MOVIE REVIEW: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter



I don't know about you, but I like a good "what if?" story that throws history on its ear.  The kid in us has done that a thousand times.  I know I sure wondered who would win in a fight between Hulk Hogan and He-Man.  Movies are perfect playground for playing out "what if?" fantasies.

As preposterous as it was, I loved it when Adolf Hitler got machine-gunned to death by the Jewish-American Nazi-scalping hit squad soldiers of Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds.  Even though the movie was absolute hot garbage, I got a kick out of the bending of history behind the historic Apollo 11 moon landing (with Buzz Aldrin cameo and all) outlined within Transformers: Dark of the Moon.  It made for a great trailer.  We've seen history bent and mocked since the days of Mel Brook's The History of the World: Part 1 and the meetings with Bill and Ted in a telephone booth time machine.  So, why not have a movie where our most beloved President is shown to have a secret life of going above and beyond the call of duty killing vampires?  What's the harm in a little fun?  I say nothing, but purists and prudes will say nothing is sacred.  

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is absolutely preposterous, but it's supposed to be.  I, for one, can suspend disbelief to watch just about anything if it puts on a good show and entertains.  For goodness sake, we as an American audience just spent $600+ millions dollars to see two powerless human assassins, one Norse god, two science experiments go wrong, and a crass billionaire in a flying metal suit hold off thousands of superior aliens in the middle of Cleveland-disguised-as-New York City singlehandedly.  Five guys and a girl!  That's it, but I digress.  

So what if Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is complete and utter B.S?  On some levels, it's no different than The Avengers.  If you want history and the greatness of the real Abraham Lincoln, go to the library or turn on the History Channel.  Sometimes, cheesy movies are like comfort food.  They are just want we want on the menu when we aren't looking for a challenge.  

For example, my cheesy movie macaroni of choice is Anaconda, which defies all possible science, physics, and logic, but is damn fun.  That ought to show you where I'm coming from.   Look no further than The Evil Dead movies or the inexplicable success of just about every horror trend imaginable and you'll find more examples.

The bigger question at work is whether or not the movie entertains.  If it entertains, then it's doing it's job.  Even though Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter butchers and condenses its pulpy and popular source novel from Seth Grahame-Smith (who also wrote the screenplay, which means fans have no one to blame but the man himself), the movie is simply fun escapist entertainment and pops off of the screen like a 3D movie should.  It may feel like camp in concept and end up camp in result, but everyone is playing it straight here.  The movie even has the balls to quote the Bible at the movie's start, dropping a little Genesis 17:5.

Put to the silver screen by the directing and producing team-up of Timur Bekmambetov (Wanted, 9) and the king of fantasy pulp, Tim Burton (Batman, Beetlejuice, Charlie and the Chocolate actory, Alice in Wonderland), the movie's decades-spanning story is told from Abraham Lincoln's private journal documenting his secret life battling vampires.  As a boy, his watches helplessly as his mother is killed by a vampire local merchant (Martin Csokas).  This event drives the now-grown Abe (Benjamin Walker, looking like the young Liam Neeson he played in Kinsey) to seek vengeance against him.  After losing a battle to the vampire's superior power, Abraham is rescued by the mysterious Henry Sturgess (Dominic Cooper of The Devil's Double andCaptain America: The First Avenger).  Seeing promise in Abe's potential, Sturgess agrees to teach Mr. Lincoln how to hunt and kill the vampires and enlists him into the cause of defeating the monsters that are slowly taking over the fragile pre-Civil War United States.

Abraham and Sturgess learn that the slave trade is the southern-based vampires' means of a continuing "food source."  They are lead by the decadent Adam (professional movie villain Rufus Sewell), who is the origin source of vampires in America.  Stepping into his own, first as a shopkeeper and lawyer and eventually as popular Springfield, Illinois politician, Abraham sees his political power to lead and eliminate slavery as a strong second front that he can combat the vampires.  Along the way, his stoic convictions catch the eye of the fetching Mary Todd (Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World's Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who soon becomes his wife.  His leadership, of course, takes him to the White House as the 16th President where the Civil War, on the eve of Gettysburg, has become the tipping point between freedom and vampire supremacy.

