Near Dark


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Near Dark

(pop culture)

Near Dark (1987) is a contemporary vampire story set against a Western landscape.

The Kathryn Bigelow-directed film about a marauding band of psychopathic vampires alternates sadistic humor with a vampire girl-meets-boy romance against a background of truck stops, oil rigs, run-down motels, and dry empty towns. Bigelow co-wrote Near Dark with Eric Red (writer of the 1986 violent fable The Hitcher), and the German electronic music group Tangerine Dreams provided the movie’s original score. Other vampire Westerns—namely, Curse of the Undead (1959) and Billy the Kid versus Dracula (1966)—had preceded Near Dark, but Bigelow’s film was set in the modern-day West.

The movie opens in Heartland, USA, where Mae (Jenny Wright) needs a lift home one night and Caleb Colton (Adrian Pasdar) is happy to oblige. But Mae is a vampire; Caleb asks for a kiss, and she bites his neck. As the sun rises, Caleb grows sick and he stumbles through a cornfield and is picked up by an RV with Mae in it. Caleb spends the day sleeping in the RV with Mae and her “family” of vampire outlaws: Jesse Hooker (Lance Henriksen), Severen (Bill Paxton), Diamondback (Jenette Goldstein), and Homer (Joshua John Miller). Mae tries to teach Caleb to kill for blood, but he won’t do it. Mae’s vampire family determines to get Caleb to kill humans so they go on a grotesque killing spree in a bar. But Caleb still won’t kill. The vampires seek shelter in a motel, and they’re awakened when the police knock on the door and a bloody Bonnie and Clyde-type shootout follows.

Later, Caleb’s father transfuses some of his own blood into Caleb so his son becomes human again. But when Caleb’s sister Sara is missing, Caleb mounts a horse and is confronted by the vampire family. The sun comes up, burning all the other vampires. In a surprise twist, Caleb transfuses some of his blood into Mae, and she becomes human again.

According to Bigelow (who recently won an Oscar for directing the acclaimed The Hurt Locker), Near Dark invents its own vampire mythology. The traditional religious symbols used to battle vampires—crosses, holy water, and the Bible—are not apparent although the movie makes sly references to them. The film also omits the standard clichés like garlic, stakes, silver bullets, and even fangs, but sunlight definitely burns and destroys the vampires. Near Dark‘s vampires are immortal and possess rapid healing powers as well. But the notion that a blood transfusion can “cure” the vampire condition appears, by some, to be too improbable and not in line with Bram Stoker‘s ideas. Bigelow explained that the transfusion is a way to reclaim Caleb and Mae and allow the two young characters to love each other.

Near Dark was released in theaters in October 1987 by the now defunct DeLaurentis Entertainment Group (DEG). The movie’s debut closely followed the release of The Lost Boys (1987), a similar tale of a young man’s adventures among a clan of vampire outlaws. But DEG was teetering on bankruptcy, and Near Dark lasted only two weeks in theaters. HBO Home Video subsequently released the movie in video format, and over the years, Near Dark has enjoyed a sizeable underground cult following. Lionsgate Home Entertainment released the Blu-ray version of Near Dark in November 2009, which includes the documentary, Living in Darkness. Platinum Dunes, a production company that specializes in horror films, recently planned a Near Dark remake but called it off because the story was “too similar” to Twilight.

Sources:

“The 80’s Movie Gateway: Near Dark.” (March 2000). Posted at http://www.fast-rewind.com/near-dark.htm. Accessed on April 10, 2010.
“Exclusive: Near Dark Remake Is Off.” (December 12, 2008). Posted at http://www.famousmon-stersoffilmland.com/near-dark-postponed-indefinitely. Accessed on April 10, 2010.
Felsher, Michael. Near Dark: Pray for Daylight. Troy, MI: Anchor Bay Entertainment, Inc., 2002. 10 pp.
Wilmington, Michael. “Sexy Horror Arrives Near Dark.” Los Angeles Times, p. 10. (October 9, 1987).