What They Left Out Of The History Books
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter chronicles the life of former United States President and prolific vampire destroyer, Abraham Lincoln [Walker]. As a young boy, Lincoln soon learns the meaning of justice and morality when his father is fired for preventing a man from beating Lincoln and friend, Will, for interfering in the transport of slaves. From the very outset it’s kind of obvious that Thomas Lincoln’s former employer, Jack Barts [Marton Csokas], is a vampire, largely due to his ridiculous anachronistic look and stupid sunglasses. While feigning sleep, Lincoln witnesses his mother’s death at the hands of Barts and waits nine years until his father dies to exact his revenge. It’s around this time that the drunken Lincoln makes acquaintance with the eccentric Henry Sturgess [Cooper]… there’s no sense in trying to hide anything, he’s a vampire. It’s not a spoiler or anything because he has the same stupid anachronistic look as the other vampires. Sturgess saves Lincoln’s life after his attack on Barts fails and promises to teach Lincoln how to eradicate vampires from the face of the Earth. Somewhere along the way, Lincoln gets delusions of grandeur and enters politics to abolish slavery.. because the vampires have been happily feasting on slaves.. in the south.. unnoticed. Never mind that the US civil war was about cessation or that the southern states are some of the hottest and sunniest in the US. Anyway, Lincoln becomes President, starts his war, then the Confederates conscript vampires to fight at Gettysburg and WHAT THE FUCKING FUCK! SERIOUSLY! There’s suspension of disbelief and fun silly premises but Jesus Christ this is just fucking bat-shit crazy!
The teaser posters for 2004’s Van Helsing greatly intrigued me. The concept of bringing back Universal’s classic monsters under one contemporary release sounded entertaining. What we ended up with was a complete disaster littered with mediocre CGI, cringe-worthy performances and an incomprehensible ‘story’. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is no different; childish, moronic, difficult to follow, stylised pap, not even superficially entertaining, just laughably stupid. The greatest mystery is how Bekmambetov managed to fall so far in producing this ridiculous romp.
Benjamin Walker does a surprisingly good impersonation of Liam Neeson (largely due to his appearance in Kinsey) but as Lincoln, the concept of his character is far too absurd; so, as accurate as he may have appeared, sounded or behaved it was beyond plausible. Part of my frustration and confusion with the main character was that there was nothing particular special about Lincoln, nothing specified anyway. You have this burly, agile guy who can run, jump and fight with the same ferocity of the ‘immortals’ but his only real training, other than twiddling an axe for days on end, takes place in one scene. Henry escorts Abe to a forest and instructs him to cut down a tree with a single blow. Lincoln rejects this as folly but proceeds nevertheless. As he hacks into the bark, Henry asks a series of questions that enrage and fuel Lincoln, demonstrating how helpless he is. At the height of his rage, Lincoln decimates the tree, launching it into the air before sending it crashing down. So.. essentially, Lincoln got pissed and axed the shit out of a tree. I don’t know if he called on some inner strength or a supernatural ability within (the script didn’t feel the need to expand) but from hereon he was gifted with abilities above and beyond that of an average human being.
Acting and character plausibility aside, the film is a technical nightmare. The editing and pacing are absolutely atrocious, leaving the entire narrative without solid structure, often jumping ahead days, weeks or decades. Even in one scene, the erratic camera movements and messy cutting leave one feeling that great spooling sections of material are either missing or were never filmed in the first place. Then there are the mercurial visual effects, ranging from downright impressive to utterly appalling. You could argue the cinematography is nice in places but even that seems to have been sloppily executed, as if in post-production someone added a filter and simply assumed it would do for the entire film. On top of all that, rather than playing it tongue-in-cheek, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter conducts itself with the seriousness of a big budget drama, probably under the delusion that it would be of equal appeal to the Sherlock Holmes crowd, clearly missing the appeal of Guy Ritchie’s series.
Even the central concept grows tiresome after a while. Much like the recently popular series of books that combine a period novel and zombies or vampires of Cthulhu or what-the-fuck-ever, the wink-nudge joke becomes incredibly tenuous very quickly. The whole thing feels like a children’s puppet that swears profusely – unless there’s a story or satirical reason for it, the gimmick loses its novelty. One of the only things that keep everything ticking along, other than the brief moments where you’re duped into believing that it will improve, is the score. Henry Jackman delivers accompanying music that is actually extremely impressive and very fitting for whatever the hell this film could have been.
To summate, I have a quote from an IMDb user who thoroughly enjoyed this release and couldn’t possibly fathom why critics were panning it: “I just don’t understand why this movie is being critically tortured. This is a prime example of modern cinema being underrated by people who have no skill other than to sit behind a keyboard and type big words to describe why THEY didn’t like the movie.” He then goes on to describe how the effects were amazing, the vampires were scary looking and the inclusion of historical figures made it interesting. He concluded that were this film released ten years ago, critics would be singing a different tune. Well, funnily enough, this film was released nearly ten years ago in the form of Wild Wild West and that was shit too. You can’t take a period setting, extreme amounts of CGI and a preposterous concept and simply expect it to work without a decent story! I’m not saying it cannot be done but this film is way off the mark.
20th June 2012
The Scene To Look Out For:
Whilst confronting the vampire that killed his mother, Lincoln finds himself caught up in a stampede of horses. As the vampire races off, gleefully dancing atop the animals, Lincoln unsheathes his trusty axe and tries to give chase – it looks as ridiculous as it sounds, both the concept and use of CGI are bloody disgraceful. If anything, one should take from this scene, it’s the obvious statement that if you throw a horse at Abraham Lincoln, he will catch the beast and then ride it. RIDE THE FUCKING HORSE! RIDE IT BEFORE LEAPING FROM STALLION TO MARE! DODGING STEEDS AND THROWING PUNCHES! FUCK YEAH! GO ABE! END SLAVERY AND UNITE THE NATION! WHOO! A HOUSE DIVIDED CANNOT STAND.. ON VAMPIRE BLOOD, MOTHER FUCKER! I FUCKIN’ LOVE HISTORY! …idiots
Curiously enough, no one seemed to inform Mary Elizabeth Winstead that she was in a daft, nonsensical film. Subsequently, the straight-faced earnestness she brought to her role only added to the ridiculousness of the entire ordeal.
“I find common-looking men to be the best of men. Isn’t that why God made so many of them?”
In A Few Words:
“Going far beyond silly action and cheesy entertainment, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter happily strides into Van Helsing territory”