31 Screams in October, #6: Near Dark (1987)

Posted: October 7, 2014 in Movie Review
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Near Dark (1987)

Director: Kathryn Bigelow

Starring; Adrian Pasdar, Jenny Wright, Lance Henriksen, Bill Paxton, Jennette Goldstein, Tim Thomerson, Joshua John Miller

Virtually nothing in this world comes without risk. That pretty girl by the soda machine, do you work up the nerve to walk over and strike up a conversation, or do you just let her grab her drink and pass you by? That spicy dinner on the restaurant menu could make you sick, but it looks tasty enough… Do you order it anyway? Even with movies, risk is part of the game, whether it’s the filmmakers taking a shot on a script they have faith in, a film studio taking the risk that the release dates they set will mean big bucks, or the average moviegoer trusting their instincts that the movie they’re spending the ticket price for won’t be a total waste of their time.

Caleb (Adrian Pasdar) is a young, macho good ol’ boy from Texas who is not beyond taking a risk, especially when it comes to women. One night, a pretty blonde catches his eye. Her name is Mae (Jenny Wright), and she’s the type of woman most guys find irresistible. She’s a mystery to be solved. The answer to the riddle that is Mae is that she is a vampire, part of a group of five drifters who are all creatures of the night, each one as far removed from anything resembling humanity as you can get. Homer (Joshua John Miller) has the outward appearance of a child, but he may in fact be the oldest of the group. Severen (Bill Paxton) is impulsive and psychotic, but as a vampire he’s an efficient killer. Jesse (Lance Henriksen) is the group’s leader, and has been on this Earth for at least as long as the 1800’s, at one point alluding to having fought for the Confederacy during the U.S. Civil War. Diamondback (Jennette Goldstein), Jesse’s mate, excels at luring in overconfident men, and may have a jealous streak when it comes to other women.

Mae is the only one of the group with even an ounce of a conscience left. That still doesn’t stop her from feeding on the living, because to her it’s the only option she has left to survive. Mae bites Caleb, but she does not drain him, which results in his becoming like her. The group takes him in conditionally. He must feed and soon, or else they will kill him. They’d have done so immediately, but Mae makes a plea on his behalf. He’s become her responsibility, after all.

Being our protagonist, Caleb is of course unwilling to kill. His only way of satisfying his thirst is with help from Mae, who allows him to draw from her. Two such sequences are the closest the movie comes to having any sex scenes. There’s no subtlety about it either. The second “sex scene” even takes place near an industrial factory, where the visuals leave no room for debate as to what the metaphor is meant to be.

All throughout the movie, Caleb’s predicament is very much like a hostage situation. He’s uncooperative when his captors expect him to do evil on their command, and tries to find any escape route that he can, but always finds himself right back in their clutches. Eventually, he does something to earn their respect and buy himself some time, but in the eyes of the authorities, this makes him an accomplice and ever bit as worthy of their gunfire as the rest of the group.

The film’s two best set pieces detail Caleb’s “initiation.” The first, and most memorable scene takes place in a bar, where Jesse, Diamondback, Homer, and most especially Severen take turns killing everyone inside. They leave one for Caleb to make his first kill, only Caleb lets the boy go. Big mistake, and it leads to the film’s second great scene: a shootout between the vampires and the cops at a motel. This scene takes place after daybreak. The cops are no threat, but the sunlight is, especially after their motel room is filled full of holes. Caleb rescues the group, risking incineration by running out to get the van they all came in.

Timing for “Near Dark”‘s release was bad. Coming out four months after “The Lost Boys,” the more serious Horror/Western failed miserably as a result. “Near Dark” managed only a paltry $3.4 million in U.S. dollars, well below the film’s total budget. It’s not like the personnel involved weren’t highly talented individuals. Lance Henriksen, Bill Paxton and Jennette Goldstein had all been part of the cast of “Aliens,” and theirs were some of the best characters of that movie. Director Kathryn Bigelow has since gone on to become the first female director to win Best Director at the Academy Awards (“The Hurt Locker,” 2009). “Near Dark” is the Pepsi to “The Lost Boys” Coca-Cola… a rather ironic analogy, considering that Coca-Cola features in more than one scene of “Near Dark.” Both have their pros and cons, both are enjoyable, and both have their loyal fanbases. It’s just a question of which one you like better than the other. Personally, I like Coke AND Pepsi.


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