Near Dark [DVD]
Director : Kathryn Bigelow
Screenplay : Eric Red & Kathryn Bigelow
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 1987
Stars : Adrian Pasdar (Caleb Colton), Jenny Wright (Mae), Lance Henriksen (Jesse), Bill Paxton (Severen), Jenette Goldstein (Diamondback), Tim Thomerson (Loy Colton), Joshua John Miller (Homer), Marcie Leeds (Sarah Colton)
Ever since its brief theatrical run in the fall of 1987 and its subsequent rise to cult movie status through home video and pay cable, Kathryn Bigelow's Near Dark has been dubbed repeatedly "the best vampire movie you've never seen." No doubt about it, Near Dark is a perverse, penetrating vision of modern vampirism in which the word vampire is never mentioned. It is testament to the enduring myth of vampirism that we can deduce everything we need to know from actions alone, no explanation necessary.
Taking place in the modern day, Near Dark is a clever cross-hybrid genre film, a thoroughly engrossing B-movie that combines the western with the horror film and fuses the two together with marked style and a wicked sense of black humor. The story opens in a tiny, dusty town in Oklahoma at dusk. We meet the protagonist, Caleb (Adrian Pasdar), an anxious farmboy in his early 20s whose boyish face is offset by a gleam of danger-seeking in his eyes. If it's danger he wants, that is exactly what he finds in the most unlikely of places, a beautiful young blonde named Mae (Jenny Wright), who he first spots licking daintily at an ice cream cone. He offers her a ride home, and they spend the entire evening flirting. She resists his advances, but only slightly, and eventually they get to the point that she nips him on the neck, forever altering his life.
Caleb quickly finds himself thrust into Mae's world, where she lives with a renegade "family" of vampires on the run who spend their days locked in the cool darkness of deserted garages or seedy motels with the windows blacked out, and travel back highways the rural South by night, feeding on the fringe-dwellers of society. The family is led by the patriarchal Jesse (Lance Henriksen), whose answer to the question "How old are you?" is "Let's just say I fought for the South. We lost." The matriarch is the bleach-blonde Diamondback (Jenette Goldstein), who plays mothers to the "children," Severen (Bill Paxton), who might have been a gunslinger once and now dresses like a biker outlaw, and Homer (Joshua John Miller), who was turned as an 11-year-old and must now spend eternity in a child's body.
Thus, Near Dark is not just a modern vampire movie in western drag, but it is also a riff on outlaw parables like Arthur Penn's Bonnie and Clyde (1967). There is a distinct countercultural element to Bigelow's film, as it manages to generate a remarkable amount of sympathy for its outlaw vampire family, despite the horrific deeds we watch them enact. Most disturbing of these is an extended setpiece in which they take over a roadside tavern and proceed to slaughter all the toughs inside. In another movie, the denizens of this place would be the ones doing the damage to others; but, here the vampires reign and, worse of all, they know it. They take vicious thrills the power they exert while killing and feeding, and Severen in particular seems to relish the torment he can inflict on his victims before taking their blood. There is no gothic-romantic eroticism here; rather, it is slaughtering the animals, pure and simple.
Yet, always at the heart of the film is the relationship between Caleb and Mae, who seems more resigned to her place in life as a vampire than her other family members, who embrace it as a radical, socially deviant way of life. Since there is little on-screen time to build Caleb and Mae's relationship, Bigelow and cinematographer Adam Greenberg heighten the intensity visually, giving their first night together a soft, poetic grandeur. Near Dark certainly doesn't look like a low-budget quickie, and its impressive visuals match its thematic complexity.
The scenes at night are sharp and hard in contrast, while the days are filmed like infernos, with the sunlight posing a constant threat of incendiary annihilation for the vampires. Bigelow also infuses much of the film with a slightly surrealistic tone, which gives an otherworldly feel to banal images like an RV tearing across an open field or a series of oil derricks rhythmically pumping up and down. Although not literally subjective, you can almost view the entire film as having been shot through the vampires' eyes, where the darkness of night becomes a comfort and the heat of day terrifying.
Bigelow has since gone on to major Hollywood fare like Point Break (1991), Strange Days (1995), and this summer's disappointing flop K-19: The Widowmaker (2002). While Near Dark is by far the most poetic film in her oeuvre, it has several sequences that foreshadow her mastery of action setpieces, particularly a shoot-out near the end of the film in which the vampires must blast their way out of motel past a squadron of police. It is a brilliantly staged sequence, particularly in the way Bigelow draws our attention to the striking beams of sunlight pouring in through the bulletholes in the walls, which are, of course, infinitely more dangerous than the bullets themselves.
What Near Dark does better than so many other movies of its ilk is keep us off-balance and surprised, even though it's working with well-worn conventions. The screenplay, cowritten by Bigelow and Eric Red (The Hitcher), is an amalgam of tropes and motifs from familiar genres, but they are reconstructed in such a way that the finished product is an exhilarating new experience that is alternately horrifying, funny, and even touching, which is why it's the best vampire movie you're never seen.
|Near Dark Special Edition DVD|
|Subtitles||English (closed captions)|
|Distributor||Anchor Bay Entertainment|
|Release Date||September 10, 2002|
| 1.85:1 (Anamorphic)|
First of all, let me just say God bless Anchor Bay for rescuing this gem from near obscurity. While Near Dark has developed a strong cult following on video, it has never been given the video treatment it deserves ... until now. Presented in a new, THX-certified anamorphic transfer taken from a clean source print in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio (first time on home video), Near Dark looks better on this DVD than it ever has before. Granted, it shows signs of its limited budget and age, but the image is strikingly presented, giving Adam Greenberg's impressive cinematography its due. Colors are bold and well-saturated, and contrast is particularly impressive (Goldberg tends to like strong contrast). Seeing as how the majority of the film takes place at night, black levels are particularly crucial. There is some graininess to be found and a few shots comes off as unstable, but overall the black levels are strong and shadow detail is quite good.
| English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround|
English DTS 5.1 Surround
English Dolby 2.0 Surround
Both the Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 surround remixed from the film's original two-channel stereo tracks are quite impressive given the limited nature of the source material. Dynamic range is good throughout, with good, if limited, use of the surround channels for ambient effects and atmosphere. Tangerine Dream's synthesizer- and guitar-heavy musical score sounds rich and expansive, and the soundtracks are clean and clear throughout.
| Audio commentary by director/cowriter Kathryn Bigelow|
It's funny that someone who sounds as refined and demur as Kathryn Bigelow does on this screen-specific audio commentary could be responsible for a movie like Near Dark (or Point Break, for that matter). Throughout the commentary Bigelow is articulate and well-spoken, although she is perhaps a bit too deliberate and reserved and given to too many long pauses. Still, it's a treat to get to hear her first-person perspective on this unique film, and she presents a clear and thoughtful perspective.
Living in Darkness retrospective documentary
Deleted scene with commentary
Original theatrical trailers
Original screenplay (DVD-ROM)
Screen savers (DVD-ROM)
THX OptiMode Test Signals
Copyright © 2002 James Kendrick