Near Dark (1987) | A Vampire Tale of Love, Lust and Bloodshed
Directed by Kathryn Bigelow, explore the horror world of vampires in "Near Dark" as we follow Caleb, a young cowboy who's fate intertwines with a group of nomadic bloodsuckers reaping hell across the Midwest.
Near Dark (1987)
Near Dark released in 1987, is a film that brilliantly melds horror, western and romance genres into an intriguing narrative. Directed by Kathryn Bigelow, this film has received accolades for its innovative take on vampire lore, effectively turning the conventional tropes on their heads. The film's story revolves around a young man from the Midwest who unwittingly becomes a part of a nomadic group of vampires. Near Dark is an atmospheric, gritty, and superbly acted film, marking a significant moment in the evolution of vampire cinema. This cult classic endures due to its unique approach to the vampire mythos, combined with Bigelow's deft cinematic touch.
The film commences in a small, rural town in Oklahoma where a young cowboy, Caleb Colton (Adrian Pasdar), lives a seemingly ordinary existence. His life takes a dramatic turn upon meeting the enthralling Mae (Jenny Wright), a mysterious stranger who, unbeknownst to him, is part of an itinerant group of vampires. Enamoured and ignorant of her true nature, Caleb is drawn into an unexpected kiss that seals his fate, thrusting him into a nocturnal world of eternal life, thirst for blood, and the perpetual shadow of death.
Caught in the grip of this brutal reality, Caleb must adapt to his new life whilst grappling with his humanity. This involves a delicate dance to fit into the dynamic vampire family led by the ruthless Jesse Hooker (Lance Henriksen), his equally deadly partner Diamondback (Jenette Goldstein), their wild-card sidekick Severen (Bill Paxton), and the eternally young Homer (Joshua John Miller). The film explores the trials of Caleb as he navigates this terrifying yet seductive world, torn between the urge to return to his human family and the intoxicating power of his new existence.
As tensions heighten and Caleb's dual life begins to unravel, Near Dark takes us on a journey of love, survival, and redemption set against the haunting backdrop of the American Midwest. This tale of moral struggle and forbidden love culminates in an electrifying confrontation where Caleb must make a life-altering choice - accept his dark fate or risk everything to return to the light.
Throughout "Near Dark," the audience is challenged to rethink the traditional vampire narrative, as the film blurs the lines between monstrosity and humanity, immortality and mortality, darkness and light. In doing so, Bigelow crafts an elegant and chilling commentary on identity, belonging, and the unyielding power of love, etching Near Dark in the annals of vampire cinema as a timeless classic.
Cast and Characters
Adrian Pasdar as Caleb Colton: Pasdar delivers a compelling performance as Caleb, a young, naive cowboy who unsuspectingly falls into the fangs of vampirism. His transformation from an innocent country boy to a reluctant vampire embodies the film's exploration of identity and moral conflict. Caleb's struggle with his newfound immortality, his thirst for blood juxtaposed against his lingering humanity, illustrates Pasdar's nuanced ability to portray a character caught in the crossfire of existential turmoil.
Jenny Wright as Mae: Wright portrays Mae, a captivating vampire who introduces Caleb to the nocturnal world. Mae is a complex character, embodying the seductive yet terrifying aspects of vampirism. Her character navigates the thin line between the allure of eternal life and the desire for human connection. Wright's portrayal of Mae is enchanting, her performance intricately capturing the dichotomy of fear and fascination inherent in her character.
Lance Henriksen as Jesse Hooker: Henriksen’s Jesse is the menacing patriarch of the vampire clan, whose ruthless nature starkly contrasts with his capacity for loyalty. Despite his brutal exterior, Jesse's adherence to a perverse sense of 'family values' adds depth to his character. Henriksen masterfully portrays this blend of uncompromising brutality and unexpected tenderness, offering a multifaceted villain that adds to the film's unique appeal.
Jenette Goldstein as Diamondback: As Jesse's partner, Diamondback, Goldstein provides a strong feminine presence within the vampire group. Diamondback is fiercely supportive of her family, exhibiting a maternal instinct that is as loving as it is deadly. Goldstein's portrayal of Diamondback brings a raw edge to the character, demonstrating the unyielding nature of maternal love, even within the world of the undead.
