..

NEAR DARK

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Adrian Pasdar, Jenny Wright, Lance Henriksen, Bill Paxton, Jenette Goldstein
Director:  Kathryn Bigelow
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio:  Anchor Bay
Features:  See Review
Length:  94 Minutes
Release Date:  September 10, 2002

“I’ve been meaning to ask you something…how old are you?”

“Let’s just say I fought for the South.”

“The South?”

“We lost.”

Film ***1/2

Near Dark is possibly my favorite of all the vampire movies (Nosferatu notwithstanding), because it was one of the first to really boldly re-write some of the mythology.  Director and co-writer Kathryn Bigelow stripped the genre of its seduction and coolness, and instead created a band of bloodthirsty gypsies who were ragged, dirty…and all the more disturbing for it.

I’m assuming it’s not a mistake to call them vampires, even though the film never does.  We don’t see fangs, crosses, holy water or wooden stakes.  We DO see a cutthroat, ruthless band of renegades who use blood like a drug, whose wake is filled with chaos and violence (and never the clean, whimsical kind of most vampire movies), and whose exposure to daylight wreaks gruesome results.

The film stars Adrian Pasdar as Caleb, a young, handsome cowboy type who finds himself drawn to the mysterious and beautiful Mae (Wright).  She tells him, “you’ve never met a girl like me.”  She means it.  One bite later, and a sickened Caleb seems to be withering away in the dawn, until Mae’s crew literally grabs him off the road and saves him.

But for how long?  The “family”, as it were, including leader Jesse (Henriksen), matron Diamondback (Goldstein), and loose cannon Severen (Paxton), don’t want Caleb around or even alive unless he can prove he’s truly one of them.  And that won’t happen until the first time Caleb kills for his own feast.

As the title suggests, this is a dark film, and in it, the night isn’t a safe place to be.  We spend the duration trapped with characters that mostly repel us, but also fascinate us in horrible ways.  They aren’t heroes, by any stretch, but they’re all we have.  I loved the fact that Bigelow didn’t try to make them more attractive to us by glossing them over or putting too much style into their mayhem.  Compared to The Lost Boys, which came out about the same time, this is a much more intriguing and artistic offering, if possibly less crowd pleasing.

The cast is terrific up and down…fearless in confronting the ugliness of their characters.  Until I saw Frailty, this was my favorite Bill Paxton performance.  He’d never been so unbridled or unpredictable, making Severen the powder keg that lights its own sparks. 

Though it didn’t succeed in its initial run, and the VHS offering has been off the market for awhile, time has proven Kathryn Bigelow’s vision to be a good one.  Fans have slowly come forward to claim Near Dark over the years, elevating it to cult status, but at the same time, recognizing it for the amazing piece of work that it was.  Ms. Bigelow went on to bigger movies, like Strange Days and K 19, but she remains pleased at the number of inquiries she gets from people who have embraced Near Dark.

It looks like the sun is starting to shine on her beloved vampires at last.

Video ***1/2

As I’ve stated before, the THX logo doesn’t mean as much to me as the Anchor Bay one…their moniker is my assurance that I’m getting quality for my horror dollar.  This is the studio who put tremendous effort into some of the quirkiest low budget cult movies ever crafted; I didn’t expect any less for a first film made by a major Hollywood director.  Near Dark is an impressive offering, especially given that 1) it’s from the most problematic period for DVD transfers, the 80s, and 2) so much of the film is set in darkness.  The opening is a little shaky, with some visible grain and softness, but as the movie kicks into gear, I was impressed by the work.  DP Adam Greenberg, who had also worked on The Terminator, made the most of low light settings.  Detail is good when warranted, deliberately withheld when called for.  Colors are well rendered, and apart from the brief opening stretch, I didn’t notice anything marring the quality.  Another terrific offering from horror’s best DVD studio!

Audio ***1/2

With a choice of Dolby Digital or DTS 5.1 tracks, you expect a treat, and you get it.  Dynamic range is strong during key scenes, and front and rear stages open up to give the action breathing room.  Dialogue is clean and clear, if occasionally a bit thin sounding when not enhanced by effects or music.  Overall, it’s a good new mix.

Features ****

This double disc is loaded, starting with Kathryn Bigelow’s commentary on Disc One.  Though she’s an intelligent woman, I do have to say that her track is occasionally sparse, with a few too many gaps for my taste.  She doesn’t seem entirely comfortable talking over her film playing, but for what it’s worth, there are some good tidbits to be learned here and there.

Disc Two contains a new documentary “Living in Darkness”, featuring interviews with Bigelow, Paxton, Henriksen, Pasdar, Goldstein, Greenberg and others.  It’s about 47 minutes, and filled with good anecdotes (Henriksen has some of the more entertaining stories).  There is also a deleted scene with Ms. Bigelow’s comments, two trailers, storyboards, a cool poster and stills gallery, a behind-the-scenes gallery, and extras for you DVD ROM, including screen savers and screenplay.  Anchor Bay has also assembled a nice booklet of photos and factoids to go with their cool DVD packaging.

Summary:

Anchor Bay scores again with Near Dark.  It looks and sounds good, the extras are generous, and best of all, it brings one of the best vampire movies (and Kathryn Bigelow’s first film) to DVD in a quality way.  If you’ve never seen it, you should treat yourself to a look.