While the source novel put due diligence and great research effort into making as many historical parallels and connections to real people, facts, and timelines as possible to add realism to fiction, the film, like Inglourious Basterds, muddies the water pretty badly.  Once again, we're not paying to see a movie called Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter for the history.  Even though the story is a stretch to work with, virtual newcomer Benjamin Walker plays a very compelling and convincing Abraham Lincoln.  I know he's not even close to the level of two-time Oscar winner Daniel Day-Lewis, who will be playing our 16th President this December in Steven Spielberg's epic Lincoln, his tall and rugged looks work for this version of Abe.  The kid looks mighty intimidating and cool swinging an ax.  Joined by Cooper, Winstead, and a token black sidekick played by Anthony Mackie (The Hurt Locker), a so-so ensemble is put together to root for.

As I keep emphasizing, we're here for the entertainment and the movie delivers some incredibly exciting action sequences and special effects.  Bekmambetov and Burton really had the 3D in mind showcasing sprinting horses, splatter, smoke, splinters, lunging teeth, cracked whips, bullets, and cannonballs that fly in your face.  It's one of thes best uses of 3D I've seen.  Bekmambetov and five-time Oscar nominee cinematographer Caleb

Deschanel (yes, he's the father of Zooey and Emily) are a little too in love with the slow motion emphasis within the kinetic action.  It's overdone, but it works.  Also, the always-shifting tones between sepia, striking color, and black-and-white make for a movie not short at all on style. If a few University of Illinois film students, Chris and Anne Lukeman, can flip the script and make Honest Abe into a vampire, why can't Timur and Tim have a little fun with more money and Abe as the hero?  The 2009 student film The Transient  (link), winner of (coincidentally) the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Award that year at the Route 66 Film Festival that year, started Kill Vampire Lincoln Productions and made the rounds at many other Midwest film festivals and genre conventions.  If you liked Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, check that out next or even before.  The film students took a great idea and ran with it because they are fans and love entertainment.  I can condone Bekmambetov and Burton for trying to do the same on a bigger scale.  Besides, I was hungry for some movie mac n' cheese.

LESSON #1: A GUY ONLY GETS EXCESSIVELY DRUNK WHEN HE'S EITHER GOING TO KISS A GIRL OR KILL A MAN-- As Henry Sturgess then continues to ask: "Which is it?"  If that's true, I'm glad I don't own a gun and my wife likes my kisses...

LESSON #2: WE'RE ALL SLAVES TO SOMETHING-- This line from the villainous vampire Adam comes with a wee dose of pun considering the emancipation of slaves at the center of Lincoln's pursuit for victory in the Civil War and against the vampires using them as a blood source.  However, he's kind of right by saying that Abraham is a slave to his convictions much like how other people are slaves to their ideals, faith, family, or profession.  It's true that people have their triggers to evoke complete compliance to something.

LESSON #3: THE GREATER POWER COMES FROM TRUTH NOT HATE-- This is very true.  In finding the right state of mind away from the clouds of hate and revenge, we can be more powerful working in truth than when we are when fueled by hate.  That applies to words, actions, emotions, focus, and politics.

LESSON #4: HISTORY PREFERS LEGENDS TO MEN-- This frequently-dropped quote in the movie is continued with "It prefers nobility to brutality, soaring speeches to quiet deeds. History remembers the battle, but forgets the blood."  Those sentences couldn't be more true, even with the fictional nature of this movie.  We simply wouldn't have this movie without the legend of Abraham Lincoln and his revered factual accomplishments.  It takes a legend, not a man, to make this worthwhile.  No one is going to watch Don Shanahan: Vampire Hunter, except for my wife (who will still fall asleep to it OR not watch it at all because it's a horror movie.  See my webpage's "Pillow Rankings" for proof.)