Bill Paxton as Severen: Paxton's Severen is an unpredictable wild card within the vampire clan. His reckless abandon and thirst for chaos lend an element of volatility to the group dynamic. Paxton's charisma and gleeful malevolence in portraying Severen epitomises the hedonistic appeal of vampire life, providing some of the film's most memorable moments.
Joshua John Miller as Homer: Miller portrays Homer, a character trapped in the eternal body of a child, emphasising the tragic implications of immortality. Homer's character oscillates between his childlike appearance and his cruel, centuries-old nature. Miller gives an exceptional performance, capturing the deep-seated frustration and bitterness of a character forever stuck in the body of a boy, whilst harbouring the desires and perspective of a man.
Kathryn Bigelow (Director): Known as one of the leading female directors in Hollywood, Kathryn Bigelow made her mark with 'Near Dark'. Her nuanced approach to the vampire genre, reimagining it through a Western lens, showcased her versatility and innovative spirit. Bigelow's expansive filmography, including the war drama 'The Hurt Locker' for which she won a Best Director Oscar, solidifies her place in cinematic history.
Eric Red (Screenwriter): Eric Red is a seasoned screenwriter whose credits include action-thrillers and horror films like 'The Hitcher' and 'Bad Moon'. His talent for creating suspenseful narratives and complex characters shines through in 'Near Dark', where he skillfully intertwines horror, romance, and existential drama.
Adam Greenberg (Cinematographer): An award-winning cinematographer, Greenberg's work on films such as 'Terminator 2: Judgment Day' and 'Ghost' demonstrates his ability to create striking visuals. His cinematography in 'Near Dark', characterized by haunting nocturnal landscapes and stark contrasts between light and shadow, contributes significantly to the film's atmospheric quality.
Cinematography and Visuals
The cinematography and visuals of "Near Dark," helmed by Adam Greenberg, are nothing short of sublime, with the film's visual landscape becoming as much a character as the actors themselves. Greenberg paints the narrative in the muted hues of twilight, a stark contrast to the typically garish palette found in the vampire genre. The result is a breathtaking topography of the American Midwest that perfectly mirrors the film's exploration of blurred boundaries.
The clever use of lighting, particularly the interplay between darkness and light, craftily symbolises the characters' internal struggle between their human past and vampire present. Shadows are used to conceal and reveal, often simulating the characters' oscillation between their monstrous instincts and lingering humanity. The nocturnal world inhabited by the vampires is portrayed through a series of sepia-tinted and moonlit scenes, creating an eerie atmosphere that underscores the sense of alienation experienced by the characters.
Greenberg's close-ups and intimate framing during the film's more tender moments serve to humanise the otherwise monstrous characters, making their emotional turmoil palpable. Conversely, wide-angle shots and kinetic camerawork effectively capture the chaos and brutality of the vampire lifestyle. The final confrontation is a cinematic tour de force, with the volatile visual composition echoing the tension and desperation of the characters.
Overall, the cinematography and visuals of Near Dark play a crucial role in enriching the narrative, adding depth and nuance to the characters' journeys. It is a testament to Bigelow's visionary directorial prowess and Greenberg's skilled cinematography, contributing significantly to the film's status as a timeless classic in vampire cinema.
Makeup and special effects
Gordon J. Smith, the esteemed special effects artist, was instrumental in bringing the vampires of Near Dark to life. Smith's work in the film is a masterclass in special effects makeup, his innovative techniques and meticulous attention to detail contributing significantly to the film's unique visual aesthetic. From the horrifically ravaged victims of vampire feeding to the sun-scorched skin of the vampires themselves, Smith's work is both gruesome and subversively beautiful, an art form in its own right. His ability to transform actors into believable creatures of the night without resorting to overused tropes is commendable, marking a departure from traditional vampire makeup. Smith's special effects are not merely cosmetic; they serve as physical manifestations of the characters' internal struggles, their tortured existence straddling the line between humanity and monstrosity. His work on Near Dark underscores the importance of special effects in narrative storytelling, and remains a testament to his remarkable talent in the realm of cinematic makeup.
Symbolism in Near Dark
Near Dark deftly utilises symbolism to evoke its haunting themes and nuanced character depictions. The recurring motif of darkness versus light is employed not only as a practical necessity for the vampire characters but also as a metaphorical representation of the moral dichotomy faced by Caleb. His journey into the world of vampires, the 'near dark', represents his descent into moral ambiguity, whilst the yearning for daylight encapsulates his struggle to reclaim his humanity.
