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Film / Near Dark

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"I ain't a person anymore. I don't know what I am."
Caleb Colton

Near Dark is a 1987 horror movie directed by Kathryn Bigelow, written by Bigelow and Eric Red, and starring Adrian Pasdar, Jenny Wright, Lance Henriksen, Bill Paxton, Jenette Goldstein, and Joshua John Miller. Along with The Lost Boys (released the same year), it's credited with pretty much reinventing the vampire genre.

Bigelow had originally wanted to make a Western, but realized interest in that genre was at the time almost non-existent. When her then-future husband James Cameron suggested that she "mix it up with something else", she decided to make a Horror Western.

The film tells the story of Caleb Colton (Pasdar), a young Oklahoman who joins and is subsequently rescued from a family of vampires. It mixes a copious amount of gory action Kathryn Bigelow doesn't do slow-paced with a character study of Caleb becoming a vampire and the choices he is required to make. These are not nice vampires as found in Twilight, nor the demons of Buffy, but each of them is distinctive. Severen (Paxton) is truly scary, Homer (Miller) is unhappy, while Mae (Wright) beautifully describes the attraction of living forever.

Should be required viewing for anyone playing Vampire: The Masquerade.

This movie contains examples of:

  • Abandoned Warehouse: Their second "garage".
  • Alas, Poor Villain: With the exception of Severen's, the vampires' deaths are almost tragic.
  • Asshole Victim: The carjackers threaten to rape Diamondback before she and Jesse turn them into dinner.
  • Ax-Crazy: Severen thoroughly revels in the carnage that he leaves behind.
  • Badass Longcoat: Jesse's duster, which is almost as cracked, beat-up, and ancient as he is. Given that it has a Confederate flag sewn into it, it's entirely possible he's been wearing it since the Civil War.
  • Bad Samaritan: Jesse and Diamondback pick up hitchhikers to eat. It turns into Bullying a Dragon when they turn out to be carjackers.
  • Been There, Shaped History: The Vampire Gang.
    Severen: Hey, Jesse, remember that fire we started in Chicago?
    Jesse: Let me put it this way... I fought for the South. We lost.
  • Big Bad: Jesse Hooker, leader of the vampire gang.
  • Body Horror: Severen gets burned to a crisp in his confrontation with Caleb, which leads to his look on the film's promotional art.
  • Boy Meets Ghoul: And the depraved "family" that comes with her.
  • Bystander Syndrome: A lot of the people in the bar just gawk and stare as the vampires kill them one by one. Although this is somewhat justified given how they've seen trying to attack the vampires doesn't work and they're terrified about being next.
  • Chekhov's Classroom: The trucker explaining to Caleb how to brake a truck in such a way that it will jackknife.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Caleb's equestrianism.
  • Contrived Coincidence: It just so happens that Caleb's family stay at the Godspeed Motel on the same night the gang does. Lampshaded when Jesse flings up his hands with an incredibly exasperated look on his face.
  • Covers Always Lie: Behold the new Blu-Ray covers, meant to lure in Twilight fans. Boy, are they going to be in for a shock. . .
  • Dead Hat Shot: A variation when Severen's bladed spur comes flying out of the inferno of an exploded tanker truck.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: The first time Caleb feed on Mae's blood, the latter is moaning and having spasms intune with Caleb sucking on her blood. To drive the point home, they make out immediately after Caleb is done feeding.
  • Evil-Detecting Dog: Caleb's horses do not react well to vampires.
  • Face Death with Dignity: When the last two vampires are about to die, they smile at each other, and one says "Good times."
  • The Family That Slays Together: Each vampire has their own modus operandi when it comes to hunting victims, but they travel as a pack and their gang is structured like a twisted family.
  • The Farmer and the Viper: The way the vampires hunt works mostly on this and Bad Samaritan.
    • Severen gets picked up by a pair of women and invites them "out for a drink."
    • Homer pretends to be a kid on a bike whose been run over by the side of the road, only to attack anyone who helps him.
    • Mae and Caleb hitch a ride with a trucker. After Caleb fails to attack him, Mae hits him from behind.
    • The hitchhikers picked up by Jesse and Diamondback are also an example of this trope, since they plan to steal the car of the people who give them a ride. Subverted because Jesse and Diamondback are vampires and kill them.
