Near Dark just may be one of my favorite vampire films ever. This little horror sleeper features Lance Henriksen, which gets you off to a pretty good start right there. Throw in Bill Paxton, the criminally-underrated Jenette Goldstein, a Tangerine Dream soundtrack, a forbidden romance, cowboy vampires and have Kathryn Bigelow direct it all and you have the recipe for greatness.
In addition to adding the unconventional twist of combining the Western with a vampire film, Bigelow expertly handled how to do a vampire romance right. You have elements of forbidden love, a family that doesn’t like the boy you brought home, but it doesn’t fall into tweenie, puppy love drivel. It’s sort of a westernized, modern-day Romeo and Juliet. Or something like that.
All I know is that this movie is the shit.
Bigelow directed Near Dark long before her Oscar-winning days and even before her cult classic Point Break. I believe this wasn’t long after she divorced mega-successful director James Cameron, and she “borrowed” some of the actors he’s used in his films, including Goldstein with a small part in Titanic as well as Bill Paxton. She also throws James LeGros a small part in this film, who would go on to play one of the bank robbers in Point Break.
This film has a real dark, moody, gritty feel to it and the romance between Caleb (Adrian Pasdar) and Mae (Jenny Wright) feels real. Mae makes you want Caleb to run off with her forever, foregoing his human life for the eternal thrill of running with the night. It’s hard to capture in words in a review, but when Mae tells Caleb to listen to the night, you feel that lure of the inhuman freedom that’s being offered to him.
Henriksen and the rebel family he’s created are true sociopathic desperados, especially Paxton’s character with his jugular splitting spurs and sick humor. It’s all just perfectly woven together, and proves you don’t need a big budget or special effects to make an amazing movie.
This is simply a must-see film not only for horror fans, that anyone with a remote interest in the genre.
It’s no coincidence that this week’s Retro Cinema choice is “Hellraiser.” Because in case you haven’t heard, the remake has been given a green light. Now, I know you hard-core horror fans like me are out there saying “Oh, God no, not another remake!” But fasten your seatbelts kids, because for once this is good news: Clive Barker is gonna direct and Doug Bradley is coming back as Pinhead.
When Barker first directed “Hellraiser,” he had a very limited budget and in fact, he confesses in the DVD commentary that he basically got the resurrection scene special effects done for much less than what it should’ve cost (only $25,000) because the studio liked what they saw of the film and threw a few more dollars their way. That scene wasn’t even in the original script due to not having a budget for it.
I think it’s fair to say that this time around, Barker won’t face those kinds of problems. Nor have to resort to the cheesy painted in special effects he did himself — those being my main criticism of the original as well as the pretty dreadful acting of Ashley Laurence (sorry, but it’s true.) Sure, there are a few things that went wrong, but a whole lotta things went right.
While I’m sure most people reading this have seen the film, I don’t want to give away too much just in case, but let’s just say after “Hellraiser,” people really didn’t look at hooks and chains quite the same way again. Nor their prim and proper British wives.
How can you go wrong when you mix Stephen King, Gary Busey, and one of the Coreys? Trick question… You can’t go wrong. Plus if you add in a few werewolves, and some campy gore, you’ve got a big bundle of 80s horror known as “Silver Bullet.”
Corey Haim plays Marty, a boy stuck in a wheelchair that’s been dubbed the Silver Bullet. The story is narrated by his older sister, Jane (Megan Follows), reminiscing about the past. But in the present the story’s set in, she pretty much feels that he’s a pain in the butt. That starts to change and they find themselves coming together when people in their small town are turning up not only dead, but ripped to pieces. And the murders are metaphorically ripping the town apart as well.
When Marty’s best friend becomes the latest victim, the townsfolk seek some vigilante justice and want to hunt down whoever — or whatever — is killing people, despite pleas from the local sheriff. Of course, they go out hunting it at night. During a full moon.
Do I really need to tell you how that’s going to end? Yeah.
When Uncle Red (Busey) comes to visit Marty and Jane, that’s when things get really interesting. After Uncle Red builds Marty a supercharged motorized wheelchair and gives him some fireworks, Marty sneaks out in the middle the night to go set them off. Little does he know, this will bring him face to face with the beast that is terrorizing his town. During this late-night confrontation, Marty injures the werewolf, putting out an eye. It escapes, so Marty and Jane go on a hunt around town to find out who has a telltale injured eye. And suffice it to say, it is not the person they expected.