The nomadic lifestyle of the vampire group reflects their marginalised existence, symbolising their status as outcasts from society. This transient existence subtly alludes to themes of alienation and societal rejection tied to their monstrous nature. Interestingly, their RV, their moving sanctuary, is both a symbol of their isolation and their camaraderie, a mobile haven that shields them from the damning sunlight.
Lastly, the repeated motif of blood serves as a stark symbol for life and death, simultaneously representing sustenance for the vampires and the potential doom for their victims. The act of blood-drinking is portrayed with an unsettling intimacy, accentuating the seductive yet horrific nature of the vampires' existence. This serves to underscore the paradox at the heart of Near Dark - the allure and dread of immortality.
Through these symbols, Near Dark presents a compelling exploration of identity, morality, and the boundaries of human nature, making it a truly distinctive piece in the realm of vampire cinema.
The soundtrack of Near Dark is yet another element of the film that contributes largely to its enduring allure. Composed by Tangerine Dream, a German electronic music band known for their pioneering work in the genre, the soundtrack paints a sonic landscape that is both atmospheric and evocative. The use of synthesizers gives the score an otherworldly quality, echoing the ethereal existence of the film's vampire characters. The music ranges from hauntingly beautiful to tense and foreboding, mirroring the emotional spectrum of the narrative. Notably, the film's main theme is a recurring motif, its melancholic melody evoking the yearning and loneliness inherent in the vampire's immortal existence.
The soundtrack, much like the cinematography, becomes a character in itself, the music narrating the unspoken emotions and internal conflicts of the characters. The innovative use of electronic music creates an aural experience that is both unique and memorable, further solidifying "Near Dark's" position as a standout in the canon of vampire cinema. Tangerine Dream's contribution to the film's soundscape is indeed a testament to the transformative power of music in film storytelling.
Critics and Reviews
Near Dark has had an interesting journey through the lens of film criticism. Upon its release in 1987, the film didn't quite ignite the box office, however, it soon found its audience in the world of home video and has since been recognised as a cult classic in the vampire genre. Critics have lauded Kathryn Bigelow's deft direction and the film's unique blend of horror, western, and romantic elements.
Renowned film critic, Roger Ebert, gave Near Dark a glowing review, praising it as a "terrifically original, atmospheric vampire western". He further pointed out the nuanced performances, particularly of Lance Henriksen and Jenette Goldstein, and admired the film's ability to depict vampires not as Gothic fantasy figures, but as outlaws on a perpetual run.
The film resonated with audiences and critics alike for its subversion of traditional vampire tropes. Instead of lavish castles and aristocratic vampires, Near Dark presented a dust-filled, nomadic lifestyle of its vampire characters, a unique element that was celebrated by critics such as Vincent Canby of The New York Times.
The gory makeup by Gordon J. Smith and the inventive cinematography by Adam Greenberg also garnered acclaim. Critics highlighted how these elements seamlessly fused to create a visually stunning piece of cinema that was both horrific and seductively beautiful.
Bigelow's feminist approach to a predominantly male-dominated genre also sparked academic interest. Critics analysed her reinterpretation of the vampire myth through a feminist lens and her subversion of gender dynamics, especially through the character of Mae.
However, it wouldn't be a truthful account without acknowledging some criticism. Certain critics felt the film's romantic subplot was underdeveloped and the character arcs lacked depth. These critics argued that while the film excelled in its aesthetics, it fell short in its narrative.
Despite these criticisms, Near Dark has stood the test of time, and its reputation has only grown over the years, as evinced by its 88% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The film continues to inspire and influence filmmakers and has firmly solidified Kathryn Bigelow's position as one of the most visionary directors in the industry.
Release on Home Media
Near Dark had a rather remarkable journey into the world of home media. The film, which initially didn't make a strong impression in cinemas, found its rightful audience on the small screen. Its debut on VHS in the late '80s marked the beginning of its ascent to cult status, as more and more horror and vampire genre enthusiasts discovered and embraced this cinematic gem.
