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Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2012)
Tonight's Feature Presentation

ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER (2012)

Starring: Benjamin Walker, Domnic Cooper, Anthony Mackie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Rufus Sewell

Written By: Seth Grahame-Smith Directed By: Timur Bekmambetov

The Short Version

If nothing else, it’s an interesting concept.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter plays with a straight face.

That and the breakneck pacing are what keep it watchable... just.

The book’s better.  Way better.

A great premise is poorly executed; the movie’s a cheap rental at best.


The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?

A SCULPTURE MADE FROM SWISS ALMOND CHEESE SPREAD.

My, but that is a creative portrait of Mr. Lincoln… but it’s still made from hole-ridden cheese that’s been processed to hell and back.


Pairs Well With...

MAKER'S MARK.

Born in Kentucky, just like Mr. Lincoln.  Might make the movie a bit easier to take, too.

“A man only drinks like that when he's planning to kiss a girl or kill a man.  Which is it?”


This tale begins at a bookstore.

Being a fan of the printed word on actual paper, I tend to visit these places on a regular basis.  One day, a couple of years back, I was browsing the shelves when I found a very intriguing title staring back at me: “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.”  The jacket was equally intriguing (the double sided photograph which used the back cover to reveal that Lincoln was holding a lopped-off head behind his back was a very nice touch), and after reading the first few pages to assure myself that the actual writing lived up to the promise of the cover, I decided to buy it.

It was a good purchase.  The book proved to be an excellent read, playing as an enjoyable vampire hunting adventure while rather deftly weaving its plot into the events of Abraham Lincoln’s life.  Next time you’re in a bookstore yourself (or visiting Amazon, or firing up your e-Reader, or, hey, looking at that link a little further down and to the left), I’d heartily recommend picking up a copy to read for your own enjoyment.

Flash forward two years.  As we all know, the movie is rarely as good as the book, but when I learned that a film version of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter would be hitting theatres, I allowed myself to have a little hope.  After all, the screenplay was being written by Seth Grahame-Smith himself, and surely, the author of the original novel wouldn’t make a complete bastardization out of his own work, would he?  Would he?

Excuse me while I get a drink…

As for the story you see on the screen, here goes.  Young Abraham Lincoln’s father bails on a debt, and for this, Lincoln’s mother is killed.  Lincoln himself vows revenge, and once he reaches adulthood, he heads out to hand some lead justice to the man responsible.  Unfortunately, that man happens to be a vampire, and lead justice doesn’t work on them.  Fortunately, another man is there to save his bacon, and when Lincoln comes to, this man offers up a proposition: instead of taking revenge on just one reprobate, learn the trade of vampire hunting and help save thousands of other little boys from having to suffer a mother’s loss as Lincoln did.  Lincoln accepts, and from that moment, his destiny is forever linked with that of the vampires who stalk America… Vampires who seek to take control of their own nation, which they like to call “The Confederate States,” where they can sate themselves with an endless food supply called “slaves”…

As far as alternate/derivative history premises go, that’s really not a bad one, and as I’ve already mentioned, it works very well in the book.  Unfortunately, a “premise” and a “story” are not the same thing, and though the book and the movie may share the same premise, they do not tell the same story.  The complexities of the novel are dumbed out of existence, replaced by the machinations of a single (previously nonexistent) Master Vampire who is, of course, the father of all vampires, and who would probably be called Dracula if not for licensing concerns, and so is instead called Adam.  Lincoln’s career as a politician and his reasons for entering into it are totally changed.  And the beat goes on, all based on the apparent assumption that the audience has no real attention span and does not like to absorb details anyway so let’s just whack-whack-whack.  Maybe it was the writer’s idea, or maybe he was just doing what he was told he had to do to make it “movie marketable;” the answer, I’m sure, lies somewhere in between.  On the plus side, though, at least he holds fast to his original strategy of playing the story straight and not for laughs, because even two jokes would have completely destroyed what’s left of this plot.

But here’s the silly/sad part: if you’ve never read the book, then the dumbing down actually works.  Why?  Because what’s left over is exactly what the average person would expect from a movie called Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter – an insane adventure liberally garnished with extreme helpings of cheese.  Only those who had already been trained to have higher expectations thanks to experience with the novel will have the tools to be properly disappointed with the story at large.

Lore people, I’ll get to you in a few minutes.

And no, the chair does not recognize the Civil War and Early American history buffs in the room, either, for those people should know better.  The whole vampire thing notwithstanding, there still isn’t a whole lot of real history to be found here, even lurking in corners hoping for scraps.  As if there ever is in a period piece like this, so let’s not even go there, huh?