Unfortunately, the werewolf knows that they know, so they have to rely on Uncle Red to protect them when the beast comes to attack the only ones who know his identity.
The movie is based on Stephen King’s short story, “Cycle of the Werewolf.” Many King adaptations tend to turn into more campy fun than horror when they hit the screen, and this film follows that trend. That doesn’t mean it isn’t good… I mean, this is a classic 80s horror film that’s a lot of fun. And I’ve always been really partial to werewolves, but don’t expect any fancy transformation scenes in this one. In fact, I think the werewolf sort of looks like a teddy bear — I’m guessing that wasn’t exactly the effect they were going for.
Of course, there’s a bittersweet element to it now in light of Haim’s early demise, and the living train wreck that Busey has become. This is a pre-“Lost Boys” Haim, before Hollywood tore him apart. And Busey is in his prime here. The film is family-friendly if you’re looking for a film for kids that still appeals to adults.
Although you might have to explain Busey’s line that he’s more nervous “then a virgin on prom night.”
Retro Cinema is a new column that reviews a different retro horror film every Monday. Subscribe at the top of the page for updates on new film reviews, interviews and horror news.
I’m really wish people would stop ruining vampires for me. You know what movies I’m talking about, without me even uttering the dreaded “T” word. And some of the lame, wimpy, effeminate vampires that have paraded around screen and in books in recent years. So I admit, I almost didn’t even bother to watch Dracula Untold. I figured it would be yet another disappointment.
Fortunately, I figured wrong, at least to a certain extent.
I could nitpick some flaws in this movie, but I’m going to give it a pass on a few things. Maybe my standards have dropped a little too low with some of the poor vampire movies out there, but I actually thought this was pretty damn good.
Dracula Untold tells the story of the origin of the great vampire legend, with an ancient vampire who has been cursed and dwells in a cave. And much like a Marvel superhero, he and his protégé he passes his curse along to can command bats. And let me tell you, they can make these bats do some bitchin’ things, as Ve Neill would say.
They can create storms and huge whirlwinds like tornadoes that the newly crowned Dracula uses as a cover to plow through entire armies by himself, trying to save his kingdom from being taken in a bloody war.
You see, this spin on the Dracula legend has him willingly taking the blood of the cursed vampire in the cave to take on superpowers, which will all go away and he’ll return to human if he can resist feeding for 72 hours. As you can imagine, this can sort of complicate date night with the wife, among other things.
All kidding aside, this movie has beautiful cinematography, fairly nice special effects — and yes, of course they use CGI for the bats (boo, hiss) — but overall this is a very solid entry into the annals of vampire movies.
It’s sort of like 300 with vampires and without the abs. Check out the trailer…
Horror has earned a bit of a bad rap with women over the years, often making them weak and vulnerable, and of course, naked. Hey, we get it guys; you like boobs. It’s not a crime. But when a movie has a kickass female lead — and doesn’t use gratuitous flesh to sell itself — it’s a pretty cool thing and a refreshing change. Plus, if you add in super tight spaces and a spider-like, ravenous alien in those tight spaces, you’re bound to get the attention of a claustrophobic or arachnophobic horror fan.
But god help you if you have both, because “Crawl or Die” — billed correctly as the most claustrophobic movie ever made — will reduce you to a fetal position. Star and producer Nicole Alonso sat down for an exclusive interview to talk about the film, directed by Oklahoma Ward.
The Queen of Scream: I watched the “Crawl or Die” even though I’m so claustrophobic. But I had kind of missed that whole part in the plot about the spider-like alien thing, because that’s my other fear, spiders. So yeah, that was an extra special treat for me.
Nicole Alonso: Oh, that’s great! You’re going to see in the next one, we have a whole scene with tarantulas so you’re going to love that.
TQOS: Oh God, that’s it, I’m fast-forwarding through that part. I kept thinking I wanted to fast forward through this, but it was like no, no don’t fast forward, be professional.
NA: Hey, I understand.
TQOS: You weren’t just the lead actress in this movie, but you were also a producer and you did the song for it. So how did you get involved with this project?
