Near Dark (1987) 4.43/5 (1)


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Rating: The Good – 82.6
Genre: Horror
Duration: 141 mins
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Stars: Adrian Pasdar, Jenny Wright, Lance Henriksen, Bill Paxton

The vampire genre is peculiar in that it is the most over-exploited yet poorly represented of all the horror sub-genres. Happily, Near Dark is not only an exception to that rule but it’s also quite simply the best modern representative of the genre. Director Kathryn Bigelow and Tangerine Dream’s brilliant score add a haunting and dreamlike quality to Eric Red’s excellent script about a small town boy named Caleb (Adrian Pasdar) who gets more than he bargained for when he takes a pretty girl (Jenny Wright) on a night-time drive. Before he knows it, he’s kidnapped by her “family”, which is led by the sensational Lance Henrikson’s Jesse and populated by an array of brilliantly fleshed-out (no pun intended) characters. The most captivating of these is without doubt Severen, played by Bill Paxton in one of the most explosively entertaining performances you’ll ever see. Paxton quite simply burns a hole in the screen as the deranged and incendiary vampire but it’s a testament to the quality of the acting throughout that a performance of that stature doesn’t overshadow that of the others.

Near Dark is a more mature and contemplative horror film than we typically see as it blends aspects of both the western and vampire genres together in ways that draw interesting parallels between the two. There’s a strong romantic theme running through the film which is fascinatingly skewed by Red’s more intimate take on the vampire mythology. There are no fangs on show, which makes the feeding all the more believable and indeed gruesome. The bar scene in particular (involving a great piece of ensemble acting from the “vampires”) will leave you seriously squeamish. The story takes a couple of logical leaps towards the end but they don’t really tarnish the overall experience because Near Dark is really about the lingering atmosphere it sets.

This was Bigeolow’s first great film (the more observant will notice the cast is full of regulars from her then husband James Cameron’s films) and her use of sound and awesome imagery (just check out that early shot of the family bearing through the desert in their RV) gives it an intimate yet appropriately otherworldly feeling which not many directors can achieve. Of course in that respect, credit must also be given to screenwriter Eric Red, whose previous film The Hitcher had a similar dreamlike vibe to it. Red’s script is quite minimal in parts which makes the words of the characters all the more relevant when they are spoken. Furthermore, at crucial junctures, he uses the extended moments of silence in between lines almost as lacunae which gives the audience a more tangible sense of the world of the “vampire”. It really is an extraordinary device which is only augmented by Tangerine Dream’s luminescent score riding somewhere in the background. In fact, that score and Red’s words work so effectively together, it’s like he wrote the script to their music. There are not many films coloured so strongly by their score and it’s yet another testament to the skill of Bigelow that neither it nor the script cancel the other out. In fact, it’s exactly that type of balancing act which makes Bigelow such a good director and Near Dark such a good cross-over horror.

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