“Howdy. I’m gonna separate your head from your shoulders. Hope you don’t mind none.”
Horror is a genre where a lot of up and coming directors make their mark. The audience might not be huge, but it’s dedicated. Serious horror fans will see almost anything, and they’ll seek it out themselves. No massive marketing budgets required, no huge stars needed to put on the poster. Sam Raimi did it with The Evil Dead, then went on to pretty much invent the modern superhero movie with his Spiderman series. Steven Spielberg did it with Duel, then went on to be the most financially successful director of all time. And while it may not have been her first movie, Kathryn Bigelow used the genre to get noticed in the early days of her career, with Near Dark.
Caleb (Adrian Pasdar) is on a date with Mae (Jenny Wright) and everything is going well. Until she freaks out about needing to be home before dawn. The freak out turns into some mad rooting, which turns into Mae biting into Caleb’s neck. The next morning, when the sun starts to burn his skin, it’s revealed that Mae is a vampire. And now, thanks to her bite, so is Caleb. To help him adapt to her way of life, Mae tries to ingratiate Caleb with her own blood sucking family, lead by Lance Henriksen as Jesse, and including Bill Paxton as Severen.
Meanwhile, Caleb’s father (Tim Thomerson) begins to worry about his missing son and sets out trying to track him down. With his young daughter (Marcie Leeds) along for the ride, it’s not long before Caleb’s two families are crossing paths. And the results are never happy. Add to that Caleb’s inability to fully embrace his new life in his new form, and the growing feelings between him and Mae, and things get pretty complicated for the young fella.
Near Dark was only the second feature film for director Kathryn Bigelow. She was still a couple of movies away from her commercial breakthrough, Point Break. And a couple of decades away from winning an Oscar for The Hurt Locker. And while Near Dark has built a pretty strong cult following over the years, watching it now (admittedly with the hindsight of what she would do in the years since), I saw a movie that was just OK. But a movie that also showed a young, green director with a shit load of potential.
Pace wise, the script is all over the shop. Characters and plot points are thrown in any old time with no real regard for tried and true structure. Things happen, like an exploding truck, for no real reason, other than it looks cool and was a fun way to kill a baddie. And character motivations only exist in the most simple terms. It seems like the kind of screenplay where the badass lines of dialogue, and impressive set sequences were thought up first, then the story and characters were retro fitted to make the lines and set pieces work.
I might never see Near Dark as some sort of underappreciated classic, or overlooked masterpiece. But I can understand people who saw it at the right age carrying a certain affection for it. Near Dark is a movie that could have quite easily blown me away if I had just seen it as an early teen, with no preconceptions or expectations. Instead, I saw it in my mid 30s with the following 20 years of Bigelow’s ever improving work to compare it to. So in the end, I saw a movie that was just OK. But a movie that also showed a young, green director with a shit load of potential.