Sunday, October 21, 2012

Psychobabble's 150 Essential Horror Movies: Addition 21

Every day this October, I'll be adding a film to Psychobabble's 120 Essential Horror Movies to bring the list up to 150. Today’s addition is:

115. Near Dark (1987- dir. Kathryn Bigelow)

More elastic than its reputation for rote slashers and lumbering monsters might indicate, horror has often blended well with other genres. Thus far we’ve seen horror-sci-fi (The Quatermass Xperiment; Alien), horror-fantasy (King Kong; Viy), horror-comedies (Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein; Young Frankenstein), avant garde-horror (The Fall of the House of Usher; Eraserhead), horror-period dramas (The Hunchback of Notre Dame; The Queen of Spades), horror-social interest films (The Stepford Wives; Dawn of the Dead), horror-war movies (Gojira; Day of the Dead), horror musicals (The Wicker Man), horror-religious pictures (The Phantom Carriage; The Exorcist), and horror-children’s movies (Something Wicked This Way Comes; Gremlins). Rarer is the use of western clichés in the horror film. “The Twilight Zone” had melded the genres a few times in episodes such as “The Grave” and “Mr. Garrity and the Graves”. There were D-grade offerings like Curse of the Undead and Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter. However, this genre-melt did not win a truly worthy feature until 1987’s Near Dark. The problem with combining the western with horror is that both have such distinct stylistic criteria that combining them can result in unintentional silliness: a cowboy with vampire fangs. Kathryn Bigelow gets around such issues by moving her tale from frontier times to the present day ‘80s (complete with awful synth-laden pop songs). So cowboy hats, horses, a band of rugged outlaws, and a climactic showdown blend more naturally with the fangs, gore, and deaths-by-sun we expect from vampire flicks. The film follows Mae’s (Jenny Wright) initiation of Caleb (Adrian Pasdar) into her band of roving vampires. Caleb’s reluctance to kill causes tension in the gang, something they could do without as a police posse closes in on them, leading to the inevitable desert showdown that peaks the film. Bigelow further spices the plot with an affecting romance between Caleb and Mae, and one of cinema’s most unlikely bloodsuckers, the ruthless tot Homer (Joshua John Miller), who intends to turn Caleb’s little sister Sarah (Marcie Leeds) into his vampire playmate. Bill Paxton gives one of his most memorable performances as the totally unhinged Severan, and Bigelow exercises her expertise with violent action.  

See this piece in context as part of Psychobabble’s Essential Horror Movies of the 1980s here.
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