Near Dark (1987)
Release Date: October 9th, 1987 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Kathryn Bigelow Actors: Adrian Pasdar, Jenny Wright, Lance Henriksen, Bill Paxton, Jenette Goldstein, Tim Thomerson, Joshua Miller, Marcie Leeds, Bill Cross
ne night, Oklahoma cowboy Caleb Colton (Adrian Pasdar) picks up cute but odd Mae (Jenny Wright) from Sweetwater, offering to drive her home to a trailer park just off the highway. She talks of the night, stars, immortality, and a strangely strict dawn curfew, but he’s too preoccupied by her beauty to notice that something isn’t quite right with the blonde vixen. Before he drops her off, he demands a kiss. But their smooching session ends in an unexpected bite.
As Caleb makes his way back to his farm and the sun comes up, his skin starts to smolder. A trailer drives by and scoops him up before he can rejoin his father Loy (Tim Thomerson) and sister Sarah (Marcie Leeds), who watch in dismay as Caleb is abducted. The vehicle contains Mae, leader Jesse Hooker (Lance Henriksen), Diamondback (Jenette Goldstein), young boy Homer (Joshua Miller), and the uncontrollable, disorderly Severen (Bill Paxton) – all roaming vampires who are not thrilled to take on another member. But they give him a week to adapt to his new lifestyle, which includes killing and feasting on blood to survive – typically targeting hitchhikers or posing as hitchhikers to unlucky drivers. Caleb doesn’t want to attack innocent people, but he can’t forever drink from Mae’s wrist, which could eventually kill her.
Despite the seemingly romantic concepts, the unsettling but groovy electronic notes by Tangerine Dream work to create a palpable dread and unease, distancing “Near Dark” from the melodramatic mushiness of fantasy avenues. Instead, it’s predominantly a horror film, taking a rebellious, ruthless, violent, and contemporary approach to vampirism, full of shootouts, rock music, biker costuming, unsympathetic butchery, and getaways. Hard-earned camaraderie clashes with taxing choices of allegiance and betrayal, with familial bonds occasionally triumphing over love. The vampires rivetingly alternate between friend and foe, with Paxton presenting the most formidable enemy.
Time is taken to establish Caleb’s slow and painful transformation into a vampire, along with a perpetual delay in actually calling his condition by its name (possibly to inspire a greater sense of believability). He’s also reluctant to ask the questions that would reveal revelatory answers. Interestingly, the film examines the logical opposition to the natural lawbreaking and evildoing necessary for a vampire’s subsistence, as well as the practicality of ethics when mortality isn’t an issue. Acknowledging power and abusing it is a consideration ignored by Caleb’s uncomplicated thinking, while Hooker dons a sort of existential, patriarchal stance, not unlike Rutger Hauer’s Roy Batty from “Blade Runner.” Also quite uncommon for a vampire thriller, “Near Dark” presents the bloodsucker condition as a curable phenomenon, while also fusing the subgenre with a generally Western setting (most striking in the climactic showdown). It’s highly unique and routinely engaging, with an impressive story that is only hindered by moderately unpolished execution – though it’s still a noteworthy sophomore effort by writer/director Kathryn Bigelow.
– Mike Massie