to kill to feed, which alienates him from the others. To protect him, Mae kills for him and then has him drink from her wrist. After Caleb endangers himself to help them during a daylight police raid on their motel, Jesse and the others are temporarily mollified.
Meanwhile, Caleb's father (Tim Thomerson) has begun searching for the group while the police are also investigating. A child vampire in the group, Homer (Joshua John Miller) meets Caleb's sister Sarah (Marcie Leeds) and wants to transform her into his companion, but Caleb objects. While the group argues, Caleb's father arrives and holds them at gunpoint, demanding Sarah be released. Jesse taunts him into shooting, but regurgitates the bullet before wrestling the gun away. In the confusion, Sarah opens the door letting in the sunlight and forcing the vampires back. Burning, Caleb escapes with his family and suggests they try doing a blood transfusion to attempt to cure him. The transfusion successfully reverses Caleb's transformation. That night the vampires search for Caleb because he knows their identity, and Homer still wishes to have Sarah for his mate. Mae distracts Caleb by trying to persuade him to return to her while the others kidnap Sarah.
After Mae leaves, Caleb discovers the kidnapping and gives chase on horseback after finding his tires slashed. Along the way, he commandeers a tractor-trailer and encounters Severen, whom he runs over. The injured vampire manages to get into the truck's cab, so Caleb jackknifes the vehicle and jumps out as the truck explodes and kills Severen. Seeking revenge, Jesse and Diamondback (Jenette Goldstein) pursue him, but are forced to flee in their car as dawn breaks.
Not wanting Sarah to become another childlike monster, Mae breaks out of the back of the car with Sarah, getting badly burned by the sun as she runs with Sarah into Caleb's arms, taking refuge from the sun under his jacket. Homer attempts to follow, but dies from exposure. Jesse and Diamondback, their sun-proofing ruined, also begin to burn. They attempt to run Caleb and Sarah over with the car, but fail, also dying in the process.
Mae awakens later, her burns now healed; she has been given a transfusion and is also cured. Together, she and Caleb watch the sunrise.
(In credits order)
- Adrian Pasdar as Caleb Colton
- Jenny Wright as Mae
- Lance Henriksen as Jesse Hooker
- Bill Paxton as Severen
- Jenette Goldstein as Diamondback
- Joshua John Miller as Homer (as Joshua Miller)
- Marcie Leeds as Sarah Colton
- Tim Thomerson as Loy Colton
- Troy Evans as Plainclothes Police Officer
- Roger Aaron Brown as Cajun Truck Driver
- James LeGros as Teenage Cowboy
- Billy Beck as Motel Manager
- S.A. Griffin as Police Officer at Motel
- Neith Hunter as Lady in Truck
- Theresa Randle as Lady in Truck
- Leo Geter as Caleb's Friend
Vampire films had become "trendy" by the time of Near Dark's production, with the success of 1985's Fright Night and 1987's The Lost Boys (released two months before Near Dark and grossing $32 million). Kathryn Bigelow wanted to film a Western movie that departed from cinematic convention. When she and co-writer Eric Red found financial backing for a Western difficult to obtain, it was suggested to them that they try mixing a Western with another, more popular genre. Her interest in revisionist interpretation of cinematic tradition led her and Red to combine two genres that they regarded as ripe for reinterpretation: the Western movie, and the vampire movie. The combination of these two genres had been visited at least twice before on the big screen, with 1959's Curse of the Undead and 1966's Billy the Kid vs. Dracula.
Bigelow knew (and later married) director James Cameron, who directed Aliens, a 1986 film that shares three cast members (Paxton, Goldstein and Henriksen) with Near Dark. A cinema seen in the background early in the film has Aliens on its marquee, and Cameron played the man who "flips off" Severen.
Part of a late 1980s revival of serious (as opposed to comedic) vampire depictions on the big screen, it received mostly positive reviews for its mix of the Western, biker and vampire movie genres:
In her review for The New York Times, Caryn James wrote, "Ms. Bigelow's too-studied compositions - Caleb in silhouette riding a horse toward the camera - clash with her unstudied approach to the characters' looks." Conversely, Jonathan Rosenbaum of the Chicago Reader was impressed by Bigelow's first foray into big budget films with the "hillbilly vampire" movie, describing it as "beautifully shot". As well, Hal Hinson of The Washington Post said the intermixing of vampire legends, westerns and biker movies has an end result that's "both outrageous and poetic; it has extravagant, bloody thrills plus something else - something that comes close to genuine emotion." Jay Scott in his review for The Globe and Mail wrote, "Bill Paxton as the undead sex symbol - is exceptional, but not exceptional enough to put across the cop-out that concludes the film."
In his book, Monster Show: Cultural History of Horror, film critic David J. Skal highly praises the film's mix of western and horror genres, and homeless wanderings and undeath. Richard Corliss of Time magazine called Near Dark "weird (and) beautiful" and "the all-time teenage vampire love story". Likewise, Richard Schickel (also of Time) considers the film a clever variant of the vampire film genre. Peter Travers, of Rolling Stone concurred, calling it "gory and gorgeous".
A remake from Platinum Dunes film production company was originally planned but has since been put on hold after the release of the vampire romance film Twilight. Producer Brad Fuller stated, "I think that Twilight was the same type of thing we were going for although Near Dark was a much darker, sexier, rated R version of that. But I'm concerned that, conceptually, Near Dark and Twilight are too similar in terms of a vampire movie. For now, that movie is on hold."
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- Bright Lights Film Journal essay