Meanwhile, the director’s seat is occupied by one Timur Bekmambetov, whose presence some marketing intern thought was enough of a selling point to tout on the top line of several versions of the movie’s poster art.  Considering that one of his other resume highlights is The Arena, the idea of bragging about having him at the helm is dubious at best.  The good news is that Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is way better than that movie was.  (Don’t dig deep here, folks.  Trust me.)

The primary reason for this, aside from the fact that Bekmambetov has chosen to go along with Seth Grahame-Smith’s wise decision to play things completely straight, is that Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is relentlessly paced, and I do mean relentlessly.  No breaks are taken; even character moments move along quickly.  Miss three minutes of the movie anywhere and you’ll risk becoming lost; five, hopelessly so.  This is important, because if the movie ever stopped to breathe, the audience would have time to think beyond the moment, and that would be too much for the film to bear.  It can play well so long as it’s moving.  Pacing here definitely equals watchability, because even low mediocrity can work with momentum behind it.

Oh yes, there is definitely a whole lot of low mediocrity to be found here.  I’m looking at you, special effects people.

Enjoy the first few moments of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, because the visual effects you see there are the best of the entire film.  Savor that opening shot of Washington, DC as it transforms by degrees from the modern city we know to the city as it was a century and a half ago.  It’s a deceptively simple but elegant metamorphosis, but unfortunately, what follows is just one surprisingly absent hentai tentacle away from being complete CGI Hell.  The overall quality of the visual effects during the combat and vampire sequences is nothing short of embarrassing, and looks far more like something out of a Roger Corman video budget mill that a $70 million production backed by Tim Burton.  The CG is over-obvious and overplayed, to the point where a vampire can’t even open its mouth without the computer geeks going to work on it.  With its complete reliance on digital blood, digital heads, and digital limbs, this looks far more like a console game than it does a major motion picture, and the complete cheesiness of the visuals threatens to completely undo the script’s good work of playing things straight, simply because the monsters look so damn ridiculous.  (Whether this does, in fact, undo that good work largely depends on how much time one has spent in front of a gaming console, I suspect.)

And speaking of ridiculous…  Hello again, lore people!

As is the fashion, the script for Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter has its own take on vampire lore, which in and of itself is fine.  For these vampires, daylight is no obstacle, and silver is their only real weakness.  (Nevermind that the given reason for why silver is bad is not internally consistent with certain facts of the story, but anyway.)  So far, okay, until one gets to the part that says vampires can’t kill other vampires.  No, I don’t mean the occasionally used thing about a vampire being unable to kill its own maker due to the bond that’s present there; I mean that no vampire can kill any other vampire at all.  Period.  Some may point out that this rule, too, has been seen many a time, but in this case, it’s not just a societal rule: it’s a physical impossibility.  If one vampire tries to pick up a dagger with a silver blade and plunge it into the chest of another vampire, the dagger will instead look to have hit some kind of invisible force field and will not go any further, because God says so.

Honestly, the scene wherein this is revealed pretty much ruined the entire movie for me.  The concept itself is inane enough, but the onscreen execution of the demonstration is so utterly absurd that I rolled my eyes and groaned out loud, completely disgusted as a vampire fan.  There, in that one moment, all of the entertainment good will built up by quick pacing and a straight face flew right out the window, and I think that both writer and director share the blame for that.

Taking no blame, however, is the cast, who by and large do the best they can here, though Rufus Sewell (Dark City) seems to have restricted his efforts to reining in his accent and little else.  (This is a shame, really, because the man is way more talented than the effort that shows up on the screen here, though he doesn’t do anything to stink up the place, either.)  The one positive standout is Mary Elizabeth Winstead (The Thing), who presents a highly engaging interpretation of Mary Todd Lincoln which, however far removed from biography it may be, is certainly the brightest spot of the film.  As for the rest… well, the movie treats them all like props, anyway, including Mr. Lincoln, and as noted, they do what they can given the circumstances.

When it was all said and done, I walked away glad that I’d seen it at a second run theatre where the price of admission was even cheaper than a video rental will be in a few weeks’ time.  The book may have been worth paying full price for, but the movie definitely is not.

Bottom line, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is, at best, a low-mediocre vampire adventure flick that goes in one eyeball and out the other, good enough for a spot in the Netflix queue on Low Expectations Night, but not worth the expense of a retail blu ray or even a full cost rental.  If you’ve already read the book, don’t bother with Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter at all, and if you haven’t read the book, don’t expect anything worth more than two bucks out of the movie.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, August, 2012


You can email Ziggy at ziggy@cinemaontherocks.com. You can also find us on Facebook.


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