#31 Near Dark 1987 Dir. Kathryn Bigelow
Boy meets girl, girl bites boy, boy’s skin blisters in the rising son, boy meets girl’s “family”. Thus begins Kathryn Bigelow’s vampire-western-romance, Near Dark.
It’s worth noting that romance and the macabre have been intimate bedfellows since Stoker first penned “Dracula”, and it’s certainly more common these days to see romance mixed with horror. This pairing has become a booming business, luring audiences with tales of vampire love and familial acceptance toward a genre they would have never come to on their own. However, while Near Dark may share some thematic DNA with our modern vampire tales, Bigelow’s film intentionally moves beyond the polished façade of the aristocratic bloodsuckers to showcase characters who are…well, dirty.
The “family” of vampires of which Mae is a member, is a collection of rough, violent outlaws ready to kill Caleb if he cannot take prey himself. To prove that he is one of them, they take Caleb to a bar where the gang tortures their prey in an attempt to show Caleb how things are done. This scene is violent and grotesque, but also does something important with gender roles. Caleb is no killer, try as he might, he can’t bring himself to take a life and consequently has to rely on drinking from Mae to survive. Mae on the other hand, is a predator hoping she can bring her new boyfriend around to this new way of life, before her family does him in.
There are echoes of Bonnie and Clyde and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid as we follow the dangerous exploits of this gang of killers as they travel the dusty back roads of the American West hoping to avoid law enforcement as much as daylight.Near Dark paints life as a vampire as a curse. The vamps in this film are perpetually filthy, spending their days driving and sleeping in a blacked-out winnebago and their nights luring strangers to their deaths, before moving on to the next town. But while these existence is a foul one, we get the sense that these characters can’t do anything else. Jesse, Severen and Diamondback are all throwbacks to a bygone age. One gets the sense that they rule by violence not because they have to, but because that’s who they are. It’s in their nature, and as everyone knows, you can’t fight nature.