Near Dark, Part 3–the Final Chapter

Family outing.

(Obligatory SPOILER disclaimer: yeah. Spoilers. Lots of them. They will happen. Read at your own peril. Better yet, watch the damn movie first).

When last we left off, I was frustrated that, sans DVD ripper, I could no longer lift decent images and I’m all about the visuals. Turns out the goddamn thing was working all along, which is a perfect example of why I never realized my childhood dream of becoming a mad scientist: I’m just not that fucking bright. Probably for the best–another dream job was to be an international Super Villain (followed closely by B-action movie bimbo, soap opera bitch, porn director–tasteful porn, don’t judge–and, of course, Scream Queen). Alas, evil genius, I am not. At any rate, prepared to be dazzled. I’m about to image the shit out of this bitch.

Caleb punks out...again.

Jesse has offered Caleb one last chance to prove himself and once again, Caleb proves that he sucks at being a vampire (see what I just did there?)–even with the very disposable James LeGros wriggling about helplessly within his preternaturally strong grasp, he just…can’t. Meanwhile, the rest of the clan burn down the bar and, thus, the evidence.

Vampire bonfire.

I think I mentioned this before, but it’s cool enough to bear repeating: Bigelow had this bar constructed within days, because it is way too expensive to burn down an existing bar and way too cheesy to fake it–and Bigelow is not one to take half-measures.

Naturally, the clan is fed up with Caleb and his pussy morals. Luckily for Caleb, sunrise is imminent, so they don’t have time to tear him apart. No two vampire flick rules are the same, especially not in one so minimalistic that it doesn’t even include the word “vampire”, but there does seem to be one rule that is fairly universal: sunlight is certain death. In fact, sunlight seems to be this clan’s only obvious Achilles heel–no mention of stakes, decapitation (though I suppose that’s self-evident…) and the like–but their dread of the sun is a running theme throughout the movie. So Bigelow reasoned that on a bad night, a thirsty bloodsucker might become reckless and miss curfew–then what?

Is there anything duct tape can’t do?

Obviously, they would have to sun-proof the windows of the stolen vehicle du nuit until they reached safe shelter. Working as a team, each character is responsible for their own method, using duct tape, cardboard, black spray paint, aluminum foil and so on. And because time would be of the essence, Bigelow actually drilled the cast until they became so adept at sun-blocking, they could completely cover windows in less than two minutes. Good thing, because the sun is out by the time Jesse locates their latest fleabag motel, and he is clearly suffering during a literally sizzling exchange with the doddering front desk clerk…resulting in one of my favorite lines in the movie: the clerk asks Jesse, “You was once here before, wasn’t you? Lots of years ago?”

“I get through here about once every fifty years–make me a reservation”.

After the family settles into their nesting positions–coupled off, in a bathtub, or in Severen’s case, sleep-standing–they are awakened to the sound of door-pounding cops. Why? Because fucking James LeGros’ overexposed indie ass dimed them out, of course. Apparently, no good deed goes unpunished. So now the clan has to fight both the law and the sun. According to Bigelow’s director commentary–and I should have mentioned before that this is one of those rare cases in which the commentary is actually illuminating, instead of being vague, boring or useless giggling and chattering with other commentators, a la American Mary (love you, Soska sisters, but you really need to take that shit to the mall)–for realism’s sake, she had the cast practice target shooting so they would know exactly how shooting a gun actually feels.

The clan is fighting a losing battle to save their undead lives–while they can take hundreds of rounds of those puny bullets, every bullet hole lets in more light…which offers Caleb the opportunity for redemption. That is, according to the mythology of Bigelow, this is the archetypal story of a son earning his father’s approval through self-sacrifice: shielded only by a blanket, Caleb runs headlong into the daylight, ass-peppered by a thousand bullets, makes it to the van and dramatically crashes through the room to rescue the whole lot.

