Oscar promoting is in high drive right now, so why not look at a flick from a previous Best Picture winner to get the season started...welcome to Forgotten Friday Flick! Kathryn Bigelow swept the 82nd Academy Awards (stick that in your Avatar and smoke it Jim Cameron!) with her stylistic war film "The Hurt Locker," but it was way back in 1987 she made a previous five-star film that some may not remember. (Shame on you!) It was a gritty tale of a band of traveling vampires that prey on the blood of innocent folks. Far from the charm of Tom Cruise in "Interview with a Vampire" and minus the sparkling glow of the "Twilight" gang, the vamps in Bigelow’s baddie are distinctively down and dirty. Best be getting home cause it’s..."Near Dark."
Coming from a small town in Oklahoma, Caleb Colton is a man seekng some adventure. He gets more then he bargained for in the lovely and mysterious Mae, a fetching young drifter he hooks up with. Though as luck would have it, Mae is a vampire and after biting the unsuspecting Caleb, he too becomes a creature of the night. Weary of the approaching sun, Caleb tries to head home to his dad and sister when Mae’s ‘surrogate’ family of vile vamps drives by and snatches him up. The clan is an odd group indeed with grim leader Jessie Hooker, his feisty squeeze Diamondback, the sassy Severen and man trapped in a child body Homer. They take in the weary Caleb temporarily – to see if he has the skills to kill and feed.
Where to begin – there’s just so much that works in "Near Dark." The story by Bigelow and "The Hitcher" screenwriter Eric Red is a refreshingly gritty look at the dark side of being immortal, all the while placing a strange underlying importance on family. (Both via Caleb’s desperately searching kin and his new twisted keepers!) Plus within the dialogue there’s a cavalcade of cool one-liners (“I hate ‘em when they ain’t been shaved!”) and disgusting vamp blood references (“It’s finger-licking good!”) that becomes engrained in the brain. Though the amazing cast as always elevates the material, headed by hot off "Aliens" trio Lance Henriksen, Jenette Goldstein and Bill Paxton. As the saucy fanged gang of "Near Dark" (alongside kid prodigy Joshua John Miller as Homer), all give off a sheer killer joy within the mayhem that feels darkly genuine. Not to mention there’s some early Adrian "Heroes" Pasdar, cool Tim 'Jack Deth' Thomerson action as his concerned father and especially some magnetic sex appeal via 80’s gal Jenny Wright (she of "Out of Bounds!") as the sultry Mae (I’d follow her into immortality!) that makes this one stand out. (What ever happened to Miss Wright anyway – enquiring minds want to know!)
But amidst the tasty meat and potatoes that are the five-star film elements here, it’s the overall vibe and tone of "Near Dark" that makes the real impression and in that realm it’s all about Bigelow. From her vast and colorful visual palate to her musical choice of Tangerine Dream to add even more mood to her masterwork, Bigelow is a filmmaker that can take dark and give it light. Like an artist with a new canvas, Bigelow strips away the glamour of vampire lore to provide a more grim vision, but all the while still manages to make everything look good – superb sense of style has always been her strong suit.
Most of the folks involved with this one have gone on to do many other fine pieces of work, but I’ve never been surprised by the success of helmer Kathryn Bigelow. A director who just kept refining her style (see "Point Break!"), honing her action chops (see "Strange Days!") and still managed to put characters at the forefront of her work (see "The Weight of Water!"), Bigelow always appeared bound and determined to make the world take notice of her fine filmmaking prowess – luckily for them everyone has.