Near Dark is a 1987 American neo-western horror film directed by Kathryn Bigelow and written by her and Eric Red. The story follows a young man in a small midwestern town who becomes involved with a family of nomadic American vampires. Starring the little-known actors Adrian Pasdar and Jenny Wright, the film was part of a revival of serious vampire movies in the late 1980s. Despite performing poorly at the box office, critic reviews were very positive. Over the years, the film has gained a cult following.
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Kathryn Bigelow|
|Produced by||Steven-Charles Jaffe|
|Music by||Tangerine Dream|
|Edited by||Howard E. Smith|
|Distributed by||DeLaurentiis Entertainment Group|
|Box office||$3.4 million|
One night, Caleb Colton (Adrian Pasdar), a young man in a small town, meets an attractive young drifter named Mae (Jenny Wright). Just before sunrise, she bites him on the neck and runs off. The rising sun causes Caleb's flesh to smoke and burn. Mae arrives with a group of roaming vampires in an RV and takes him away. The most psychotic of the vampires, Severen (Bill Paxton), wants to kill Caleb but Mae reveals that she has already turned him. Their charismatic leader Jesse Hooker (Lance Henriksen) reluctantly agrees to allow Caleb to remain with them for a week, to see if he can learn to hunt and gain the group's trust. Caleb is unwilling to kill to feed, which alienates him from the others. To protect him, Mae kills for him and then has him drink from her wrist.
Jesse's group enters a bar and kills the occupants. They set the bar on fire and flee the scene. After Caleb endangers himself to help them escape their motel room during a daylight police raid, Jesse and the others are temporarily mollified, with Caleb asking Jesse how old he was and told he "fought for the South", making him about 150 years old (Severen later suggests he and Jesse started the Great Chicago Fire of 1871). Caleb's father (Tim Thomerson) searches for Jesse's group. A child vampire in the group, Homer (Joshua John Miller) meets Caleb's sister Sarah (Marcie Leeds) and wants to turn her into his companion, but Caleb objects. While the group argues, Caleb's father arrives and holds them at gunpoint, demanding that Sarah be released. Jesse taunts him into shooting but regurgitates the bullet before wrestling the gun away. In the confusion, Sarah opens a door, letting in the sunlight and forcing the vampires back. Burning, Caleb escapes with his family.
Caleb suggests they try giving him a blood transfusion to attempt to cure him. The transfusion successfully reverses Caleb's transformation. That night, the vampires search for Caleb and Sarah. Mae distracts Caleb by trying to persuade him to return to her while the others kidnap his sister. Caleb discovers the kidnapping and his tires slashed but gives chase on horseback. When the horse shies and throws him, he is confronted by Severen. Caleb commandeers a tractor-trailer and runs Severen over. The injured vampire suddenly appears on the hood of the truck and manages to rip apart the wiring in the engine. Caleb jackknifes the vehicle and jumps out as the truck explodes, killing Severen. Seeking revenge, Jesse and his girlfriend Diamondback (Jenette Goldstein) pursue him but are forced to flee in their car as dawn breaks.
Not wanting Sarah to become another childlike monster, Mae breaks out of the back of the car with Sarah. Mae's flesh begins to smoke as she is burned by the sun but she carries Sarah into Caleb's arms, taking refuge under his jacket. Homer attempts to follow, but as he runs he dies from exposure to the sun. Jesse and Diamondback, their sunproofing ruined, also begin to burn. They attempt to run Caleb and Sarah over but fail, dying as the car blows up. Mae awakens later, her burns now healed. She too has been given a transfusion and is cured. She and Caleb comfort each other in a reassuring hug as the film ends.
- Adrian Pasdar as Caleb Colton
- Jenny Wright as Mae
- Lance Henriksen as Jesse Hooker
- Bill Paxton as Severen
- Jenette Goldstein as Diamondback
- Joshua John Miller as Homer
- Marcie Leeds as Sarah Colton
- Tim Thomerson as Loy Colton
- Troy Evans as Plainclothes Police Officer
- Roger Aaron Brown as Cajun Truck Driver
- James LeGros as Teenage Cowboy
- Billy Beck as Motel Manager
- S.A. Griffin as Police Officer at Motel
- Neith Hunter as Lady in Truck
- Theresa Randle as Lady in Truck
- Leo Geter as Caleb's Friend
Vampire films had become "trendy" by the time of Near Dark's production, with the success of 1985's Fright Night and 1987's The Lost Boys (released two months before Near Dark and grossing $32 million). Kathryn Bigelow wanted to film a Western movie that departed from cinematic convention. When she and co-writer Eric Red found financial backing for a Western difficult to obtain, it was suggested to them that they try mixing a Western with another, more popular genre. Her interest in revisionist interpretation of cinematic tradition led her and Red to combine two genres that they regarded as ripe for reinterpretation, the Western movie and the vampire movie. The combination of the genres had been visited at least twice before on the big screen, with 1959's Curse of the Undead and 1966's Billy the Kid Versus Dracula.
Bigelow knew (and later married) director James Cameron, who directed Aliens, a 1986 film that shares three cast members (Paxton, Goldstein, and Henriksen) with Near Dark. Actor Michael Biehn was offered the role of Jesse Hooker, but he rejected the role because he found the script confusing. Lance Henriksen took over the role. A cinema seen in the background early in the film has Aliens on its marquee and Cameron played the man who "flips off" Severen.
|Near Dark (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) track listing|
|2.||"Pick Up at High Noon"||4:59|
|3.||"Rain in the Third House"||2:59|
|6.||"She's My Sister (Resurrection I)"||7:22|
|7.||"Mae Comes Back"||2:02|
|8.||"Father and Son (Resurrection II)"||2:58|
|10.||"Fight at Dawn"||4:40|
Near Dark was released on October 2, 1987 in 262 theaters, grossing US$635,789 on its opening weekend. It went on to make $3.4 million, below its $5 million budget.
Part of a late 1980s revival of serious (as opposed to comedic) vampire depictions on the big screen, it received mostly positive reviews for its mix of the Western, biker and vampire movie genres.
In her review for The New York Times, Caryn James wrote, "Ms. Bigelow's too-studied compositions – Caleb in silhouette riding a horse toward the camera – clash with her unstudied approach to the characters' looks". Jonathan Rosenbaum of the Chicago Reader was impressed by Bigelow's first foray into big budget films with the "hillbilly vampire" movie, describing it as "beautifully shot". Hal Hinson of The Washington Post said the intermixing of vampire legends, westerns and biker movies has an end result that is "both outrageous and poetic; it has extravagant, bloody thrills plus something else – something that comes close to genuine emotion". Jay Scott in his review for The Globe and Mail wrote, "Bill Paxton as the undead sex symbol – is exceptional, but not exceptional enough to put across the cop-out that concludes the film".
Richard Corliss of Time magazine called Near Dark "weird (and) beautiful" and "the all-time teenage vampire love story". Richard Schickel (also of Time) considers the film a clever variant of the vampire film genre. Peter Travers of Rolling Stone concurred, calling it "gory and gorgeous".
A remake of the film was announced in October 2006 as a co-production between film companies Rogue Pictures and Platinum Dunes. In December 2008, Platinum Dunes producer Bradley Fuller stated that the project had been put on hold due to similarities in conception with Twilight, a film which also contained a romance between human and vampire characters.
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Shatteringly romantic and tough as nails, Near Dark is the cult film that embodies brilliantly the ambivalence and hybridity that was a trademark of the 1980s.
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