Caleb: Vampire Savior

It’s also the archetypal story of the prodigal son being treated like a conquering hero just because he fixes his own mess. Although I technically have a little brother nearly thirty years younger (modern families are complicated), I grew up an only child, but I’ve seen enough of the black-sheep-being-praised-for-not-being-a-complete-fuck-up situations to recognize this dynamic–Caleb is suddenly the golden child because he saves everybody from bullshit he caused. Maybe it is because I’m an only child that this grates me–those cursed with siblings are probably used to it–but goddamnit, all that earns him is not being killed quite as fast, not all this praise and spurs. Guess even vampires aren’t immune to trauma-bonding.

It’s still your fucking fault.

But it is a bonding experience and for the first time, Caleb feels as if he belongs–he has become an honorary Son of the Dark. Though I’m not sure what the pay-off is: the Near Dark lifestyle does not exactly inspire envy. Off the top of my head, this is definitely the most de-glammed band of vamps that I can think of–they’re constantly filthy, travel by beat-up stolen vehicles and stay in cheap joints sleazier than even the worst no-tell motels. I mean, let’s call it: they are basically glorified white trash killer-drifters…very much like Bonnie and Clyde, Pretty Boy Floyd, Dillinger, the Barker Gang and all those other romanticized Depression era outlaws. So again—Bigelow for the win. At least it’s never boring; adrenaline is a helluva drug.

Road trash outlaws.

But just as Caleb is about to cast his lot with the Family of the Dark, annoying Sister of the Light lurks about…and here is a sure sign that Bigelow didn’t bother having kids–parents don’t let little girls wander about by themselves outside fleabag motels in the wee hours, no matter how annoying they are. Maybe shit parents do, but the Father of the Light sure as hell wouldn’t. And if Loy is running the roads day and night in search of his grown son, he would certainly look for his very young daughter when she didn’t return with the soda she had no business drinking when she should be sleeping, and if that makes me sound like somebody’s mother, that’s because I am. I know–it’s a quibble. But it’s one that rankles. Maybe he was passed out on Thorazine and she sneaked out. Whatever. At any rate, it’s an excuse for Homer to skeeve out on Sarah–even in human years, he’d be pervy to mack on such an obviously younger girl–and sweet-talk her into entering the lair. Even vampire boys need a pet.

It’s also not too goddamn likely that a young sheltered girl would walk into that armed freakshow without turning tail for daddy instead of making a sassy observation: “You people sure do stay up late”, to which Severen retorts, “BACKATCHA YOU SASSY LITTLE BITCH”, except no…that would’ve been me. Instead, he gifts us with this iconic reply:

“We keep odd hours”.

In any event, Homer wants Sarah…and since nothing is too good for her little boy, Diamondback sends Severen to dispatch Loy just as Caleb walks into this suddenly blended family. Unfortunately, he still doesn’t get vampire culture–Caleb thinks his sister oughta get a pass just because she’s his sister; Jesse sums up vampire sentimentality with one brilliant gesture:

Severen returns with Loy and thus sets up the show down between the Father of the Dark versus Father of the Light. And initially, Caleb chooses the clan, if for no other reason than to save Loy and Sarah’s life. But Homer isn’t losing both his pet and his opportunity for revenge–not only does he get Mae compensation, he gets to hurt Caleb in the process. It is also the first time I noticed that Homer has a truly unfortunate lisp, leading to the most unintentionally funny moment in the movie:

“Now I’m going to chew your little thithter. That maketh us even-thteven”.

At any rate, Jesse is far too pragmatic to let them go–Loy has been tracking them, he knows their faces and, roles reversed, would Loy let them go? Nothing personal, kid, but there’s not enough room for two pets.

Loy whips out a large, possibly over-compensating gun, and shoots Jesse (which later leads to another one of my favorite lines: “Normal folks, they don’t spit out bullets when you shoot’em. Naw sir”). After spitting up said bullet, Jesse is in the process of breaking off Loy’s hand and presumably, shoving it up his ass, when Sarah does the first un-annoying thing of the movie: elbows Homer, makes a break for it and floods the room with the newly risen sun. Caleb follows, effectively abandoning the Family of the Dark. Then comes the part of the movie which makes everybody hugely roll their eyes: the blood transfusion.

Caleb decides that the solution to his problem is for veterinarian Loy to give him a blood transfusion. So, basically, what–Loy is gonna trade out all of Caleb’s vampire blood with about 10 pints of…pig blood? That detour belongs to Carrie. If not that, then how can he score that much human blood? Loy might have some connections, but in the medical world, vets are strictly lower caste. He would be hard-pressed to explain why he needed so much human blood, never mind type, rH factor and all. But that’s okay, Loy will just give Caleb his blood. All of it. That would be 1.5 gallons of his own blood. Right. Unfortunately, that is the heavy burden we horror fans must bear: there are times we have to suspend the hell out of some disbelief. In Bigelow’s defense, however, she got the transfusion idea from none other than Bram Stoker, so…good enough. Caleb becomes a born-again human. He embraces his family, re-introduces himself to the horse and they all live happily ever after…cue credits.

Alternate theory: Loy trades blood and becomes a vampire.

Haha, just kidding. At the dinner table, where they don’t at all talk about, “So…WHAT THE FUCK CALEB??” and instead, engage in robust topics about drinking milk and chores and whatever the fuck else emotionally constipated protestants talk about. Caleb hears the swing creak and, cherchez la femme! There’s Mae, who is totally grossed out by how warm Caleb has become. She asks him to choose between his family or her, and as with most ultimatums, it doesn’t go well.

Mae, skeeved by Caleb’s warm skin.

However, it proves highly effective as a distraction, because–predictably to everybody but Caleb–when he returns, Sarah is gone, though it isn’t clear whether or not the distraction was deliberate. Probably not. Mae’s a good vampire. At any rate, Caleb saddles up and rides into town. Fun fact: Bigelow, quite the equestrian herself, used three different horses for this scene: a “safe” general purpose horse, a spare horse and one whose sole purpose is to rear dramatically, thus announcing the return of Severen. Whereas a no-nonsense vampire like Jesse would dispose of him quickly, Severen likes to play with his prey, so he throws Caleb about a few times for fun.

Along comes a semi, which is pretty goddamn incongruous coming down the perma-empty streets of a town with the population of approximately 4 1/2. Severen puts the truck driver out of his indignant misery and again, Caleb saddles up for what Bigelow considers the vampire-western version of high noon: high midnight. Except instead of guns, it’s a duel between a bigass truck and fangs. Seems like a gimme, especially after Caleb runs Severen down…but maybe not.

SURPRISE motherfucker.

Couple of fun facts here: Bigelow had a special undercarriage and platform rigged to the rig (sorry) for the stuntman (also sorry) to play Severen gleefully ripping out engine innards. Better fun fact: there was a railroad stop near the site of the big showdown. In full gruesome makeup, Bill Paxton ran towards horrified railway workers, hollering, “Hey, there’s been a bad accident. I’m alright, but the other people are messed up!”

At this point, Caleb is finally able to use some of that valuable foreshadowing provided by the friendly truck-driver victim–his speech on what happens if you brake a semi in the wrong order (“…brake trailer first before you brake the cab, otherwise you jackknife…trailer hits the cab—no more truck; no more truck driver”). Caleb brakes the cab, leaps out and jackknives Severen.

No more truck; no more vampire.

Even though the other 4 1/2 people supposedly living in this urban paradise don’t seem to notice that half of the town has blown up, it has not passed the Family of the Dark unnoticed…and the Father is pissed. Mae meekly suggests they take Caleb back–gotta hand it to her, girl’s got the balls of a brass monkey–but the Father of the Dark has gone full Cronus—he’s about to eat Caleb’s ass…whole. Meanwhile, Homer is struggling to keep Sarah still, because even though she is roughly half Homer’s size and a puny human to boot, he just can’t seem to chew Caleb’s little thithter.

For fuck’s sake, how hard can it be?

During this big father/son conflict, Diamondback tries to be slick and creeps behind Caleb with a switchblade–her trademark, of sorts, along with that uncomfortable sexy energy. Again, because Homer is apparently the WEAKEST FUCKING VAMPIRE EVER, Sarah breaks free, warns Caleb, who ducks just in time.

Oops.

The “sorry, not sorry” vibe here is very strong.

Ravenous (1999), Part II: Wendigos, Wétikos and the Colorado Cannibal

Recently, I read a review on Ravenous that pissed me off so badly, I wanted to hunt down the reviewer so I could bite him. Hard. Not because he didn’t like the movie–film reviews are, by their very nature, subjective–but because he got every single thing that was possible to get wrong…wrong. It could be … Continue reading Ravenous (1999), Part II: Wendigos, Wétikos and the Colorado Cannibal

Ravenous (1999): Cannibals, Wétikos and Manifest Destiny, Part I

Unfortunately, most Wendigos aren’t literally cannibalistic…and no, that’s not a typo. Don’t get me wrong; I am hardly a defender of people-eaters…but even the hungriest Wendigo can only consume so many humans–the Wètikos have been known to consume entire nations.

In terms of pure vampire psychopathy, Diamondback comes second only to Severen–she allows Caleb and Sarah to escape, just to draw out the chase. A mere human running in pointy toed cowboy boots whilst carrying a child won’t be much of a match pitted against a station wagon full of pissed off vamps. Sure enough, Caleb trips on his pointy-toed boots and Sarah is again abducted by the Family of the Dark to resume making Homer look like a weak chump. But by that time, Mae’s had enough of their shit. Out of disgust, love or residual decency, Mae snatches Sarah from Homer’s limp grasp and crashes out the back window.

See? Balls of a brass monkey.

Bigelow points out that this is merely one example of self-sacrifice–at some point, every character chooses to self-sacrifice for the sake of their respective families. The difference here is that Mae is, in effect, sacrificing her family, as well. Homer ups the sacrificial ante by jumping out in yet another futile effort to make Sarah like him. I get the distinct impression that he would spend eternity wanting to kiss her and love her and squeeze her and hug her and call her George. Becoming a walking solar flare is merciful by comparison.

Fun fact: on the day of filming, a sudden windstorm arose, with winds gusting up to 50 mph; to avoid lethal cinema verité, flames were added post-production.

Jesse and Diamondback come to a relatively anticlimactic, relatively peaceful, sort of touching end–Diamondback’s last words: “Good times”, which would make a great epitaph, except that I’ve already made my final wishes known: to use my cremains as fertilizer for a fruit tree with a bronze plaque reading EAT ME. And no, I’m not kidding.

Still. “Good Times” is pretty cool, too.

Good times.

And finally, via suspicious blood transfusion, Mae is restored to human form, which leaves me with so many questions: shouldn’t she look older? Was she given informed consent? Will she have to go through massive culture shock? Is she at all sad that her entire family was wiped out…or feel any guilt? Will the fact that she is a former mass murderer on the scale of Elizabeth Bathory make things a little awkward? Or maybe this is one of those many, many times that I’ll just have to take a slow, deliberate blink and suspend all disbelief. At least Bigelow decided to ditch her original ending–just as Mae recovers, Sarah was to explode in the sunlight (because ah ha! Weenie Homer did manage to get his bite on, after all!). Happily ever after isn’t always a bad thing.

Still not sure about this human thing.

Besides, there’s still that whole Loy is secretly a vampire twist. Of this, you cannot convince me otherwise.

Epilogue and sad fact: cast and crew knew they had just filmed something special. In fact, Paxton told an interviewer that on the final day of filming, he and Henricksen were talking about making a prequel, which would’ve been called First Light, and it probably would’ve been amazing. Unfortunately for us all, this was during the eighties, when people were blind to all that was not shiny and obvious…like the fucking Lost Boys. Watch them together sometime, back to back, and maybe you’ll start to understand why I would like to time travel there just long enough to burn down the entire decade in one big glorious mercy-killing. And maybe slap Joel Schumacher around for being Joel Schumacher.

Speaking of glorious, I think I want to introduce my dear phantom readers (including the one live reader currently following this blog) to the joys of Glorious Shit. Not sure which shit I’ll choose, but I’m thinking somewhere between Let’s Scare Jessica to Death and Evilspeak. Or maybe Frankenstein’s Army…which I just bought today.

Fio

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