For some reason, I’m really getting into Halloween this year, so I thought this historical fantasy thriller mash-up would be fun — especially since a friend recommended it as goofy and enjoyable. It was.
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter jumps right into things, with Lincoln as a boy trying to stop the whipping of a black child, which leads to his father’s showdown with his evil employer — who turns out to be, of course, a vampire, who kills Lincoln’s mother. It’s juicy pulp, especially once we jump to young man Lincoln (Benjamin Walker) facing off with the killer (Marton Csokas) years later.
Walker is cute, tall (as required), appears young enough to suit the hijinks necessary for an action movie, and fits the historical venue well in his long coats and collarless shirts. The settings are particularly good here, with plenty of atmospheric fog and period wooden buildings for creatures to jump out of, although some of the exaggerated elements cross the line from spooky to silly. (When I found out the movie had been released in 3-D, that explained some of the more ridiculous effects.)
Lincoln is quickly adopted by mentor Henry (Dominic Cooper, Captain America: The First Avenger, although he’ll always be the boy from Mamma Mia! to me) and trained to become a vampire hunter. Cue montage, where Lincoln twirls his axe and gets beat up and Henry wears an intriguing set of steampunk-flavored sunglasses. Everything moves quickly, keeping the audience involved and entertained.
Benjamin Walker as Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
Once Henry sends him out, Lincoln alternates between being a clumsy newbie and surprisingly talented as an action hero, including martial arts master, depending on what the film requires at that moment. He hunts vampires (complicated by how they can turn invisible) and falls in love with Mary Todd, which (of course) is forbidden by his lonely fate of destroying monsters. There’s some entertaining geek casting: Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) as Lincoln’s future wife and an uncredited Alan Tudyk as Stephen Douglas. Thankfully, Mary is portrayed as more competent, less insane than usual.
Soon, Lincoln has assembled a small group of friends, his shopkeeper boss Joshua Speed (Jimmi Simpson) and William Johnson (Anthony Mackie), the child he tried to rescue as a boy. (In real life, Lincoln’s valet.) There are hints of trying to equate the evil of slavery with the vampires trying to take over humanity, since the slaves are used as an easy food source for the monsters, but mostly, there’s lots of action and a good smattering of both horror and humor. (The horror didn’t bother me much, because most of the time, it’s so cartoony as to be laughable.) Walker also does a great job once we get historical Lincoln, the bearded President we all think about when we hear his name. Unfortunately, the movie slows down once we hit the Civil War period (where the vampires fight for the Confederates) with an overlong climactic train fight.
Anthony Mackie and Benjamin Walker
Keep a light attitude, not taking any of this movie too seriously, and you’ll likely find something to enjoy. The stampeding horse chase scene is particularly impressive (and clearly artificial), in a “what were they thinking?” kind of way, especially once they start *throwing* the animals at each other. But, you know, it’s cinema, it’s meant to express imagination, no matter how demented. I laughed more than I expected to, often out of surprise at what they’d put on the screen. It’s all the funnier because the film’s creators and actors play most of this straight.
The Blu-ray combo pack comes with the movie on DVD (with no extras) and two digital copies, one for UltraViolet and one for iTunes. (Yay for choice!)
They’re promoting one extra, “The Great Calamity”, as an “exclusive graphic novel” presenting “the untold story of vampires in America”, but it’s actually a cartoon, since it’s animated (and under eight minutes). Edgar Allan Poe tells Lincoln how the monsters came to this country, beginning with Elizabeth Bathory. Of more interest is a lengthy making-of, which comes in five parts:
- Dark Secrets: Book to Screen
- On Location (in New Orleans and other Louisiana sites)
- Vampire Hunting: Fight Choreography
- The Art of Transformation: Makeup Effects (which made me pity Walker so much for showing a time-lapse of what he went through every day)
- A Visual Feast: Timur Bekmambetov’s Visual Style
which add up to an hour and fifteen minutes. The first part includes writer Seth Grahame-Smith (who talks about equality, freedom, and liberty as major themes), director Bekmambetov, producer Tim Burton, and the actors. I found the information quite interesting. There’s also an audio commentary with Grahame-Smith, a music video for Linkin Park’s “Powerless”, and, of course, the theatrical trailer. (The studio provided a review copy.)