  • Feral Vampires: The modern Trope Maker, concerning a clan of filthy redneck vampires in backwoods Oklahoma. Originally the movie was supposed to feature a violent Old West gang, but since the members were upgraded to being vampires, their violent, drifting lifestyle turned them into this trope.
  • For the Evulz: Even without considering the large amount of gloating between killing victims, the bar massacre seems to be done mainly out of cruel boredom.
  • Hair of Gold, Heart of Gold: Blonde-haired Mae is the least villainous of the gang.
  • Hellbent For Leather: Severen wears a motorcycle jacket when he's not wearing a cowboy outfit.
  • Historical Rap Sheet: Jesse and Severen once reminisce how they started the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.
  • Humanity Ensues: Vampirization can be reversed with human blood infusion. In the end, Caleb is turned back by his father and sister, and he does the same thing to Mae.
  • I Love You, Vampire Son: Caleb falls in love with Mae before she reveals herself to be a vampire and turns him. It's also implied that this is the reason why Homer turned Mae herself, but since he's an immortal man trapped in a 10-year old body nothing comes of it. It does fuel his resentment towards Caleb, later threatening to turn his little sister as well. Inverted at the end, where Caleb turns Mae back into a human through a blood transfusion because despite everything he still loves her.
  • Kill It with Fire: It takes a lot of fire (a whole tanker full), but this is how Severen dies.
  • Killed Offscreen: We don't actually see the outcome when Jesse, Diamondback, and Severen are individually hunting (the former two with a duo of unfortunate carjackers and the latter with the two young ladies he takes "out for a drink"), but the outcome is clear in both cases.
  • Killed to Uphold the Masquerade: When the vampire gang kill everyone in a small bar, Jesse orders Caleb to kill the lone kid who managed to escape out a window. When he lets the kid go? Yeah, the masquerade comes close to crashing down, and he nearly gets killed over it.
  • Large Ham: Bill Paxton was having a blast as the Ax-Crazy Severen.
  • Love Redeems: Mae, for whom Redemption Earns Life.
  • Made of Explodium: Vampires react very energetically to sunlight, just not with positive results for the vampires.
  • Men of Sherwood: The group of police officers at the motel provide a Hero Antagonist example (they're trying to catch or kill a group of dangerous murderers, it's just that the protagonist and his love interest happen to be accompanying the group). Only one of the cops is killed, despite how heavily armed the vampires are, and his colleagues do shoot a couple of the vampires (while only aiming to wound when an unnamed Caleb is running for a getaway vehicle) before the group escapes, although this doesn't accomplish much due to regular bullets not being a vampire weakness.
  • Missing Child: Loy sees his teenage son abducted, and after a long period of searching for him, finds out that he's a vampire and is conflicted about going home. Additionally, he nearly loses his pre-teen daughter to another one of the vampires.
  • Missing Mom: Caleb and Sarah are being raised by a single father, and their mother is never mentioned.
  • Mugging the Monster: Do not try to carjack vampires, they respond quite well.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: Severen, Bill Paxton's fight-happy psycho-vampire.
  • New Old West: The film is set in the back roads of Oklahoma and Kansas.
  • Not Using The V Word: No one says the word "Vampire" and Caleb is even a bit confused as to what he is.
  • Not Growing Up Sucks: Homer is stuck looking about ten, forever.
  • Our Vampires Are Different: They're grimey, not very pale, unhappy but not mopey, and can be cured by being transfused with human blood. In opposition to The Lost Boys released the same year, they also lack many of the more traditional traits associated with vampires. While they are immortal, drink blood, have superhuman strength, can't stand daylight and seems unable to eat solid food (Caleb is seen vomitting a candy bar after his transformation), they look perfectly human and lack fangs (or any Mark of the Supernatural besides their cold bodies) and are never shown needing to be invited or being affected by religious items. Finally, a single bite will turn a human into a vampires in a matter of hours, without needing to drink the blood of the one who turned them.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: This is implied with Jesse, as he alludes to having fought for the confederacy and seems proud of having done so.
