Of all the holidays celebrated worldwide, no single day is loved by the Substream staff more than Halloween. With October’s arrival, the time has finally come to begin rolling out a slew of special features we have prepared in celebration of our favorite day.
31 Days Of Halloween is a recurring column that will run throughout the month of October. The goal of this series is to supply every Substream reader with a daily horror (or Halloween-themed) movie recommendation that is guaranteed to amplify your All Hallows’ Eve festivities. We’ll be watching every film the day it’s featured, and we hope you will follow along at home. Reader, beware, you’re in for a… spooky good time!
Day 29: Near Dark (1987)
Kathryn Bigelow has always been one of those directors that constantly fascinates me with every new project. Before she made slam-bang prestige thrillers like The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty, she worked within genre wonderfully, somehow injecting tropes with new life. Strange Days, for example, is up there with her best work, a futuristic neo-noir that sideshows as a condemnation of the surveillance culture we currently live in. While Near Dark isn’t overtly political, it uses vampirism in a story basically about someone falling in with the wrong gang. That gang just happens to be a group of sociopathic panhandling vampires. With an appropriately 80s score by Tangerine Dream, Near Dark is one of those horror/action hybrids that actually deserves to be in the pantheon of great genre films.
The story starts out with Caleb (Adrian Pasdar) meeting Mae (Jenny Wright) outside of an ice cream parlor. He offers to give her a ride home and she obliges, only to bite him on the neck when he goes in for a kiss. His truck breaks down, Mae runs off, and now Caleb has to run home. Of course, that doesn’t go well when the sun starts coming up and he falls incredibly ill. Before he can make it home, an RV pulls up and abducts him. That’s when Caleb gets to meet the whole brood and realizes quickly that he’s in deep shit with the wrong people.
I’ll spare you the details on what happens next because you should be queuing up Near Dark before you even finish reading this piece, but Caleb’s trip into the night becomes alive like few films are. There’s this legendary scene where the whole vampire gang torments a group of local yokels in a bar that’s a masterwork in tension. They make their presence known as soon as they enter the bar, but we never know just how far they’ll be willing to go to feed their insatiable bloodlust. Things get a bit hairy, of course.
The late Bill Paxton gets to have the meatiest role in Near Dark, too. His Severen is a gung-ho schizoid hellbent on making Caleb’s decision to become part of the brood as hard as possible. Mae naturally tries to get everyone to accept Caleb but also take it easy while he struggles to come to terms with his new hunger. Severen is on the other side of the spectrum, trying to force Caleb into confrontation, almost like he believes the killer instinct was always a part of Caleb that needed to be instigated. The same goes for Jesse (Lance Henriksen, in his prime), who struggles with going too soft or too hard on Caleb as he tries to teach him the ropes. These are the kind of vampires that loot, steal and defile, in addition to feeding on blood.
It all culminates in one of the tensest scenes ever to be committed to film, of course. A certain scene, which I will not spoil, serves as a natural turning point in Caleb’s arc while smashing open just how gross and violent the story is willing to get. Nevertheless, this Halloween season you should be watching Near Dark.