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The Test of Time: Near Dark (1987)

We all have certain movies we love. Movies we respect without question because of either tradition, childhood love, or because they’ve always been classics. However, as time keeps ticking, do those classics still hold up? Do they remain must see? So…the point of this column is to determine how a film holds up for a modern horror audience, to see if it stands the Test of Time.

Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Starring: Adrian Pasdar Lance Henriksen, and Bill Paxton

Vampires. Once upon a time folks were scared that these creatures existed and would suck out every drop of blood. Today…not so much. If anything, vampires should be scared shitless of Hollywood as it has probably sucked the last drop of the red stuff after saturating the market. Case in point: the return of UNDERWORLD with yet another sequel in BLOOD WARS.

While another UNDERWORLD will probably not resurrect the love for the genre, that doesn’t mean there isn’t some good shit to remind us all why we love the bloodsuckers. Just look to 1987, a year with NINE vampire flicks (according to a deep and detailed Google search) with films like GRAVEYARD SHIFT, THE MONSTER SQUAD, THE LOST BOYS and Kathryn Bigelow’s first solo feature. But does the latter still hold up against the Test of Time?

Under the examination: NEAR DARK.

I want a back story on each Bill Paxton accessory.

THE STORY: Oklahoma farm boy Caleb (Adrian Pasdar) finally finds a cute girl named Mae (Jenny Wright) who ends up biting his neck and turning him into a bloodsucker. That’s a bad first date. Just as the sun rises and Caleb’s skin starts to burn, a RV swoops across the farm and yanks him inside where he quickly meets Mae’s gang: Jesse Hooker (Lance Henriksen), Severen (Bill Paxton), Diamondback (Jenette Goldstein), and little Homer (Joshua John Miller). Caleb has always been a good dude, but now he either has to learn how to hunt and kill humans for blood or get dead himself.

Perfect bullet holes.

WHAT STILL HOLDS UP: NEAR DARK could be the first Western punk vampire movie with lots of farmland, lots of leather, cowboy hats, a few horses, and ample bloodsucking. Hell, by the end of the movie one of the characters rides into a deserted town on horseback as a tumbleweed rolls past. And double hell, half the cast look like they could be members of THE STROKES with Bill Paxton being pretty damn good as the psycho punk vampire with great lines (“I hate 'em when they ain't been shaved” and “We keep odd hours”). Then there’s Joshua John Miller (son of THE EXORCIST’s Jason Miller and half-brother of Jason Patric), who looks like a mini-me of Julian Casablancas.

The Strokes' family game night.

Directed by Kathryn Bigelow and written by Bigelow and (AITH favorite) Eric Red, NEAR DARK is a story about family above all else. On one hand, we have Caleb’s blood family with his pop Loy (the underused Tim Thomerson) and his sister Sarah (Marcie Leeds). Then there’s his blood loving family… you know, the vampires, and Caleb gets stuck between them. Obviously, as a good Oklahoma farm boy he has to choose between his love for Mae and the love for his family. And even though we’ve all seen that story before, Bigelow and Red do an excellent job making us care about that drama.

Bigelow made the most of her James Cameron connection (who she was with at the time), using a chunk of his cast from ALIENS, along with his frequent cinematographer Adam Greenberg (THE TERMINATOR) who really adds an artistic layer using the most of the Oklahoma setting. While better gore has appeared on screen, Dale L. Martin (E.T., TOTAL RECALL) keeps things looking real.

But above all, what I’ve always dug about NEAR DARK comes from the vampires, who Bigelow and Red keep fairly vague. They avoid going deep into the myth or give us long unnecessary details. Hell, the most we really get comes from Jesse Hooker’s age (he fought for the South). Not everything needs explanation.

Puppy Love

WHAT BLOWS NOW: Not much. If anything, there are only two things going against NEAR DARK .

1) The pacing. Things are a bit on the slow side. Yes, that’s to build up the tension and the character development, but it’s a slooooww burn. It would’ve been nice to step up the pace just a little more.

2) It’s a coming of age vampire story, something nearly 30 years later has been drained to death. Plus, NEAR DARK has to compete with the legacy of THE LOST BOYS with more or less the same story line and a quarter of the popularity. Not saying that’s NEAR DARK’s fault, but just a fact.

They need better sun block.

THE VERDICT: It probably shouldn’t have been a surprise that Kathryn Bigelow went on to have a very successful career, making films like THE HURT LOCKER, ZERO DARK THIRTY, and, of course, the great POINT BREAK. Despite the fact the she was making a vampire western in 1987 (complete with uber 80 soundtrack masters Tangerine Dreams), she created an artistic family drama that stands on its own fangs against other vampire classics. 

GET NEAR DARK BLU RAY HERE

GET NEAR DARK DVD HERE

Cheese.

Extra Tidbit: What are your feelings toward NEAR DARK?

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