Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Benjamin Walker, Rufus Sewell, Dominic Cooper, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jimmi Simpson. 20th Century Fox. Action/horror/fantasy. Written by Seth Grahame-Smith. Directed by Timur Bekmambedtov. 6/22/12
FILM SYNOPSIS: Most politicians have a secret life. But sooner or later, they are revealed. Just ask John Edwards. Well, anyway, now the 16th President of the United States has been outed. Turns out, by day he was running for this office or that, but by night, according to legendary filmmaker Tim Burton who produced this one (it’s directed by Timur Bekmambedtov), Father Abe was wasting the undead using the very ax with which he used to split rails. (This is his true story.)
REVIEW: Is this film meant as a metaphor, showing how good men can become evil through conditions beyond their control? Or, is 20th Century Fox just hedging its bets, worried that a dramatization of the Great Emancipator might have more box office heft if it co-stars children of the night? Either way, it does seem almost irreverent to the memory of a man taller than most. But here he is, in all his manic-depressive, ax-wielding splendor, dispatching doom to bloodsuckers as if he was the Mighty Thor in long coat and stovepipe topper.
With a title like that, there’s only one rogue nymph able enough to handle its, uh, execution – that Peter Pan of the displaced himself, Tim Burton (Beetlejuice, Batman, Nightmare Before Christmas, Edward Scissorhands, Sleepy Hollow, Ed Wood, Dark Shadows). The filmmaker is always at home with the distorted and/or the warped. (Has he ever made a film that addresses real life?) One gets the impression he was brought up on a steady diet of Roger Corman exploitation and Hammer horror films. Indeed, I’m not entirely convinced he isn’t a member of the Addams family. ‘Course, he’s got more money than the combined citizenry of Gotham, so who am I to judge? After all, he’s just the pied piper corporate Hollywood adores because he knows how to draw the 14-year-old demographic, as well as the 14-year-old in their dads.
As I said, here Mr. Burton produces, leaving the slo-mo guts and gore direction to Timur Bekmambedtov (a Russian-Kazakh who made the vampire flicks Night Watch and Day Watch). The resulting efforts of Burton, Bekmambedtov and the CGI experts at 20th Century Fox are gothic, gloomy and gory. While those seem to be drawing cards for summer movie goers, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, like Inglorious Basterds from a couple of years ago, uses history or reality as a mere launching pad. Unlike Inglorious Basterds, it has little humor, the filmmakers taking the story and themselves a bit too seriously.
Fellow critic Jon Niccum informed me that Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter was taken from a well-received book, one that did stress a metaphoric parable. The film version, however, allows violence and graphic gore to take precedence. From beginning to end, men and women are blood-sucked or beheaded. Much of it in slow motion. And if men and women seen tortured before death isn’t enough to fill the carnage quotient, there are also several civil war battle enactments. And what’s this? The Confederate army has become, yes, you guessed it, unstoppable vampires! That is, until Abe thinks up the idea to make silver bullets for the Union army (I thought that only worked on werewolves).
While watching this money-fueled mayhem, I realized that the cinema theater has become the new Coliseum. As graphic torment increases with each entry into this genre, Hollywoodland’s coffers get fuller. In Roman days, the public attended the arena in order to view people being eaten by lions. This in the name of entertainment. Not much has changed. My question is, did they leave the children at home?
A woman brought her little boy to the screening of this R-rated horror thriller. And by golly, they stayed throughout. The imagery was scary and as violent as you’ll see in any movie. What mother would take her 7-year-old boy to such a film? And no matter how violent it got, she never took him out. (Good luck, kid.)
Many during the Civil War days were tortured souls because of the death of so many of their countrymen and the fear they lived with daily that America, the world’s bright hope, might be snuffed out in its adolescent years. While fantasy can be used as metaphor or parable, here it distorts and desensitizes. The total number of casualties between both the North and the South was roughly 3,263,000. It was the deadliest war to date. Those who gave the last full measure of devotion deserve movies that tell their story honestly and with conviction. Tell their story, Mr. Burton and Mr. Bekmambedtov. And leave the vampire destroying to Dr. Van Helsing.
R (three obscenities and two profanities; a great deal of violent imagery, some savage, some gory – some savage and gory! Heads cut off with an ax; wartime battles; beatings, martial arts battles, stabbings, shootings, etc.; lots of blood flying around the room in slo-mo after heads are whacked off; make-up and lots of jolting imagery; in one scene we see a herd of stampeding horses with demonic faces). Running Time: 105 min. Intended Audience: Adults – Did you hear me lady who brought your 8-year-old son?
DVD Alternative: The Civil War. Ken Burns' eloquent look at the struggle between the North and the South should be required viewing, especially for teens. The 1989 quintessential documentary on the War Between the States is a moving, learning experience about the foibles and nobility of the human spirit. Indeed, it defines the American Spirit.
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