Viking Night: Near Dark
By Bruce Hall
April 13, 2017
Near Dark is a wisp of a movie that delivers a wisp of a story. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Near Dark is also an obscure, low budget, late ‘80s vampire flick starring Lance Henriksen and Bill Paxton in their prime, brought to you by the future Oscar winning director of Zero Dark Thirty.
Yes, that’s a mighty long sentence. But that’s a lot of potential packed into such a scrappy little film. I can’t imagine expectations were high at the time, but considering what all three of those people have accomplished in the years since, I was understandably curious to see whether any of that dynamite was present in Near Dark. And taking into account Paxton’s recent passing, I thought it might be fun to take a look at one of his lesser known roles.
It was. Not as much as I had hoped, but as we all know, a little Bill Paxton goes a long way.
And it kind of has to here, because Near Dark is the kind of story where absolutely nothing anyone does makes any sense, and all the characters are more or less terminally stupid. That’s not a criticism so much as it is a simple fact. Just think of any film you have seen that takes place on a long and dusty stretch of road, and you can more or less enjoy Near Dark with little fear of being taken by surprise.
Again, that’s not a criticism so much as it is a fact. A good (or bad) road thriller requires not just miles of desert, but also an understanding that at some point, we’ll be turning around and heading back the other way. And to clarify, I mean that both narratively and ironically. Obviously, there will be the point where our protagonist stops running from danger and turns to face it. Then there is the fact that in Hollywood, driving 150 miles in a straight line - stopping only to blow up a gas station or shoot someone in the face - is a consistently successful way to evade police pursuit.
Every night, I dream that I live in this world, with its upside-down logic and easy access to firearms. I have video game dreams, is what I’m saying. And like all my dreams, Near Dark begins with an aggressively poor decision making by characters who seem astonishingly new to the whole “decision making” process. In this case, it’s a horny cowboy named Caleb (Adrian Pasdar) and a weird, winsome wanderer called Mae (Jenny Wright). For reasons that aren’t important, Mae ends up in Caleb’s truck after weirdly and winsomely requesting a ride home.
What IS important is that Mae is secretly a vampire, which is an undead abomination that produces zero body heat. Caleb fails to pick up on this, what with his loins radiating all that oafish enthusiasm. In fact, I couldn’t help but chuckle at the fact that he’s so busy trying to get the girl to kiss him that at no point is their actual destination ever discussed. Maybe they’re neighbors, because after she bites him in the neck and runs away, Caleb stumbles what looks like a quarter of a mile or so back to the farm where he lives with his father (Tim Thomerson) and sister (Marcie Leeds).