Peter’s Retro Movie Review: Near Dark (1987)

March 13, 2012

by Peter Nielsen

Howdy! I’m gonna separate your head from your shoulders. Hope you don’t mind none.

Caleb Colton is on the prowl, looking for someone to seduce for the night. He spots Mae and is instantly taken in by her beauty and feels almost compelled to talk to her. It’s like he’s drawn to her! They go for a ride and he can’t help but notice that she acts a little bit “unusual”, for lack of a better word. The night ends with him “stealing” a kiss from her and her biting him on the neck. She then runs off leaving him bewildered and also stranded, since his pick-up truck won’t start.

A little later his father, Loy, played by the awesome Tim Thomerson (Trancers, Iron Eagle, Uncommom Valor) and his kid-sister Sarah (Marcie Leeds), sees him stumbling across the fields looking very sick. All of a sudden a large Winnebago rumbles by, drags Caleb in and disappears in a cloud of dust. It would seem that this night, Caleb got more than he bargained for. He is played by Adrian Pasdar from Carlito’s Way and the hit TV-show Heroes among others, and considering who he meets, I guess you could say he’s innocence personified.

You do NOT mess with Jesse Hooker!

You do NOT mess with Jesse Hooker!

And now I think it’s appropriate to introduce you to the family…

First we have Jesse Hooker, the leader and patriarchal figure of this drifting bunch of southern nomads. He fought as a confederate soldier in the American Civil War, so he’s been around for quite a while. He’s portrayed by the prolific Lance Henriksen (Terminator, Aliens, Pumpkinhead) and let me tell you… He’s one scary guy! Not Mr. Henriksen of course, but his character. You DON’T want to mess with him!

You don’t want to mess with his right-hand man, Severen, either. He’s down-right psychotic and you never know when he’s going to explode. Bill Paxton (Streets of Fire, Aliens, Weird Science) is absolutely perfect in this role. Severen has been around almost as long as Jesse has, I guess. In one scene he asks Jesse if he remembers the fire they started in Chicago and if Severen means the big Chicago fire in 1871, well… that’s a long time ago!

The shit's about to hit the fan...

The shit’s about to hit the fan…

It’s never made clear if that’s what he is referring to, but if it is, it’s a subtle, cool and damned creepy touch.

Next up is Diamondback, Jesse’s mate, played by the lovely Jenette Goldstein (Aliens, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, The Presidio). She’s the matriarch in this family, but make NO mistake… she’s just as ruthless as the others and has no problems slitting your throat for a pint of blood.

Homer, played by Joshua John Miller (River’s Edge, Class of 1999), is kind of treated like the surrogate son to Diamondback, despite his age. He may look like a kid, but he’s also been around for a long time. He’s a grown man trapped in a little kid’s body, something he’s not quite happy with.

And finally we have Mae! The youngest of the family… Jenny Wright from I, Madman and Young Guns IIfor instance, portrays the

Mae & Caleb

Mae & Caleb

beautiful woman Caleb falls in love with, and their love-story is an integral part of Near Dark. She turns him so they can be together, but his inability to kill is a constant source for irritation among the others. They don’t think it’s fair that Mae should be “carrying” him along. And that’s why they set up kind of an initiation for him in the infamous bar-scene…

That particular sequence belongs more or less 100% to Bill Paxton. He is OUT-standing here! I mean, Holy Crap… that scene is like a sudden kick to the groin! It’s brutal, bloody and filled with dark humor, and this is actually the first time we see them as the predators they really are, because before this, it’s only just been hinted at.

Incidentally, the word “vampire” is never mentioned once throughout the movie.

The side-story in Near Dark is about Caleb’s father and sister and their search for him, which takes a dark twist when they all end up in the same place at one point and Homer takes a liking to Sarah. Since he feels that Caleb took Mae from him… he’s going to take Sarah from Caleb and now things get even worse than they were before…

Jesse, Diamondback and Severen

Jesse, Diamondback and Severen

Near Dark was Kathryn Bigelow’s directorial debut! She’d previously done The Loveless together with another director, but has since then made Strange Days, Blue Steel, Point Break and more recently The Hurt Locker, which was the movie that earned her an Academy Award for best director in 2010. It was also a historic first, since she was the first female director to ever win this award. She did a fantastic job with Near Dark and the way she handles the story and the characters makes you feel almost sympathetic towards them. Even though you KNOW what they’re capable of.

I love this movie! Every damn time I re-visit it, I’m taken aback at how brilliant it is. The characters are fantastic, the shots are beautifully done, the score is by Tangerine Dream… I mean, c’mon? What more could you want? Near Dark is the kind of movie that sucks you in (sorry!) from the moment you press play (on whatever viewing-device you choose to watch it on) and doesn’t let you go until roughly an hour and a half later. It’s a story about family, love, loyalty and… oh yeah, vampires!

Unfortunately it suffered at the box office, maybe because it was released right around the same time as The Lost Boys, which was a tad lighter in tone and aimed more at the teenagers, and Near Dark kind of got lost in its wake. Maybe the general audience wasn’t ready for Jesse Hooker and his family or… Hell, I don’t know! It did however very quickly garner cult-status so it wasn’t completely forgotten, which would have been a damn shame if you ask me. But because of that, or partly because of that, we never got to see the talked-about prequel to it…

And that IS a damn shame!

Until next time my friends…


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