NA: Well, I actually met the director, Oklahoma Ward, when I auditioned for his first film and I got a small role in that. And then after that we actually became roommates for a while and so we were working together. And then after about a year we ended up dating, and then he and I kind of launched into this project together, “Crawl or Die.” He began writing it, and then we lived in L.A. at the time and we ended up moving out to Tulsa, Oklahoma to build the set and film the movie, and we just kind of worked on the whole thing together. So that’s kind of how I have all these roles in it and got involved in doing all of that other stuff for the movie too.
TQOS: So you guys do live in Oklahoma now?
NA: Yeah, we live in Oklahoma. We were living in L.A. and we kind of got back and were like, you know it’s just too expensive to do what we need to do. We needed a huge set in order to be able to build all of the tunnels, and in L.A. it’s just ridiculously expensive. The land out here is super cheap and he grew up here so he has family here and he knows people here. So we came out, built the studio and piece of property, and just filmed it all here.
TQOS: Well that’s the great thing about all of the great technology and the high definition cameras available now. It’s so expensive to live in L.A., but having access to all this great stuff makes it easier for people to live in other to do films independently do where they don’t have to be working 60 hours a week just to support themselves. They can actually be artists.
NA: Right, yeah. That’s kind of what our deciding factor was. Because we were basically like, we’re living in L.A. and basically working just to pay our rent, and it was ridiculous. We weren’t creating. So we decided it was just better for us to get out of there and now we’ve made a movie, so I’d say it was worth it.
TQOS: And it’s a great result at what looks like a really reasonable budget. Because even though the set is big, it is probably a pretty low budget because you simply built tunnels, although you do have the special effects of the creature. But even with that, I was thinking it’s probably not really a huge budget because you did keep your set so simple.
NA: We were definitely low budget and you’re right, most of the money pretty much went to the creature and then post production. But for the most part we were really low budget. I can’t say actually how much, but you know.
TQOS: And the creature is animatronic, right?
NA: Yeah, it was a guy who designed a suit that he wore, and he had a head that he would put on and stuff like that. It was basically controlled by three or four people who controled the arms. So it wasn’t electronic or anything like that, it was basically more like a puppet.
TQOS: It looked really good, and you could tell that it wasn’t CGI, thank goodness. Well, thank goodness for most people. For some of us it’s like, oh thank you for that extra dose of scary reality.
NA: I wanted us to do CGI, but with the budget they were telling us for that, we were like no. Unless you can have “Planet of the Apes” quality CGI, it’s just going to look cheesy and bad. So we went with a real monster instead.
TQOS: Well when Oklahoma said to you “Hey, I’ve got this great idea for a movie. It’s about this woman that’s in these really tight spaces and they just keep getting smaller and smaller and smaller,” did you have any reservations? I mean do you have any kind of claustrophobia?
NA: I actually don’t. And when he told me the idea I really liked the idea and thought it was unique and so great. And I was like, “Yeah, I’m not claustrophobic, so I’ll be fine.” But you don’t realize once you’re in those tunnels, it’s a whole different ballgame because the tunnels were real. We built them, but they were real 50-foot tunnels. There was no cutout, no opening in the tunnels or anything, so once you’re in, the only way to get out is to crawl forwards or backwards. It did become scary at times because in the smaller tunnels I couldn’t move my arms or legs so I just had to kind of worm through and it was intense. But I think it was totally worth it for the final product.
TQOS: Well, that obviously would help your performance. And also the fact that you did have something real and tangible to work with, the creature that was hunting you down.
NA: Yeah, and it’s interesting because we originally filmed it without a creature. You just basically heard the creature and you never really got to see it. And through test audiences and our sales agency, the test audiences loved it but the one thing they all said was we’d like to see the creature at the end. And the sales agency kind of said the same thing, so they gave us a little budget to do the creature but we only had about three weeks to put the creature in the whole movie. So it’s kind of crazy. And we’re looking forward to the sequel, because I know we’ll have a lot more time to spend on the creature and make it more elaborate and kind of explain more about it and all that kind of stuff. But yeah, it was interesting working with the creature, because like I said it was a puppet, and there was four guys working the arms and all, so you had to work together to get the shot.
TQOS: You did mention the sequel, and actually it’s a trilogy. It’s going to be a trilogy correct?
