How could the 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, be any cooler? The awkward, poor, self-educated man is largely responsible for abolishing slavery in America, preserving the Union after the Civil War and starting our country down the path to recovery after one of the darkest periods in its history. But, what if he was also a badass vampire hunter who selflessly protected his country from a blood-sucking scourge? Now you’re talking COOL.
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is set in the “what-if” world of alternative history and is based on the bestselling novel by Seth Grahame-Smith, who also wrote the screenplay for this film. The movie mixes real historical facts about Lincoln and his era with fantasy horror and action to create a film that is fun, unique and educational – we’ll, at least fun and unique – with potential to inspire educational research to separate the fact from the fiction.
In the early 1800s, young Abe witnesses his beloved mother being attacked by a vampire and the woman dies as the result of infection transmitted by the beast. The young man swears vengeance on the monster and years later finally confronts the killer. The unprepared future President Lincoln (Benjamin Walker) is nearly beaten to death by the blood-sucker before he is saved by Henry Sturges (Dominic Cooper), a man with his own vendetta against the vampire race.
Henry nurses the young man back to health and takes him under his wing, training him in the art of vampire hunting (a la almost any classic kung-fu film); then sending him on assignments to track down the monsters and put them to death. It turns out that vampires are a prevalent part of society in Victorian era America because they have found that with legal slavery they are able to purchase humans to sate their blood-lust and still blend easily into southern communities undetected.
Seth Grahame-Smith’s book does a much better job at mashing-up history with symbolic fantasy than this film version does, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that this is an extremely entertaining action flick, albeit of the B-Movie variety. If you mixed From Dusk to Dawn with Kill Bill and set the story amidst a Civil War era backdrop, you might come up with something like Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. The only thing missing is some smooth Tarantino-esque dialogue and this movie would have instant cult status. It might just get there as is.
I’m sure that some will see this film as inane and absurd and it’s understandable if this is not your genre. But for those who get that this is just a fun amped-up version of America’s first superhero (move over Captain America), you are going to have more fun than a stovepipe hat full of popcorn. There are some awesome action sequences, in the style of director Timur Bekmambetov‘s other whiz-bang action film Wanted, that will leave you on the edge of your seat. A particular bit that has the vampire hunter fighting and chasing his prey through a herd of stampeding horses is like nothing you’ve ever seen before.
Benjamin Walker as Abe wields a very mean wood-axe and as you should expect from a vampire hunting movie, there is plenty of blood & gore in this picture, as well as brief sex scenes and nudity (but none by Honest Abe – luckily.) I applaud the creators of this film for going with an Restricted rating and not compromising their artistic integrity just to make more money with an under 17 crowd, unlike some of their summer competition (see Snow White and the Huntsman and Rock of Ages to name a couple.)
This 105 minute film spans a lot of story very quickly and there are some large unexplained gaps that for me were forgivable, given the movies overall (I think intentional) low-budget feel. There are no big name actors here and the most recognizable face I saw was that of Alan Tudyk’s (Firefly) who plays Lincoln’s well known real-life rival Stephen A. Douglas.
Steampunk fans will enjoy this film’s sepia/instagram tint as well as its costumes and weaponry, but speaking of weapons, one of the things I missed from the book was Abe’s ‘martyr’ stakes (chemically enhanced sticks that are “brighter than the sun” when ignited and helped the hunter by blinding his adversaries.) Also missing is Abe’s relationship with Edgar Allan Poe – which is disappointing, but it’s not often that a movie matches its original source material (even when the screenplay & book are written by the same person), so maybe we’ll see some of these missed items in a sequel.
It is rare that I rave about a the 3D effects in a movie, in fact I have a huge dislike of the technology in that it almost always darkens the screen and diminishes the enjoyment of the film, for very little in return. That being said, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter uses its 3D imagery better than any other film I have seen, including Avatar. I highly recommend you pay the extra bucks to see this movie in 3D. Even the vampire eyes in this film stand out in an eerie otherworldly way that really adds another dimension to the movie, the way the technology is supposed to. The glasses still made the film too dark, but in this instance the overall effect of the three-dimensions was worth the sacrifice.
So if you are tired of namby-pamby monsters like Jacob and Edward, and even Grahame-Smith’s version of Barnabas Collins in Dark Shadows; and you’re ready to see some vampires get their comeuppance, join Abe this summer for some high-adventure and improbable history that will leave you wanting more.