Horror Film Review: Near Dark (dir by Kathryn Bigelow)


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.

A Movie A Day #88: Where The Day Takes You (1992, directed by Marc Rocco)


This month, since the site is currently reviewing every episode of Twin Peaks, each entry in Move A Day is going to have a Twin Peaks connection.  Where The Day Takes You is a movie that has not just one but two connections to Twin Peaks.

Where The Day Takes You is an episodic film about young runaways living on the streets of Los Angeles.  Led by 22 year-old King (Dermot Mulroney), who ran away from home when he was 16, the runaways form a surrogate family.  While being constantly harassed by both the police and well-meaning social workers, some of the runaways get addicted to drugs while others turn to prostitution in order to survive.  Some find love.  Some find death.  They all go where the day takes you.  (Not sure if that was the movie’s tag line but it should have been.)

Where The Day Takes You is a gritty and often tough film, though it’s effectiveness is undercut by a predictable ending and the presence of too many familiar faces in the cast.  The runaways are made up of a who’s who of prominent young actors from the 1990s.  Balthazar Getty plays King’s second-in-command.  Sean Astin plays an obviously doomed drug addict.  Alyssa Milano and David Arquette play prostitutes.  Ricki Lake and James Le Gros play comedic relief.  Will Smith, in his film debut, plays a wheelchair-bound runaway.  Christian Slater and Laura San Giacomo show up as social workers while the police are represented by Rachel Ticotin and Adam Baldwin.  Everyone gives a good performance but the film would have worked better with unknown actors or even real runaways.  No matter how good a performance Sean Astin gives as a heroin addict, he is always going to be Sean Astin and it is always going to be difficult to look at him without saying, “I might not be able to carry the ring but I can carry you!”

The movie’s first Twin Peaks connection is that Lara Flynn Boyle, who played innocent Donna Hayward on Twin Peaks, plays innocent runaway Heather in Where The Day Takes You.  The role is cliché but Boyle shows the same charm that she showed while playing Donna.

The movie’s second Twin Peaks connection is more unexpected.  Kyle MacLachlan is effectively cast against type as Ted, the drug dealer who keeps most of the runaways hooked on heroin and who is perfectly willing to leave an overdosed junkie in a garbage bin.  Ted is about as far from Dale Cooper as you can get.