Abraham Lincoln, the historical figure, is one of the best known and respected of American presidents – and also the latest historical personality to receive the “vampire hunter” make-over at the hands of Hollywood. Past examples of this include among others, Jesus Christ – who appeared as a vampire hunter in a b-grade indie movie titled “Jesus Christ: Vampire Hunter”. Thankfully, this movie is a much better offering.
As a Vampyre, I often find myself taking sides against the fictional vampire hunters as Hollywood portrays them – with the poor bloodsuckers getting a full vampophobic treatment as the somewhat obvious “bad guys”. Okay, I admit it – being bad is what the stereotypical undead vampire is oh-so-good at, and so yes, I even enjoy movies such as this one – where the hunter is portrayed as the good guy sacrificing all for the sake of saving the lives of those pitiable mortals around him/her, and the vampire(s) as evil monsters who do little more than plot and scheme to steal the girl, drain lots of people, and conquer the world while dropping lots of witty lines. That was the old sort of vampire movie, as you recall, when vampires were to be feared, all fangs and cruelty and certain death – the sort we used to see before Interview came out, a film which heralded the era where vampires became gradually more hip and cool, discarded their capes and Transylvanian accents, adopted funky hairstyles and began to sparkle in daylight.
This movie is quite different in that respect. Abraham Lincoln hunts nasty vamps bent on ensuring the Southern states (the Confederacy) win their independence from the North during the bitter American Civil War, in order to continue farming black slaves from which to feed. The story follows Abe from his childhood, up to the time of his death at the hands of an assassin in the theater, attempting to follow historical fact as closely as possible. It begins with the circumstances behind the death of his parents and after a little jump, introduces Abe to Henry, a vampire hunter (and also, almost predictably) a vampire. Abe doesn’t learn this fact until much later however.
For me one of the saving graces of this movie is the character of Henry – a vampire who trains Abe to hunt vampires, and who mentors him and watches over him right up to the night of his assassination. Henry is a character of depth, and personal tragedy. We do not see that much of him in the movie, which I feel is a great pity. We are shown the circumstances of his “becoming”, when he is turned by Adam – the principal bad guy, whom we are told is older than 5000 years, and the pain he felt at the death of his fiance’ at the hands of Adam. Henry apparently sets out on a vendetta against Adam and to obstruct his plans for all time.
Abe quickly masters the art of vampire hunting, using little more than an axe coated with silver, perpetuating the old “Judas and the 30 pieces of silver” myth. Of course, the combat scenes are masterful and entertaining – although I have no clue where both he (and his childhood friend Will, the former slave boy) would both have learned the somewhat advanced oriental martial art techniques choreographed for the action scenes.
The actors cast in the roles played their parts well and rather believably – although I think the actor playing Abe looked a good deal more handsome than the real Abe (having watched quite a few documentaries on the man) – and the make-up techniques used by the crew to age the characters as time wore on was done quite convincingly too.
The visual effects were excellent, although I have to say the aerial scenes of the battlefields during the Civil War part of the movie seemed a little dodgy. The part where Abe chased his quarry in the middle of a horse stampede, running from one horse back to another was well executed, but a little hard to believe.
The train scene was very nicely done, I thought, and very engaging. The trick with movies like this, is that the producers, directors and actors are working with real personalities, living or dead, and placing them in fictional environments. To try and sell the movie to a modern audience looking for diverse things in a movie of this type – and to pass off the characters they portray as close to the people they represent – and to keep everybody happy with the result, is a very difficult task indeed.
The impression I had was that politically speaking, pro-slavery Americans of the day were being equated with the vampires, or more precisely, the vampire stereotype of cruelty, blood lust, death and evil. Whatever your feelings about the Civil War, or slavery, or race politics – both at the time, and following the modern successors of these issues today – I still think this was rather a clever way to breathe a little new life into what has been a rather stale genre lately.
Vampires had an interesting way of disappearing and reappearing, quite different to most of the other vamp movies/TV series out currently. I didn’t really like that, but I don’t see much wrong with it either. The vampires were also rather ugly when they attacked people, looking closer to the original mythos of walking corpses – but it was very well done. At least these vampires didn’t sparkle.
As with most stories that try to squeeze a lifetime into 2 hours or less, I felt as if a lot had been left out, but over all it was a job well done. At the end of the movie, I was left feeling rather satisfied. The scenes were well put together, the story, continuity and dialog flowed very well and I couldn’t fault the director or the producer… and after all, with a big gun like Tim Burton aboard, that should not be surprising. There were no obvious bloopers I could poke a stick at, and to be honest I enjoyed this movie far more than I expected. So much so, I watched it a second time. With a friend.
Good dialog, witty comments, great action scenes and visual effects. Emotionally appealing acting. Sound and scene music worked very well with the images and mood of the piece, producing a very high quality product.
Ties vampires to slavery, paints vampires as the “bad guy” *yawn*. I felt I needed more time to build a connection with the lead characters. The whirling axe combat scenes look very cool – but please kids, don’t try this at home – or your friends might start calling you “Stumpy”.
My rating: 7/10
[This movie is listed on the SAVCC vampire movie database listing, The Celluloid Vampire]