Near Dark

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Near Dark

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A female action director who has worked in such historically masculine genres as the submarine movie, the undercover-cop thriller, the biker drama, and the science-fiction conspiracy film, Kathryn Bigelow has often been overshadowed by her ex-husband James Cameron, who co-produced her films Point Break and Strange Days, and co-scripted the latter. Bigelow's track record as a director is spotty, but in 1987 she directed the flat-out classic Near Dark, an enormously influential vampire Western newly released as a two-disc DVD set. Vampires have generally symbolized a distinctly European strain of upscale decadence, and Near Dark's key innovation was in stripping the genre of its gothic signifiers and replacing them with unmistakably American ones. Co-written by Bigelow and Eric Red, Near Dark stars Adrian Pasdar as an earnest every-cowboy who picks up vampire Jenny Wright and ends up with a neck wound in place of a goodnight kiss. Weak and confused, Pasdar is eventually adopted by Wright's undead surrogate family, which indoctrinates him into a nighttime world of blood-drinking, highway-side abductions, and eternal darkness. As Bigelow notes in the 47-minute documentary that accompanies the film, the horror movie and the Western share a common romanticism: While Near Dark is genuinely scary, it's also surprisingly lyrical, particularly in its depiction of the seemingly doomed romance between Wright and Pasdar. Bigelow makes Pasdar's consumption of Wright's blood seem as poignant and intimate as any kiss, and cinematographer Adam Greenberg seems particularly attuned to the romanticism bubbling under the bloodshed. Near Dark understands both the charm and the menace of the highway strip, and builds a scary vampire movie out of such unlikely components as country music, denim ensembles, trucks, and fleabag motels. Bigelow and Red mine the comic possibilities of redneck vampires without devolving into camp or sacrificing the film's essential scariness, most notably in a justly famous roadhouse setpiece. Bigelow deserves much of the credit for Near Dark's perfectly sustained tone, as does her well-chosen cast and Tangerine Dream's haunting electronic score. Pasdar and Wright are unexpectedly touching as lovers trying to bridge their disparate worlds, but the film belongs to Wright's vampire family—particularly Bill Paxton, who chews scenery and necks with equal vigor. A box-office disappointment upon its release and a cult favorite on video, Near Dark piles on the extras in its special-edition DVD, which includes a director's commentary, deleted scenes, and the documentary, which is most noteworthy for the elaborate backstories Paxton and vampire leader Lance Henriksen created for their characters. Near Dark's vampire-Western fusion has been co-opted by movies like From Dusk Till Dawn and John Carpenter's Vampires, but Bigelow's film has lost none of its freshness or vitality. It's the most quintessentially American vampire movie ever made.

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