Q. How do you kill a redneck vampire?
A. Put garlic in his Dr. Pepper.
Vampire books and movies are not my cup of serum and platelets. It’s clear that they possess a powerful erotic charge for [some] women—why else would those silly Twilight novels and the turgid works of Anne Rice sell a kajillion copies?—but they’re a hard sell for me. (Exception: the wonderfully comic re-imaginings of master storyteller Christopher Moore: Bloodsucking Fiends and You Suck: A Love Story.) I only rented this one because it has a cult following, has received an amazing 93% on Rotten Tomatoes … and was directed by Kathryn Bigelow, someone who has come to fascinate me.
Most female directors—who are still a distinct minority—turn out sensitive stories of family and community, dealing with issues any of us might face. “Serious” movies, good or bad. A few direct comedies. But as far as I know, Bigelow is the only woman who writes and directs kick-ass action movies. She’s had a lot of hard luck. This movie, her second, died because the production company went bankrupt and it was barely released. Her big-budget adventure K-12: The Widowmaker was better than the reviews, and its faults were not hers. But she’s hung in there for 20 years with quirky films like Point Break, about surfing bank robbers, of all things, and Blue Steel, a pretty good cop movie with Jamie Lee Curtis. This year she finally hit the jackpot with The Hurt Locker (Metacritic 94, Rotten Tomatoes 98%!), about which there has been a lot of Oscar talk.
The chief delights of Near Dark are the look of the film and the idea of road warrior trailer trash vampires (though the word vampire is never used). These are not elegant Dracula or Lestat bloodsuckers, these are down home lowlifes. They travel around in an old RV or whatever else they can steal, and don’t hole up in caves or decaying mansions or castles but in zero-star motels that even the roaches have avoided. Real shitkickers. There are five of them, and four are the scum of the Earth, while one, young and cute and new to the game, still has some humanity. She bites a young cowboy and the rest of the film deals with his difficulties in adapting to murder as a way of life.
It went along well there for a while, but lost its way, for me, in a drawn-out scene of butchery in a roadside honky-tonk. The vampires don’t just kill and suck, they take a lot of pleasure in terrifying their victims. (Didn’t their mommies tell them to never play with their food?) I understood the logic of the scene. Think about it. One of these dudes fought in the Civil War. He has to feed every night. That is a bit over 50,000 nights, 50,000 murders. I suspect you not only grow jaded, you get so bored that you try to make the killing interesting. What else is there to do? And you’re no longer human. These people are prey to them, nothing else. So, yes, it made sense … but I wasn’t interested. I didn’t want to see it. I guess that’s why I’ll never be a fan of horror movies. I don’t like looking at it. In fact, I think those of you who do like looking at gore and suffering, who get a charge out of it, are weird, and possibly dangerous. I think you should be watched. You might be Ted Bundy.
Bottom line: this is a very good example of what it is. It’s just that what it is doesn’t appeal to me.