1987 Movie Review: NEAR DARK, 1987

Movie Reviews

Directed by Kathryn Bigelow
Starring: Adrian Pasdar, Jenny Wright, Lance Henriksen, Bill Paxton
Review by Gemma Eagle


A mid-western farm boy reluctantly becomes a member of the undead when a girl he meets turns out to be part of a band of southern vampires who roam the highways looking for their next meal.


After re-watching Near Dark last night I couldn’t understand why very few mainstream movie go-ers have heard of the film, especially given the almost macabre excitement that tends to follow most vampire flicks, regardless of quality.

1987 saw the release of several high profile films (Robocop, Good Morning Vietnam, and Full Metal Jacket) and as a result, it was almost inevitable that Near Dark would be overlooked. Coupled with the DEG (DeLaurentiis Entertainment Group) studio going bankrupt and being unable to provide much publicity during its release, it’s understandable why the film failed at the box office, earning little more than $3,000,000.

Writer and director Kathryn Bigelow (K-19 The Widowmaker, Point Break) re-imagined the creatures, combining diverse genres such as horror, western, crime, and romance into what may be the first vampire movie that strays aware from glorifying vampires, instead returning them to their chilling origins.

Set against the eerie backdrop of perpetual twilight, the atmosphere of Near Dark is both moody and beautifully dream-like and unusually for a vampire movie, the word “vampire” is never mentioned. The stereotypical supernatural and religious undertones are almost non existent in the film focusing instead on the characters themselves. Take away the blood drinking in the movie and you’ve got a compelling and somewhat disturbing film essentially focusing the workings of the family dynamics between these rogue killers.

There is a definite James Cameron influence visible at almost every turn in the film, not just in the films cast (the film reteams 3 of Aliens’ cast members – Henriksen, Paxton and Goldstein) Bigelow however doesn’t try to hide this glaring truth instead pays tribute to Aliens in the film. At one point the protagonist, Caleb, stagger through a random town in which Aliens is showing in the local cinema. Instead of the horrible shadows of true black evenings, we get the chrome and steel scenery that fans of the Terminator creator will instantly recognize. Bigelow is excellent at creating mood and feeding atmosphere, and Near Dark is her best example of that skill. Steering away from any special effects, Near Dark certainly feels like it was made in the 80’s which works for the film rather than against it. The grainy feel of the set drops adds a somewhat dirty feel to the films already VHS quality, settling for realism over fantasy. Credit goes to The Terminator’s director of photography Adam Greenberg for creating the films beautifully haunting look.

As mentioned, what sets Near Dark apart from any other Vampire film is that of solid character development brought to life by a string of underrated actors. We realize the vampires need to practice self-preservation and instead of shying away from the brutality involved, Bigelow highlights its monstrosity culminating in the famous bar sequence. Even though, the victims themselves are not nameless patrons; Bigelow still makes sure that their true terror is shown as they are slaughtered one by one.

Lance Henriksen is genuinely terrifying in his underplayed portrayal of Jesse Hooker the age-old chief of the clan.

Wild Bill Paxton is simply magnificent as the blood-guzzling cowboy Severen and despite his obvious brutality, his southern lilt enthusiasm for all things gruesome endear him to the audience right from the get go, ensuring that he steals every scene he appears in. Throughout the film you get the impression that Paxton is constantly seeking the approval of his co-star Henriksen, both in and out of character, showing off like a desperate-to-impress teenager at every available opportunity as Lance/Jesse watches from the sidelines. Though Paxton clearly enjoys the character he is playing, he never successfully makes the character real enough that we forget he is acting.

Jenny Wright who plays Mae, Caleb’s love interest and the cause of his downfall into the vampire world, is interesting throughout the film and despite her onscreen role throughout the majority of the film there is a sense of underdevelopment in her character. Her naivety is believable if not annoying but one can’t help but feel the writing fails her at times.

The script does little to challenge many stereotypes in the film and the almost compulsory Man Child is ever present struggling to deal with the quandary of being trapped in a child’s body. The acting by Joshua John Miller who plays said child (Homer) is a let down much like his character.

The music, composed by Tangerine Dream’s Christopher Franke is somewhat overshadowed by the film itself, though its loud and atmospheric sounds compliment the story well.

Near Dark may not quite come close to masterpiece status by any means, but it is ingenious within its genre, and definitely offers a new spin on the overdone tale. It has its share of let downs but these are generally overshadowed by a solid plot and interesting character dynamics. With the remastered release available on DVD, Near Dark definitely deserves the release it didn’t get upon it’s initial debut.

In the words of Severen (Bill Paxton) – it’s finger-licking Good!

