The 1987 film Near Dark is the story of two American families.
The Coltons are a family of ranchers living Oklahoma. Loy Colton (Tim Thomerson) is the patriarch, keeping a watchful eye on his children, Caleb (Adrian Pasdar) and Sarah (Marcie Leeds). Caleb is a cowboy and a nice guy, even if he does seem to be a little bit too naive for his own good. After Caleb disappears one night, Loy and Sarah start their own search, traveling across the back roads of the Southwest.
The other family may not share any biological relation to one another but they definitely share blood. They’re a group of outcasts who have found each other and now spend their nights searching for people who can satisfy their hunger. They’re vampires, even though that’s not a word that they tend to use. (In fact, for all the blood-sucking that goes on throughout the film, the term “vampire” is never actually heard.) At night, they’re all-powerful but during the day, even the slightly exposure to the sun can set them on fire.
The patriarch of this family is Jesse Hooker (Lance Henriksen), a scarred war veteran. Jesse will do anything to protect the members of his family but he expects each of them to pull their weight. At one point, when Jesse is asked how old he is, he says that he fought for the South and that the South lost.
Jesse’s girlfriend is Diamondback (Jenette Goldstein), who is just as ruthless as Jesse. Filling the role of oldest son is Severen (Bill Paxton), a cocky gunslinger with a quick smile and cruel sense of humor. Homer (Joshua Miller) appears to be a 12 year-old boy but he’s actually one of the older and more violent members of the family. And then there’s Mae (Jenny Wright), the rebellious daughter.
Mae is the one who first met and bit Caleb. She’s the one who turned Caleb into one of them, though it takes Caleb a while to not only discover but also understand what he’s become. When Caleb tries to escape from Mae and his new family, he becomes violently ill. He can no longer eat human food but, at the same time, he can’t bring himself to hunt. Instead, he’s forced to drink whatever blood Mae can provide for him. Even when Jesse’s group attacks a redneck bar, one cowboy manages to escape, specifically because Caleb cannot bring himself to kill him.
What is Caleb to do? He can’t return to his old family, as much as he may want to. (It doesn’t help that Homer has developed an obsession with Caleb’s sister, Sarah.) At the same time, his new family says that they’re going to kill him unless he starts hunting for blood. They only thing keeping Caleb alive is the fact that Mae likes him and even she’s telling him that he’s going to have to hunt.
Meanwhile, Loy continues his own hunt, the hunt for his son….
Long before she became the first female director to win an Oscar for The Hurt Locker, Kathryn Bigelow directed this stylish vampire film. Visually, Bigelow emphasizes the emptiness of the Southwestern plains. Looking at the desolate landscape, it’s easy to believe that Jesse and his family could use them to successfully hide from the rest of the world. It’s also just as easy to believe that a well-meaning but not particularly bright young man like Caleb could get lost and not be able to find his way home. Bigelow turns the vampire family into a group of modern-day outlaws, crossing the land in their sun-proofed vehicles and trying to stay one step ahead of modern-day posses made up by concerned families and law enforcement officers who don’t know what they’re getting into.
Even if not for Bigelow’s stylish direction, the film would be a classic for just the cast alone. Henriksen, Paxton, and Goldstein all previously appeared in James Cameron’s Aliens and they have a camaraderie that feels real. In fact, the vampires work so well together that it’s impossible not to kind of admire them. They’ve got it together and, even when faced with an army of police officers determined to make them step out into the sunlight, they don’t lose their sardonic sense of humor. The much missed Bill Paxton’s performance is a hyperactive marvel, both menacing and sexy at the same time. Meanwhile, Jenny Wright and Adrian Pasdar have a likable chemistry as Mae and Caleb while Tim Thomerson makes Loy’s love and concern for his son feel so real that adds an unexpected emotional depth to the overall movie. The script, written by Eric Red and Bigelow, is full of quotable dialogue and the cast takes full advantage of it.
Near Dark is vampire classic and definitely one to watch this Halloween season.