Near Dark is one of those movies you used to hear a lot about when they came out but missed in the theaters, only to discover it browsing the video rental places or cable TV and immediately, you intriqued by it. It’s a movie about vampires who don’t call themselves vampries. In fact, there’s no mention of it at all and the concept of what they are seems almost unknown.
It’s your typical boy-meets-girl-who-bites-him-turning-him-into-a-vampire flick. But it’s set against the desert wasteland that is the American Southwest. Caleb Colton (Adrian Pasdar) is your typical small-town Oklahoma young man who’s looking for love in all the wrong places, such as the Lawton area around the southwest part of the state. One night, he bumps into a young woman, Mae (Jenny Wright), and it seems like an immediate attraction. Unfortunately, for Caleb, he doesn’t realize that Mae wants to kill him and after she bites his neck can’t follow through.
Caleb is now infected and a vampire. Yet, he doesn’t know it as he wanders toward the homestead as morning comes the following day. However, he is growing weak and as the sun rises, his skin begins to burn and smoke. He can see his father, Loy (Tim Thomerson), outside but before he can make it to the comfort of his house and bed, an RV rushes up next to him and he is grabbed by some people.
Inside the RV is Mae, but she isn’t alone. There are four people with her. Their leader is Jesse Hooker (Lance Henriksen) and his partner, Diamondback (Jeannette Goldstein). Along with them is a more pscyhotic Severen (Bill Paxton), who wants to do him in right there. There’s also the young tween Homer (Joshua John Miller). Mae feels a connection to Caleb and nurses him better. Jesse decides to keep Caleb around for a week to see if he’ll work out among them.
They’re a band of vampires roving around the southwest, grabbing whatever vehicle they can steal off their prey without arousing much suspicion and usually spending the days hiding out in abandoned garages as they sleep. Caleb can’t kill but Mae kills for him and has her drink blood from her wrist. At the same time, Loy and his daughter, Sarah (Marcie Leeds), take off looking for Caleb.
Things almost go bad for Caleb when they enter a dive bar and begin to kill and prey on all the occupants. Yet Caleb lets a young man (James LeGros) survive and he escapes. They burn the bar and go hide out in a motel where law enforcement tracks them down. Caleb is able to risk his life and helps them escape during the raid, earning some respect from Jesse and the others. In a moment of camraderie, Caleb asks Jesse how old he was to which Jesse replies he fought for the South during the American Civil War. Severen also mentions that Jesse probably started the 1871 Chicago fire.
Released on this date, Oct. 3 in 1987, Near Dark came on the heels of The Lost Boys released over the summer. Miller is the half-brother of Jason Patric from that movie. If Lost Boys protrayed vampires as teenagers in rock-n-roll/punk garbs, Near Dark portrays them as neo-western outlaws. The mixture of the genres had been done before but westerns weren’t popular in 1987 even though it’s set in modern times.
It was only the second movie directed by Kathryn Bigelow, who co-wrote the script with Eric Red, famous for the 1986 movie The Hitcher. It was also her first time solo directing. Bigelow, who would go on to win the first Best Director Oscar for a woman for The Hurt Locker, was friends with James Cameron. (Incidentally, she would later be married to Cameron from 1989 to 1991 and was in competition with him for the Best Director award at the ceremony). Cameron suggested Bigelow hire Paxton, Henriksen and Goldstein whi had all previously appeared in Aliens. He even makes a small cameo as a truck driver.
Produced on a small budget of $5 million, it only made $3.4 million at the box office. This can probably be attributed to its distrubtor De Laurentiis Entertainment Group not doing much marketing as DEG was on the verge of bankruptcy at the time. Some elements of the movie might seem hokey, such as Loy and Sarah actually being at the same motel as Caleb and the others. I’m also wondering would Homer be more interested in Sarah because he’s probably was born before Caleb. There’s also the issue of the blood transfusion being used to cure Caleb and Mae. Even if Loy was O-Positive, such a thing in a makeshift enviroment would still be unhealthy and unsanitary. But these are small issues you can overlook.
Where the movie does work is its tone and the performances of the actors as a low-budget movie that is needed. Paxton was still a relatively unknown actor despite his role in Aliens. Both him and Henriksen seem to have the time of their lives in these roles. I’m sure Henriksen is a great man in real life, but he always seems to kill it (for a lack of a better phrase) in these roles where he has to play someone despicable and evil. It’s been reported that during a break in filming due to a diesel engine train coming through, Paxton in full gore make-up went over to a train worker and said, “Hey, man, there’s been an accident… and if you think I’m bad, wait ’til you see the other guy!”
If anything else, it’s a reminder of what an underrated, talented actor Paxton was and it’s hard to believe he’s been gone more than five years now. While the movie’s low-budget is on full display, sometimes you can do a lot more with a little less. It’s a wonderful mixture of action, horror and even dark comedy.
What do you think? Please comment.