 NEAR DARK, 1987

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Movie Reviews

Directed by Steven Spielberg
Starring: Richard Dreyfuss, François Truffaut, Teri Garr, Melinda Dillon, Bob Balaban, Lance Henriksen
Review by Steven Loeb


Cableman Roy Neary is one of several people who experience a close encounter of the first kind, witnessing UFOs flying through the night sky. He is subsequently haunted by a mountainlike image in his head and becomes obsessed with discovering what it represents, putting severe strain on his marriage. Meanwhile, government agents around the world have a close encounter of the second kind, discovering physical evidence of otherworldly visitors in the form of military vehicles that went missing decades ago suddenly appearing in the middle of nowhere. Roy and the agents both follow the clues they have been given to reach a site where they will have a close encounter of the third kind: contact.


In the early days of science fiction movies, beings from other planets were often used as a symbol of fear and destruction. During the Red Scare of the 1950s, aliens were often used as a representation for the invasion of Communism. They came, they saw and they destroyed everything in their path. By the late 1970s, though the Cold War was still going strong, the Red Scare was long over, and the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) had improved relations between the United States and Russia, leading to a reduction in the number of missiles that each country would be allowed to keep in their arsenals. It seemed that the two super-powers might be coming toward some kind of resolution to their decades-long war; of course this would not actually happen until more than ten years later. Nevertheless, if there is one film that shows a prevailing optimism in the direction that the Cold War, and the world in general, was taking at the time, it was Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), the third film directed by Steven Spielberg.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind is the story of a small town electrician named Roy, played by Richard Dreyfuss, who experiences a seemingly random encounter with a UFO. After the experience, Roy becomes obsessed with aliens and UFOs. His behavior becomes extremely strange and erratic, including drawing the same mountain over and over. When he is unable to explain his behavior to his wife, she leaves him, and only then does he realize that he is drawing Devils Tower in Wyoming, the site where the UFOs are about to make contact with humans. As he races to get there, the government, having made a list of people who will be allowed to visit the aliens, apprehends him. After being questioned, Roy is added to the list, the aliens return the numerous people who had been abducted over the years, Roy and the others on the list enter the spaceship and are taken away to make contact with the friendly aliens.

Close Encounters was a film that Steven Spielberg had been working on for almost a decade by the time it was finally released. After shopping the film around, Spielberg was finally able to sell the script, and get creative control of the project, following the massive success of Jaws (1975). Based on a story he had written as a teenager, it is one of the few scripts for which Spielberg gets full writing credit, even though the script went through numerous changes and numerous other writers worked on different drafts of the story. Despite the contributions of other writers, in many ways, this is the first real Spielberg film, as this is where he began to incorporate themes that he would use in many of his later films, some of which reflect his own life and would come to define him as a director. This is the first of Spielberg’s films to depict an unhappy marriage; Spielberg’s own parents had divorced when he was a child and he often incorporates broken families, or single parent homes, in his films. Roy and his wife have a tempestuous relationship to begin with, and they see their marriage become even more strained as a result of Roy’s obsessions, ultimately leading to the collapse of their relationship. Spielberg would use this theme most famously in E.T. the Extra Terrestrial (1982), a film about a lonely boy who finds friendship with a lost alien. Spielberg’s films also often incorporate the themes of wonder and child-like innocence, seen here as Roy enters the spaceship at the end of the film. Though he is unsure of what is going to happen, he is excited and awed instead of afraid. This motif was used again in the Indiana Jones movies and, perhaps most successfully, in Jurassic Park (1993).

Close Encounters was the second collaboration between Steven Spielberg and Richard Dreyfuss, the first being Jaws two years earlier. Dreyfuss, who had first gained fame for his role in American Graffiti (1973), became a major movie star after Jaws. In 1978, he became the youngest actor ever to win the Best Actor Oscar for his role in The Goodbye Girl (1977), though this honor has since been surpassed by Adrian Brody.

Unfortunately for Dreyfuss, at the peak of his success, he developed a serious drug habit and, after crashing his car and being arrested for cocaine possession in 1982, he was forced to enter rehab. He was eventually able to resuscitate his career, going on to receive a nomination for Best Actor for Mr. Holland’s Opus (1995). After Close Encounters, Dreyfuss and Spielberg would work together one more time in Always (1989), a film that is widely considered to be one of Spielberg’s worst movies.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind was a huge success, both critically and at the box office. It was nominated for nine Academy Awards, including a Supporting Actress nomination for Melina Dillion, playing the mother of an abducted child, and Spielberg’s first for Best Director; the film would walk away with two Oscars, for cinematography and sound editing.

close encounters.jpg

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.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FiYSirEHS5E

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Happy Birthday: Lance Henriksen

lancehenriksen.jpgHappy Birthday actor Lance Henriksen

Born: Lance James Henriksen
May 5, 1940 in New York City, New York, USA

Married to: Jane Pollack (22 April 1995 – 16 May 2006) (divorced) (1 child)

Mary Jane Evans (10 February 1985 – 1988) (divorced) (1 child)

Read reviews of the best of the actor:

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