1987. Directed by Kathryn Bigelow.
Bigelow's first studio feature, Near Dark is a western horror hybrid that presents a unique take on the vampire while also overcoming its B movie roots through a strong ensemble and searing visual presentations.
Caleb is a cowboy who falls for a vampire named Mae. He's soon bitten and indoctrinated into Mae's murderous surrogate family. He continually refuses to kill, causing tension among the vampires, but his courage under fire is rewarded by a tenuous kinship with his new found tribe. His father and sister give chase and their arrival sets up a High Midnight showdown in which Caleb must fight for those he loves.
Near Dark is the cinematic equivalent of a finding a gold at a garage sale. Adam Greenberg's outstanding cinematography takes the dirty exterior of the setting and presents the nocturnal world as the parched remnant of the American west. Every location feels disconnected and empty. Even the bar in which Near Dark's most intense scene transpires boasts only a handful of lost souls waiting to meet the killers. The colors of the day world are burnt browns and oranges, while the color palette switches to deep blacks worn by the monsters and ruby reds once the veins open up.
Bigelow and Eric Red's script is both loyal to the constraints of a vampire story while also building a world of its own. The word vampire is never used in the film and the killers don't grow fangs or cosmetically change. This lack of transformation is important, as it reinforces the feral nature of the villains, conflicting with Caleb's desire to retain his humanity. Despite the tired trope of "falling for the wrong girl/guy", Near Dark takes it a step further by implying that when you choose a mate, you choose their family as well, a reality that is often more terrifying than the horrors Bigelow unpacks and displays in a dirty pitcher of beer and blood.
Synth icon Tangerine Dream scored the film, creating an icy theme that offsets the sweaty atmosphere and uses a Gothic undercurrent with unsettling results. Joseph Porro's costume design is ingenious, presenting the vampires as dingy outsiders, who, despite their best efforts to blend in always appear out of place. This supports the lack of fangs and cosmetics and is a testament to Porro's talent. There is no mistaking these people for samaritans, they are death incarnate, wearing a cobbled ensemble harvested from their victims.
Adrian Pasdar stars as Caleb and he's supported by Jeanette Goldstein, a menacing Lance Henriksen, Joshua Miller, Jenny Wright, and the B movie king Tim Thomserson. Bill Paxton, however, steals the entire theater as Severin, the pack's vicious killer who becomes a surrogate older brother and then mortal enemy to Caleb. Paxton manages shift between trailer park sexy and stone cold killer with lightning speed, keeping in step with Near Dark's rapid fire pace. The speed is Near Dark's major weakness, using over an hour to set the rules and the stakes, it takes its time, allowing the viewer to grow fond of the vampires, even when committing their most heinous acts. All of this is brought to a crashing halt in the final showdown, tying up everything with a convenient finish.
Available now for digital rental, Near Dark is a cult horror film that is an excellent departure from the standard vampire story. Great costuming, crisp visuals, and a one of a kind performance from Paxton are enough to push Near Dark to the upper echelons of any horror fan's viewing list. Despite its quick finish, Near Dark's unrelenting atmosphere and outstanding craftsmanship make it worth the ride.