  • Power at a Price: It is not explicitly discussed, but this definitely applies.
    • The Power: vampires have a very long life, super strength, and a massive Healing Factor.
    • The Price: They have to kill people every night to feed. They seem to have no moral problems with this, but they're always on the run for murder, and will die in daylight. The gang change vehicles three times during the film, and seem to own nothing beyond the clothes on their backs, some weapons, and a roll of tin foil for blacking out windows.
  • Puppy Love: Homer is tired of being the only (apparent) kid in the group and is - in his own monstrous way - sweet on Caleb's sister Sarah. Bunch of reasons why it ain't happening.
  • Really 700 Years Old:
    • Homer, who looks ten but is over 50, and none too happy about his physical state.
    • Judging from his offhand comment alluding to the Great Chicago Fire, Severen has been alive since at least 1871.
    • Jesse is mentioned as having fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War.
  • Screaming Warrior: Jesse, who fought for the Confederacy, lets out rebel yells while firing at the cops.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: The teenage cowboy who survived the bar massacre and is brought by the police to the motel to identify the killers wisely high-tails it out of there when the gunfight starts.
  • Shout-Out: In an early scene, a movie theatre in the background is showing Aliens, which starred some of the vampire gang.
  • Sinister Southwest: A young farmhand in an Oklahoma town falls for a mysterious girl... who turns out to belong to a rag-tag family of vampires terrorizing the desert.
  • Spiritual Antithesis: To The Terminator. Both films share cast members and aesthetic, but while The Terminator dealt with threats from the future, set near the coast and ended with most of the cast dead, Near Dark's villains come from the past, the story is set in inland America and among the named characters, only the villains die.
  • Sunlight Hallway: In effect, the gang's shootout with police turns their bungalow into a Laser Hallway variant, by blowing holes in the walls that let vampire-searing beams of daylight into the room.
  • Super-Strength: Almost all of the vampires of the movie display it one way or another: Caleb notes how strong Mae is when first meeting her, and later he's able to send a man flying with a punch. Severen is shown overpowering a man and breaking his neck with little effort, tosses Caleb like a ragdoll and tear through the metal front of a truck like it's aluminum foil.
  • Taking You with Me: Jesse and Diamondback reconcile themselves to death and try to run down Caleb, but burn up before they can.
  • Undead Child: Homer again.
  • Undeath Always Ends: At the end all of the vampires are dead, except the main character and his love interest, who have been cured of vampirism through a blood transfusion.
  • Unholy Matrimony: Jesse and Diamondback.
  • Vampire Bites Suck: Less bites, more just ripping your throat out.
  • Vampires Are Rich: Inverted: these vampires are poor. See Power at a Price, above, for details.
  • Villainous Breakdown: The brooding Homer becomes obsessed with Caleb's little sister, and goes ballistic when she's taken away from him, chasing her into the sunlight and dying as a result.
  • Villain Respect: The entire gang comes around to Caleb after his ballsy gambit extricates them from a daylight shootout. Severen even gives him one of his spurs.
  • Voluntary Vampire Victim: Played with twice.
    • Caleb has been made a vampire, but refuses to kill. His love interest Mae lets him drink from her taking blood which Mae got by killing, and meaning she'll have to kill again sooner, making the ethics quite problematic.
      Severen: It ain't right for her to be carryin' him like this!
    • Caleb's father cures his vampirism, and later Caleb cures Mae's, with a blood transfusion, giving blood to a vampire willingly but in a nontraditional way with nontraditional results.
  • Weakened by the Light: See Made of Explodium, above.
  • What You Are in the Dark: Caleb saves the gang by running into the sunlight as the rest of them are engaged in a shootout with the cops. They sing his praises afterwards, giving him more time to prove himself, and it looks like Caleb is about to sign on with them full-time ... until his father and Sarah walk into the motel room where they're staying.
  • Workplace-Acquired Abilities: Caleb's father being a veterinarian comes in handy when he needs an emergency blood transfusion.