Film Review: NEAR DARK (USA 1987) ***** Top 10

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near darkA small-town farmer’s son reluctantly joins a traveling group of vampires after he is turned by a beautiful drifter.

Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Writers: Kathryn Bigelow, Eric Red
Stars: Adrian Pasdar, Jenny Wright, Lance Henriksen

Review by Gilbert Seah

NEAR DARK is Kathryn Bigelow’s first and arguably BEST movie, which did badly at the box-office in 1987 making only $3.5 million on its $5 million budget. The film did garner positive reviews.

NEAR DARK mixes the western and vampire horror genres based on a script written by Bigelow and Eric Red. The story follows a young man, Caleb Colton (Adrian Pasdar) 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.

It all starts one night, when Caleb meets an attractive young drifter named Mae (Jenny Wright). Just before sunrise, she bites him on the neck and runs off. The rising sun causes Caleb’s flesh to smoke and burn. Mae arrives with a group of roaming vampires in an RV and takes him away. The most psychotic of all the vampires, Severen (Bill Paxton), wants to kill Caleb, but Mae reveals that she has already turned him. 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 gain the group’s trust.

In the meantime, Caleb’s father (Tim Thomerson) searches for Caleb and Jesse’s group. The action is non-stop and the film an absorbing watch from start to end.

It often happens that a director’s first film is his or her best, the director often putting everything he or she has into it. None of Bigelow’s features including her Oscar Winning THE HURT LOCKER could ever match the energy and inspiration that can be observed in NEAR DARK. “The night is so bright, it will blind you.” is a sample of some of the dialogue spoken. Bigelow must have loved this line so much that it is repeated in the film.

Bigelow also ups the ante in her horror movie with the introduction of a really creepy character in the form of a child vampire called Homer (Joshua John Miller). This is an old man in a child’s body. A case of Pedophilia. When Homer meets Caleb’s little sister Sarah (Marcie Leeds) and wants her as his mate, it is no wonder Caleb sacrifices all to save her.

I first saw NEAR DARK in September 1987 at the Toronto International Film Festival as part of the public, before I was a film critic. NEAR DARK was brought in and screened last minute. But Bigelow was there after the screening for a Q & A session. I remember being really impressed at the film and at a female director capable of such exciting male action. I recall someone asking her too: “Why did you pick Tangerine Dream to do the music for the film?” Her answer: “Aren’t they great?” This is pure inspiration and filmmaking from the heart.

NEAR DARK is one action set piece after another, the top two being the bar segment where the vampires terrorize a local biker bar, killing everyone before burning it down followed by a police takedown at a motel.

NEAR DARK screens on July 21st, as part of the TIFF Cinematheque retrospective of Kathryn Bigelow films.


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