Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2012)

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Abraham Lincoln: Vampire HunterStarring Benjamin Walker, Anthony Mackie, Rufus Sewell, Dominic Cooper, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jimmi Simpson, Alan Tudyk, Robin McLeavy.

Directed by Timur Bekmambetov

The wild world of cult cinema has been in a slump over the last decade, and I know I’m not the only one who feels that. Sure, we’ve seen an onslaught of low-budget bizarro flicks – and even big-screen horror comedies – but most of them share the same problem: They’re too fucking self-aware. Nobody has the courage to make them with conviction anymore… they have to constantly wink at you while they’re doing it. Watching these movies is like being jabbed by an annoying frat boy who’s screaming, “HEY, YOU! YOU’RE HAVING FUN!!!! LOOK AT HOW MUCH FUN YOU’RE HAVING!!!!” This is the dividing line between genuine classics like Shaun of the Dead, where the world feels real and the gags come naturally from believable characters, and posers like Zombieland that hurl non-stop Twinkie jokes.

Based on the novel by mash-up author Seth Graham-Smith and directed by Night Watch‘s Timur Bekmambetov, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is one of the most whackadoo concepts ever taken on in the big budget studio world, but it works precisely because it’s executed with a straight face. No wink, wink. No nudge, nudge. You’re either along for the ride or you’re not, but the film doesn’t stop to tell you when to laugh.

The story starts at Lincoln’s beginnings with young Abe witnessing the death of his mother by the local town vampire (one of many things the history books got wrong). Vowing vengeance, he grows up and becomes grasshopper to vampire hunter Henry Sturgess (Dominic Cooper), who sends him off into the night as an assassin of the undead. His ultimate target is plantation owner Adam (Rufus Sewell), leader of the vampires who engages in an epic battle with the North and even sends vampires to fight in Gettysburg.

Which makes this next statement hilarious but true: The film’s biggest surprise is its historical accuracy. Graham-Smith’s screenplay gives us a compelling and largely true account of Lincoln’s life from his courtship of Mary Todd to the Emancipation Proclamation; he just fills in the blanks with Honest Abe throwing down with vampire slavers. It’s totally absurd but always believable, largely due to Benjamin Walker’s Lincoln, who gives the kind of earnest performance that sells every moment – whether he’s swinging an axe or addressing Congress. Everyone in the cast and crew is clearly giving it their all, and there’s so much attention to detail, this could almost pass itself off as a straight Lincoln biopic if it weren’t for all the martial arts and decapitated heads.

Sadly, those elements are where the film largely drops the ball: The majority of the fight scenes are gaudy and crammed with so much speed ramping and digital fakery, you’d almost think they were intentionally mocking Zack Snyder movies. I realize that bitching about over-style in a Timur Bekmambetov flick is like scolding Sam Kinison for yelling, but that doesn’t change the fact that all the slo-mo wirework and computerized gore feels cheap and gimmicky when held up to practical well choreographed action (see: “>The Raid (Review)). The god-awful 3D post conversion doesn’t do it any favors either (stick to 2D screens), but I have to commend the filmmakers for keeping the action brief and in service to the plot (the film’s climactic action set-piece is still thrilling despite it all).

Even with its shortcomings, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is a far better film than you’re expecting. History buffs and purists may decry this as a new low for Hollywood, but I can’t imagine Spielberg doing much better when his giant Lincoln biopic hits Oscar-bait season later this year. Unless Daniel Day-Lewis has a bullet-shooting axe.

3 1/2 out of 5

Discuss Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter in the comments section below.

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  • kiddcapone

    I loved it. I thought Benjamin Walker did an amazing job with Lincoln. The characters were great, the special effects was jaw-dropping, the story was entertaining, the action scenes were breath-taking…the only negative was pacing issues after Lincoln became president, it seemed to really drag on.

    It was really cool how they took the real life of honest Abe and worked it into a vampire revenge story. I can’t wait till this comes out on Blu-Ray.

    Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter 4.5/5.

  • MagusMaleficus

    Bekmambetov’s stuff doesn’t work for me. Don’t know why…just never seem to like his movies. I’ll definitely give this a try when it hits Blu-Ray but I’m not holding my breath for it to change my mind.

  • The Woman In Black

    I absolutely loved this movie! I think a big problem is people expecting it be “fun”. It’s set during the Civil War, addresses slavery issues, and features vampires that are actually ugly and scary. Not much fun there. I appreciated that it took itself seriously and brought out some real emotions for the audience to chew on. Probably one of my Top 5 of the year.

  • Tshoffie

    Just got done seeing is and i loved it i thought it was better then 3 star rating…im a huge fan of the book and while there is a few small differences here and there Seth Ghrame smith managed to keep the film very very faithful to the source material i cant say enough good about the movie it was just a very fun movie to watch..there were some very touching scenes in the movie as well which really made you feel for Abe and all…brilliant movie cant wait for it to come out on blu ray

  • nazo

    While we’re on the subject, I want to see a Thaddeus Stevens/Andrew Johnson buddy cop comedy.

  • Jinx

    Great review. I’m dying to see this, as I’ve loved all of Bekmambetov’s previous films.

    My only concern is with the script. Grahame-Smith’s screenplay for Dark Shadows was the biggest source of my frustration with that film. Here’s hoping he’s better at adapting his own work.

    • The Woman In Black

      I agree. Night Watch/Day Watch are among my favorite films ever. Although Day Watch had a satisfying ending, I’d still love a third.

    • Tshoffie

      yeah i dont know why burton and all turned dark shadows into what they did but i can tell you this about Abraham lincoln vampire hunter its very faithful to the book and the small changes they did add to it actually worked wonderfully and didnt distract from the story one bit at all…brilliantly done

  • LSD Zombie

    As weird as the concept of Lincoln fighting vampires is, I still have to give an enormous amount of credit to Warner Brothers for taking a chance on a relatively new and creative idea.