TQOS: So I already know now that tarantulas are going to figure prominently somewhere in the next installment — oh boy, can’t wait for that arachnaphobe that I am — but what other things can we expect? Can you give us maybe some little teasers? You don’t want to give too much away obviously, but in the next two installments what kind of things can we look for?
NA: Right. Well obviously I can’t give too much away, and actually the director is very good about, not telling me a whole lot; he keeps things secret. It’s under wraps. But I do know some things. I know that a lot of stuff from this first film will get explained in the second film. Like Earth 2 and why she’s the last woman who can become pregnant, and a little more about the virus, and it ‘s definitely going to be more, there will be more information about Tank, and definitely some crazy new claustrophobic scenes that again I can’t give too much away but, all new situations that she’ll get to get in. So it’ll be really fun and a lot of stuff I know the fans are wanting explained will be explained.
TQOS: That’ll be nice to kind of get the backstory, but for the life of me I can’t imagine how you could possibly push it farther than that last crawling sequence. Because I was like “Oh hell no; just let that spider thing get me already. And obviously I hate spiders, so that’s how claustrophobic you got there at the end. don’t think my cat could have fit through that space, great fat beast that he is. But it’s great to see a strong female lead, and the fact that it’s not something that exploits women. Because we all know, that is a part of horror and always will be, but it was really nice to see a strong female. lead who didn’t have to get naked at all. Was that something that was really important to you in the role?
NA: Oh definitely. I know it was important to myself and the director. He was very influenced by films like “Alien” and he was like I don’t want you to be [nude]. Of course, the distributors and all were like “we need nudity,” but he was like absolutely not, that’s not what this is about. And I think for us it was most important to show that yes, Tank is strong, yes she’s determined and she keeps fighting, but she’s not Rambo. She’s not a guy. She has emotion, she’s afraid, she has weak moments, but I think the point is that she never gives up and she just will fight through everything to keep going. And I think that’s what makes her so badass, is that she’s mentally strong. She doesn’t quit. And I think it was important for us to show that, that she wasn’t Rambo. She’s not going to take down everybody, but she’s a strong person.
TQOS: And there was actually a really vulnerable scene, as you were getting down where there with just the two of you left, and at that point, the other person was almost the stronger of the two of you, but then you kind of bounced back. But there was that vulnerable moment.
NA: Yeah. I do think it was a good balance for her, because I think anyone in that situation would of course be terrified and I think it was cool to play her that way. To show that, I don’t think she ever would have given up, but I definitely think she has moments of questioning if she could keep going. And it was fun to sort of show the both sides of that.
TQOS: There’s also going to be a comic book coming out, so it was that something that was part of the idea from the beginning? Or was it something that’s kind of come along afterwards?
NA: We always wanted to have a comic book, and I know with the deals we made with our distributor we made sure to keep the rights to do things like that, but it wasn’t intended to be so soon. But when it came out in Japan we had such a huge response in Japan from the fans, and actually they were sending in artwork for us, like fan art, drawing pictures of Tank. This one artist in particular sent us this amazing fan art, and we were like “Oh my God, we’d love it to do a comic book with you.” And he was stunned that we asked him, and he really was in to doing it, so we headed down the path with a translator to work all the details out, and he’s now creating our comic book. And I’ve got to say, it really looks awesome. I can’t wait to put it out there. It’s coming out really cool.
TQOS: Are you going to keep the iconic hair? Or are we going to see changes in color? Because that is so perfect for the whole comic book and for the movie.
NA: Oh, yeah. In the comic book definitely, it’s the mohawk all the way, the same hair, so yeah. It’ll be the same color. The comic book is actually mostly black and white, so it’s all going to be the same color. Tank is definitely the mohawk, that’s her thing.
TQOS: Have you filmed the sequel, the second part of the trilogy yet?
NA: We haven’t filmed it yet. I know Oklahoma has it written and he knows the story and all that. We’re finishing up the promotion of this film which will probably be for another four to five months, and then we’re going to start looking at pre-production for the next movie. So probably six months down the road we’ll be starting pre-production and get to film it. So it’s exciting.
TQOS: Well then maybe it’ll be ready for next Halloween?
NA: Maybe — I hope so. Of course we’re going to try to get it done as quick as possible but we’ll see. Hopefully. Until then, you can check out Alonso in “Crawl or Die” on iTunes or Amazon, and also the indie film “Screen,” which you can rent or buy on Vimeo currently.