In our continuing series of 47 films to watch before you are murdered in your dreams, we look at Katheryn Bigelow’s rural vampire yarn Near Dark.
The eighties began with a cool Tony Scott addition to the vampire mythos The Hunger, starring Susan Sarandon, Catherine Deneuve and David Bowie, but by the middle of the decade the old blood suckers were more likely to pop up in a comedy context like Fright Night, or brat pack packages like The Lost Boys. Katheryn Bigelow however was eager to do something different. She wanted a vampire crossover and so Near Dark was born – a Vampire Western, where a young aw shucks cowboy called Caleb (Adrian Pasdar) gets seduced and bitten out on the prairie by Mae (Jenny Wright). As he starts to turn he is rescued from a sun-blistered combustion by the family led by Jesse (Lance Henrikson) and featuring Bill Paxton as a wild and fun-loving vampire who thoroughly enjoys the hunt and the feeding. They reluctantly accept Caleb on condition he pulls his weight by killing, but it is something Caleb is unable to bring himself to do, relying on Mae to give him the top up he needs to continue. Meanwhile, his Marlboro man father and young sister trail the badlands and back roads looking for sign of him.
Only Bigelow’s second feature – check out if you can her amazing debut The Loveless, a biker movie starring Willem Dafoe! – she throws the atmospheric kitchen sink, back lighting silhouettes whenever the opportunity affords. The stand out moment of the film is when the family invade a red neck bar to get some of the red they so thirstily crave. It’s a gruesome and humorous interlude in the story. Henrikson and Paxton are great value for money and Joshua John Miller as the little boy vampire Homer has some of the pathos of Let the Right One In, many years later. Bigelow and co-writer Eric Red (who would also write The Hitcher!) never quite shake of the need for a white bread family ending, but the lingering images are those of bullet riddled rooms letting int he deadly daylight, hellish spontaneous combustion and finding out why he doesn’t want the beer but he does want the glass.