The DVD release in 2002 by Anchor Bay Entertainment, complete with behind-the-scenes material and interviews, further propelled its popularity among fans and critics alike. Notably, the 2009 Blu-ray edition by Lionsgate provoked a bit of controversy due to an ill-advised cover art change, trading the film's original atmospheric imagery for something more akin to the "Twilight" series, presumably to attract a younger audience. Despite these marketing missteps, the essence of Near Dark remains untouched, its enduring appeal resonating through each new format and generation. The film's journey on home media demonstrates its ability to transcend the constraints of time and format, continuously proving its worth as a truly timeless piece of vampire cinema.
This is not just a deftly crafted film, but it's also a treasure trove of interesting anecdotes and behind-the-scenes trivia that add even more intrigue to its legacy. For instance, did you know that the word "vampire" never once features in the film? That's right! Despite being an iconic entry in the vampire genre, Bigelow chose not to mention the term, allowing the film's actions and undertones to imply the nature of its characters. It's a testament to her innovative approach - why confine to labels when the narrative can speak louder?
Moreover, the film showcases a mini reunion of sorts for the cast of James Cameron's "Aliens," released just a year prior in 1986. Lance Henriksen, Bill Paxton, and Jenette Goldstein all had significant roles in both films, a delightful crossover for fans of genre cinema. It's worth noting that Bigelow and Cameron were married for a brief period, suggesting a shared pool of talent and inspiration between these two visionary directors.
A less-known fact is that the eerie, atmospheric music, which adds to the film's character, was composed by the German electronic group Tangerine Dream. Their haunting soundscapes lend a unique, otherworldly quality to the film, enhancing the viewer's immersion into this dark, compelling narrative.
And finally, while Near Dark didn't light up the box office during its initial release, it has since found a dedicated cult following. Many fans even began to compare it to another vampire flick, "The Lost Boys," which was released in the same year. However, Near Dark stood out with its atmospheric, Western-infused approach and steadfast refusal to adhere to genre clichés, solidifying its status as a unique, enduring classic in vampire cinema. Fascinating, isn't it?
In the cinematic world of Near Dark, the rules of the vampire lore are rewritten, or perhaps more accurately, artfully sidestepped. However, even within its self-constructed universe, the film is not entirely immune to a few intriguing goofs. On one occasion, Severen is seen walking into a bar with his spurs jingling. Interestingly though, when he falls onto the floor during a bar brawl, the spurs are noticeably absent. Magic, or a continuity error? We'll let you decide.
Then there's the scene where Jesse tries to run Caleb off the road. If you look closely, it's not actually Jesse behind the wheel, but a stunt double. Is it fair to call this a goof or merely a necessity of film-making?
Perhaps the most notable oversight is related to the vampires' reflections or, more accurately, their lack of them. Traditional vampire mythology dictates that vampires do not cast a reflection. Yet, in a pivotal scene in the film, as Caleb looks into a truck's side-view mirror, the reflection of Mae can clearly be seen. Was this a simple oversight, or Bigelow's subtle challenge to the traditional lore? The mystery deepens.
The film may be immune to sunlight (or rather, immune to showing the vampires combust in sunlight, another departure from the norm), but it isn't quite immune to these amusing inconsistencies. These goofs, far from detracting from the film's brilliance, add a quaint charm, a reminder of the human touch in the creation of this timeless classic. After all, in the end, aren't we all just trying to navigate our own kind of 'near dark'?
Decades after its initial release, Near Dark continues to hold its ground as a distinct and influential figure in the realm of vampire cinema. With its unique blend of atmospheric horror, visceral action, and profound character exploration, the film remains as captivating today as it was in the '80s. The creative decisions of Kathryn Bigelow and her team, whether intentional or inadvertent, have allowed Near Dark to transcend traditional genre boundaries and establish a legacy of its own. The film's goofs, trivia, and journey on home media only add to its unique charm and enduring appeal. From the innovative narrative that shies away from the mention of 'vampires,' to the shared cast with "Aliens," and the atmospheric score by Tangerine Dream, every aspect of Near Dark contributes to its enduring mystique. Even its perceived slip-ups have become part of the film's intrigue, further cementing its cult status. As we part ways with this dark, compelling narrative, we find ourselves illuminated by its audacious spirit and creative vision. Indeed, Near Dark is not just a film; it's a testament to the power of innovative storytelling that dares to redefine conventions and expectations. So, the next time you find yourself wandering in the 'near dark' of the cinematic universe, remember — sometimes, the most fascinating journeys occur not in the light, but in the shadows.