As Monday’s Golden Globes kicked off Hollywood’s award season for 2018, we are reminded of the inequality which exists in the industry. Only four African Americans have been nominated for the Best Director Academy Award, still with no trophy, and only one woman has ever achieved this feat: Katheryn Bigelow.
Near Dark is Bigelow’s 1980’s vampire-western. Set in the American Mid-West, the film boasts gorgeous landscape shots and drawl which will make every John Wayne fanatic feel at home. However, Bigelow’s cowboys are a gang of rogue vampires, hungry for blood.
As local boy Caleb sets his sites on 17 year old Mae, he has no idea that his life will change forever: Caleb: Can I have a bite of your ice cream? Mae: Bite? Caleb: I’m dying for a cone Mae: Dying? Mae is a vampire. After she bites him, he is taken from his family and set to hit the road with Mae’s vampire clan, terrorising unsuspecting mortals and hunting their prey, as they will for him to prove himself, otherwise threatening to cast him out.
Following the vampires as they pillage their way from town to town, the film’s most memorable scene takes place in a roadside bar. Jesse (Lance Henriksen), leader of the vampire gang, locks the door behind him, warning those inside that their lives are about to come to an end. Bill Paxton is Severen, a sexually charged killer, hungry for blood. He is a maniac, and is proving the hardest for Caleb to impress. He starts by playing with his food; pretending a man has hurt him before laughing with his clan and biting the man’s neck. The Cramps’ Fever plays in the background as every human in the bar is slaughtered. The bloodiest death is of the waitress whose neck is sliced and lands conveniently into a pint glass, which overflows. The gross-out imagery of the scene plays with expectation, and the viewer’s every sense is overcome.
With nothing to prove, the narrative is allowed to be ambitious. The genre hybridity of the vampire-western allows for some clever scenes. A highlight is a unique take on the Western classic shootout scene; it’s not the bullets which are deadly to Bigelow’s cowboys: it’s the sunlight which shoots through the holes made by the bullets. Structured cinematography highlights the vampire outlaws for who they are at heart. A backlit shot of the clan silently makes the audience aware of the danger these ageless, blood sucking villains posses. Their silhouettes are cast by the moon as they move on, in search for their next bite.
The main fault with the movie (WARNING: SPOILERS) is the conclusion. Caleb’s dad finds his son and completes a blood transfusion, making him human again and restoring equilibrium. It is an unsatisfying ending: the old white man saves the day. Whilst structurally this is the classic end to most Western films, the audience are left longing for the vampire characters. They ooze cool, dressed in leather, spurs on their boots, easing the fever of the 80s. Severen proves himself to be evil, of course he should meet his explosive end, but the others I don’t feel warrant theirs. Perhaps roaming endlessly from one place to another for eternity would be punishment enough for the brutal murders they have committed, rather than burning alive. Of course, Caleb’s father restores Mae’s humanity too. The final shot is of the pair, held in an embrace: love conquers all.
Overall, Near Dark is a clever movie. Bigelow’s knack for creating stylish characters doesn’t fault, and, with her direction, the Western-style shots compliment the deadly vampire narrative. Near Dark sets up for Bigelow’s future achievements, cementing this film as an ageless cult classic.