I really, really liked Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter. There, I’ve said it.
I know, I know, it’s not the camp classic that people expected it to be. It’s not “a world-class exploitation flick that would make Roger Corman proud.” Its title is indeed audacious and not a little absurd, but they play the movie completely seriously and because of that a lot of reviewers are playing the waaah card, claiming the lack of winks thrown to the audience isn’t fair. Whatever. They wanted to see a different movie, one that exists solely in their imaginations. In the interests of full disclosure I feel compelled to tell you that I haven’t read the book upon which the movie was based, so I can’t do an intermedia comparison. But theoretically speaking, a movie should be able to stand on its own without the support of the book, and that’s often where film adaptations fail. For me, Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter delivered.
Here’s the trailer:
Where in the trailer does it scream humor? Camp? Where in the trailer might you get the idea you’ll be watching a civil war-era version of Hairspray, with vampires? Go on, watch it again, I’ll wait.
Oh, right. It doesn’t. Because here’s the thing: it is an action movie and takes itself, and its action, very, very seriously. Abe Lincoln (played with a strangely gentle and disarming charm–for a vampire hunter–by Benjamin Walker) cuts a bloody swath of vengeance across a vampire-ridden nation at the behest of his friend/vamp-kill trainer, Henry Sturgess (Dominic Cooper). There are chase scenes. There are fight scenes. Things blow up. Heads part from bodies. There is The Matrix-like fight choreography. And it provides some unexpected social commentary when they discuss why the plantation-era South needed a constant supply of slaves, which further fuels Abe’s desire to abolish that miserable system. Do I think it’s appropriate that vampires would have fought for the Confederacy and made deals with Jefferson Davis? Hell yeah! Am I delighted that Rufus Sewell got to ghoul it up and was cast as the centuries-old vampiric patriarch with plans to create a bloodsucker nation? You bet! Happily, the vampires are not eroticized (see here for my problems with Twilight) and don’t try to seduce Henry or Abe or Abe’s wife Mary; they’re just in it for the food. There’s nothing funny about the vampires and there is nothing funny about how they choose to fight said vampires, though I will say this: if you can’t get up even a small chuckle for the scene where sixty year old Abe starts twirling his vampire ax around to prepare for his final hunt, then you’re a little bit dead inside.
It’s not a perfect movie. I’m not even in my wildest imagination demanding some kind of historical accuracy from this movie, but the treatment the film gave Mary Todd was far too generous. There were only vague hints at the depression and madness that would plague her later years after the deaths of her husband and almost all of her children (of which they only showed one, instead of the three that would have been alive during the the critical, child-related plot point). The action was occasionally hard to follow–in the spirit of a period piece, all the actors were sporting beards and snazzy, olde-timey sunglasses and cravats, so they could be difficult to tell apart and I found myself having to backtrack through the plot to remember who, exactly, was fighting whom. And I am so. God. Damned. Tired. of vampires who can walk around in the sunlight with the help of sunglasses and–no, I’m not joking–sunscreen. Really? *sigh* The point of vampires is that they are undead creatures of the night, and it’s the wholesome purity of the light of day that destroys them, not simply the presence of UV rays. As points go, they missed that one.
What this movie is, is a really good, raucous, monster-hunting good time. Just take the movie at face value–it doesn’t have to challenge your concepts of Lincoln, the man or Lincoln, the Great Emancipator. I doubt anyone is going to be so overcome by the premise that they’ll delve into unearthing the grand government conspiracy that has surely developed to cover up this dark truth. But there is nothing about Abe Lincoln that makes him being reimagined as a vampire hunter inherently sacrilegious. The aforementioned “audacity” of the title comes from taking the reverence with which we tend to view our past presidents and turning it on its ear. Irreverence doesn’t have to be negative, it just has to poke at its subject and not allow it to be viewed with hushed tones. Moreover, it doesn’t have to be campy; indeed we should be grateful this movie was not, as that could have easily crossed the line into sheer stupidity. Abe Lincoln swinging a silver-tipped ax and killing vampires? Fine. Abe Lincoln mugging for a punchline, while swinging an ax and killing vampires? Too much.
Ultimately, if you remove “Abraham Lincoln” from the premise, you still have an interesting concept and a fun creature feature that takes place during the civil war. To the people who complained that the movie wasn’t sassy or pert enough, or should have been more campy, I can only say this: have a bake sale, do some fund-raiser car washes, and make your own movie if this one’s not good enough for you. As I said, I don’t know what the book was like but this movie? Did everything its press has promised it would do.
Rating: Juneteen stars.
Deet da deet deet deet deet da deet deet…a day later, this just in…