Film Reviews

Near Dark: Modern Cult Classic Vampire Western Flick

6 vampires on a smoky hill top.

Near Dark is a cult classic horror film telling a tale of a vampire romance in a mid-western night backdrop. This 80’s horror has a lot of edge, appeal and quotable lines. Notably, the film is an ensemble film with a similar set of cast members from Aliens (1986).

A young cowboy, Caleb Colton, who lives on a farm taking care of animals with his father and little sister meets a mysterious woman, Mae. She attacks him and drinking his blood. He tries to go home but is quickly snatched up by a caravan of a travelling nomad vampire nest. Mae saves Caleb by revealing that he was bitten and may have turned into a vampire. Caleb and the vampire nest rampage the city attacking the townsfolk with fires and mayhem at night. Caleb and Mae develop their relationship by roaming around for blood to drink.

Screenshot from Near Dark (1987)
From the left: Severen, Jesse and Diamondback are sitting around a table responding to a question.

The story cuts in an odd way from daytime to nighttime. Since all of Caleb’s scenes lined up with the climax of the story they also all take place at night. While all the daylight scenes are of his family looking for him. It’s odd at first when it goes back and forth but the story intersects in some way.

The movie was written by Eric Red and Katherine Bigelow. This story is a cross-genre smash up of two genres together: westerns motifs and horror motifs. The western side of this film has cowboys, obligations, spurs, outlaw gangs, protecting a family and set in the Western United States. The horror side has the vampires, gore, blood, death and is set primarily at night. But the film also has romance storylines focusing on the relationship between Caleb and Mae and the relationship between Jesse and Diamondback. The film was one of Katherine Bigelow’s first films she directed.

Screenshot from Near Dark (1987).
Caleb on his knees with Mae biting her arm to give blood.

The music in the background is pretty awesome. The musical score is by Tangerine Dreams. They did movie scores before for other films like Risky Business, Thief and Sorcerer. The music in the film is ambient electronica without vocals. It’s not distracting, it actually brings out the moods in the scenes and the final establishing mood during the rolling credits. The music gives it a midnight horror vibe with the non-vocal synth music being dark, mysterious, very smooth and melodic.

The colour palette is something to look out for. When Caleb is still human the sunlight is just bright warm sunny yellow light, the night is a neon cluster of pinks and blues but never really dark and the dawn is a soft greyish blue. After he’s turned, the sunlight turns into this beaming blinding light. But the night looks very clear like it was daylight. The film conveys that the vampires could see miles down the road like it was in the middle of the day with 20/20 vision. The night also looks very blue. It was a good switch in the colour palettes to show what vampires see at night.

The performance of Caleb Colton of the cowboy turned novice vampire was of a lively young hardworking man to an unsure vampire. Adrian Pasdar portrays a young man who is caring, friendly, in over his head and who is mostly in some sort of bodily pain throughout the film. He’s not a dopey stupid character doing one bad decision after another but a novice in an unknown situation like an every-man turning into a vampire. He has, unlike the rest of the vampire nest, a conscience unwilling to kill even if it means his survival.

The vampire nest are a bunch of psychos. They are cold ruthless killers who murder multiple people in public. Most people might instantly recognize the three adult actors from Aliens (1986). It might be the James Cameron connection why they might have been in this movie but it all worked out okay at the end. The vampire nest is like an outlaw group of murderers rolling into town. Jesse (Lance Henriksen), Severen (Bill Paxton), Homer (Joshua Miller) and Diamondback (Jenette Goldstein) were vampires dressed in dirty drab worn out “vintage” clothes who were pale without pointy retractable K9 teeth to drink blood. There’s no religious symbolism throughout the film meaning no crosses, crucifixes or holy water. But they do get burned by fire and the sun. They are however freakishly strong and immortal in vampire form. The performances from the actors were very entertaining especially the character Severen portrayed by Bill Paxton. They used Severen in the marketing of the film even though the film is about Caleb being a novice vampire; it might be because of the Aliens movie connection or the great humourous villainous performance of the psychopathic quotable vampire.

Screenshot from Near Dark (1987)
Severen holding a shotgun with Caleb in the background looking on.

The special effects in the film are good when it’s practical effects. The smoke when they are in daylight looks realistic because it was a real smoke machine under their clothes. The fire when they were at the hotel looks realistic because most of the time it was a real fire with most likely a lot of padding. But some effects didn’t age well because of the blending of the flames and smoke on the actor’s bodies. It looks too fake maybe because it looks too dated for me.

Screenshot from Near Dark (1987).
Homer burning while running in sunlight .

The film is a cult classic in horror and most of 80’s cinema. The film has good action scenes, well-rounded characters and clear motives. The special effects might not have aged well but the film is noted to most as one of the greatest vampire films around. It’s a very modern look at the vampire lore without feeling grounded to the ’80s with 80’s cliches. There might be one-liners but it does not feel like I was ever watching One-Liners: The Movie – Rated R. All the performances are memorable and dynamic. All of the actors play off each other very well on screen. For a vampire movie, there’s carnage but not as much as most vampire films with under ten people dying by the vampire’s bite and at least five others dying by gunfire.

Trailer for Near Dark (1987)

Genre: Horror / Romance / Western
Year: 1987
Duration: 94 minutes

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Four and a half out of five stars

2 comments on “Near Dark: Modern Cult Classic Vampire Western Flick

  1. For some reason I have never come around to watch this movie. I have to get it done.


Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: