Unfortunately, I don’t have the excuse of Ted or Magic Mike being sold out at my local Cineplex to blame for plunking down my hard earned money to view the history movie, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. I could say I was feeling patriotic with our nation’s birthday coming up but my reasons were actually pretty shallow; it had the visually mesmerizing idea of an axe wielding Abraham Lincoln in a long coat and top hat dispatching vampires in black gooey glory. And that was good enough for me!
Imagine my surprise when instead of an empty mash-up of historical fiction and vampire horror I was given a movie that rather impressively interwove the two genres through (spoiler alert!) the issue of slavery; somehow making the horrific institution even more disturbing (if possible) by having European vampires cotton to the notion that all those slaves in America make for a perfect unlimited food source and with an unlimited food source, vampires could quickly rise in strength and numbers to claim the new country for their own. The Civil War is then, of course, taken to a whole new level of importance in that Lincoln (the titular vampire hunter) knows that he is not only fighting for the freedom of black men, but for all of humanity against Rufus Sewell’s evil vampire leader, Adam.
Admittedly, the plot is pretty audacious. Some (including my Southern Black parents) may feel it borders on the offensive (although the idea of slave traders and plantation owners being funded by vampires if not outright vampires wasn’t a big stretch for them to accept), but, honestly, I dug it. Exploring one of the worst atrocities in history through the lens of one of the most evil monsters in fiction was brutal and effective. Unfortunately, due to the intention that the movie would be a summer blockbuster to appeal to the masses, the movie felt like it was constrained from shining too much light on the grimmer aspects of vampires and their slave victims (although a scene of the vampires holding a ball and then ‘feasting’ on their dance partners was not for the squeamish) while also trying not to be too soap box preachy so as not to make young movie goers feel like they were in summer school. That left the viewer with a lot of action sequences (Lincoln in an impossible, but breathtaking chase through a stampeding herd of horses being one of the standouts), many groan-worthy anachronistic one liners, and much unintentional humor (Honest Abe doing flying kicks off walls to the soundtrack of Linkin Park can’t not illicit giggles). Still at no time did I feel that the movie was trivializing the horrors of slavery due in great part to actor Benjamin Walker’s earnest and quite spectacular portrayal of Lincoln from his young axe swinging twenties right up through his bad ass fifties. Walker’s Lincoln was admirable in his transition from a man who fought with an axe to a man that fought with words and ideas-although he’d still deliver a heart stopping punch to the chest of vampire if need be.
All said, despite its flaws and being posited as a mindless, fun summer movie, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter actually had some bite (hehe) and at the very least provided a good jumping off point for a discussion about the horrors of slavery (much like another alternate history flick, Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds provided some interesting food for thought about World War II and the daring plots to kill (and actually, finally succeed in killing Hitler) and fun imaging other alternative history scenarios that could be entertaining in a mash-up with another genre.
Kevin Costner as JFK
Paul Giamatti as John Adams
Frank Langella as Richard Nixon