Throwback Thursday: Near Dark Won’t Let You Say the V Word

Throwback Thursday examines films from the past, “classic” films that might not be in the current cultural zeitgeist but can still be important, interesting, fun, or all of the above.

Vampire films are constantly going in and out of fashion. I believe part of the fascination is the almost-seductive nature of nuzzling at the neck. It plays to a much more libidinous side of our nature than the primal werewolf or other classic horror icons. There’s a film from the ’80s that tries to pull the vampire from sultry to primal—1987’s cult classic Near Dark.

Near Dark theatrical poster

Near Dark theatrical poster

Near Dark was released a few months after the widely popular The Lost Boys and failed to make an impact at the box office. It might have been because of audience fatigue, a sense that Near Dark was jumping on the vampire bandwagon, or just poor marketing. How does one market a vampire film that never even mentions the “v” word and is more of a cowboy Western? There are no big names in it, even though it has a good chunk of the cast from Aliens (Bill Paxton, Lance Henriksen, and Jenette Goldstein), which is no huge surprise. The director, Kathryn Bigelow, was dating James Cameron at the time and she even throws a little homage to him in the film. (As the leads are walking past a local theatre, the marquee clearly states that they are showing Aliens.) You might recognize Bigelow’s name for being the first female director to win an Oscar for her film The Hurt Locker, but she has been a working director in Hollywood since the early ’80s. Give Jamie Lee Curtis’s starring vehicle Blue Steel a try (plus Clancy Brown gets to play the love interest), or the Reeves/Swayze-led Point Break, or even the cyberpunk Strange Days (which does feel a bit dated, but that’s what happens with old cyberpunk—some ideas can become cyber-reality). Needless to say, she’s definitely a fun director with a good eye for adrenaline films.

Silhouette of six people standing in the distance, coming out of a dusty background with backlighting.

Always trust people coming out of a dusty background with backlighting.

Near Dark follows Caleb (Adrian Pasdar), a young cowboy who runs into a young woman, Mae (Jenny Wright), and they decide to go on a date. At the end of their “weird” first date, Mae ends up biting him then running off as dawn approaches. Caleb struggles to get home as he slowly burns as the sun comes up. Just as he’s about to get home to his father and younger sister, a mobile home pulls up and hands from inside the mobile home yank him inside. This is where he meets the previously mentioned cast of Aliens, along with Homer (Joshua Miller), an old man trapped in a young man’s body. A red swath is then cut across the West as the gang tries to indoctrinate Caleb into their lifestyle.

Screenshot of two men in a bar, one of them bloodied, smiling, and gun-toting.

We came here to chew bubblegum and drink blood. We’re all out of bubblegum.

With some fun set pieces that include a bloody rampage at a backwoods bar, and a final fight involving a jackknifing semi-truck, the film really has a grimy feel to it. You almost want to yell out for the cast to shower because everyone just seems covered in dust and dirt, but it totally fits the Western vibe that Bigelow is going for. She wants to show the dark side of Western films.

There’s great character acting from Paxton and Henriksen. Watching them interact with each other and their surroundings is a lot of fun. Goldstein is sadly underutilized, and even though she plays the mama bear, well, she does come across as little more than an afterthought in the script. The primary focus is on Caleb and Mae’s relationship, and Wright has a haunting quality that serves her and her character well. It’s sad that she didn’t get to do more, but it seems that once the ’80s ended, she didn’t have a lot of offers coming in and was relegated to random TV roles until her final film in ’98. Pasdar of course went on to star in the TV show Heroes, do a ton of cartoon voiceover work, and can now be seen on Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD (an annoying show to type out).

Screenshot of Jennie Wright as Mae standing on the road and holding an ice cream cone.

Jennie Wright as Mae. Of course vampires use ice cream to lure their prey.

If you’re a fan of vampire flicks and haven’t seen this, definitely check it out. It’s got a great vibe to it and the subplot of the old soul trapped in a young body definitely echoes the Claudia character in Anne Rice’s 1976 novel Interview With the Vampire (someday I’ll discuss that film). There’s a lot of dark humor to be mined in this film and Bigelow does a great job with the setting and direction. A worthy entry into vampire lore—even if they never say the “v” word.

This film can be found on both Blu-ray and DVD. It is currently available via Netflix, but streaming offerings change frequently, so keep an eye out. Feel free to discuss further in the comments below; just keep it respectful.

If you think there’s a film Throwback Thursday should cover in the future, please let me know in the comments.

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