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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TIFF Cinematheque Presents – The Films of Kathryn Bigelow

kathryn bigelow.jpgThe TIFF Cinematheque first retrospective on Kathryn Bigelow entitled KATHRYN BIGELOW: ON THE EDGE begins July 21.

Bigelow’s first film was the low-budget debut THE LOVELESS (an arty, hipster spin on ’50s biker movies, co-directed with Monty Montgomery and starring Willem Dafoe)  Following that, she  made her critical (but commercial unsuccessful) breakthrough with NEAR DARK, a grimy yet wickedly stylish tale of a pack of vampires traversing the American Southwest.  This was followed by a slew of films including POINT BREAK, STRANGE DAYS and others culminating with her glorious Oscar winner THE HURT LOCKER.  The retrospective arrives in time with the release of her new film DETROIT.

Bigelow was married to and divorced from director James Cameron.  Their collaboration can be seen in his script of STRANGE DAYS which Bigelow directed.

Bigelow’s best films are NEAR DARK, BLUE STEEL and STRANGE DAYS, all three of which oddly enough, did not do well at the box-office.

In April 2010, Bigelow was named to the Time 100 list of most influential people of the year.

For the complete program of the retrospective with screening dates and times, please check the TIFF website at:


BLUE STEEL (USA 1990) ****
Directed by Kathryn Boggle

BLUE STEEL is yet a another really awesome Bigelow film that flopped at the box-office.  She wrote this film with Eric Red after their collaboration NEAR DARK and marks another very human emotional script with a female cop character.  Just as Bigelow functions as a female action director BLUE STEEL is set in a man’s world.  Jamie Lee Curtis plays a rookie cop who foils a grocery store hold-hp shooting the robber (Tom Sizemore) who pulls a gun on her.  But she does not notice the robber’s gun stolen by a customer, who turns out to be a psychopath (Ron Silver) who uses the gun on a killing spree around NYC.  Detective Turner (Curtis) engages in a cat-and-mouse game with the killer that consists of a series of actions set-pieces.  The only problem is the sudden appearance of the killer shooting at Turner in a subway station for no reason except to provide the climax for the movie.  Still, this is Bigelow at her exciting best, and BLUE STEEL is an absorbing watch from start to end.  Ron Silver is the creepiest villain I have seen for a long time in a movie.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aJTOmShc9E0

NEAR DARK (USA 1987) ***** Top 10
Directed by Kathryn Bigelow

NEAR DARK is Kathryn Bigelow’s second and arguably BEST movie feature that 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.  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 film plays like a male victim basically in a female victim role which makes sense since Bigelow is a female action director.  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.  The only problem with the film is Bigelow’s Hollywood ending where Mae, the vampire becomes human again with the couple living happily ever after.

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

ZERO DARK THIRTY (USA 2012) ***1/2

Directed by Kathryn Bigelow

ZERO DARK THIRTY (referring to the period of time 30 minutes past midnight) is the story of perhaps the greatest American manhunt in history – the search and capture of Osama Bin Laden.  The story centres on the character of naïve CIA agent who goes by the name of Maya (Jessica Chastain) who supposedly masterminded the discovery of the whereabouts of OBL.  The navy seals were called in to attack the fort with the result of him being killed.  But not after Maya has given out all that she has got.  The script has her undergo the typical coming-of-age growing up to maturity as she accomplishes her goal.  Initially, shocked but accepting the torture by the American military, she gradually grows from soft to hardened in order to get the job done.  Maya finally reaches her angry peak when she confidently says to the Navy Seals, “You go and kill Bin Laden for me,” as if it is her own private vendetta.  The script and director keeps the film moving fast from start to finish keeping the audience’s attention.  The climatic segment of the raid on the fort in the dark of night is brilliantly executed.   

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YxC_JNz5Vbg