Near Dark

Near Dark (1987)
Anchor Bay Entertainment
Cast: Adrian Pasdar, Lance Henriksen, Bill Paxton, Jenette Goldstein
Extras: Commentary Track, Retrospective Documentary, Deleted Scene, Trailers, Storyboards, Galleries, Screenplay, Screen Savers

Released in 1987, Kathryn Bigelow’s "Near Dark" fused two movie mythologies – vampires and cowboys – and created a brooding horror film with faces bathed in dust as well as blood. Fifteen years after its theatrical release, the film reawakens with Anchor Bay Entertainment’s spiffy new two-disc special edition DVD.

Somewhere on a Midwest night, Caleb Colton (Adrian Pasdar) meets the enigmatic Jenny (Jenny Wright) and is immediately smitten. One nibble on his neck later and Caleb enters the strangest clan since the Addamses. While the story never uses the word "vampire," that is exactly what they are. The family — including gaunt leader Jesse (Lance Henriksen), bustier-clad, bottle-blonde matriarch Diamondback (Jenette Goldstein), cocky redneck Severen (Bill Paxton), and wayward child Homer (Joshua Miller) – reluctantly welcome him into the fold. Caleb soon realizes that if he does not "turn" (their term for changing into a vampire), he’ll fast become just another warm, walking blood bank – like the ones they’ve hunted night after night for centuries.

Bigelow, as director and co-writer with Eric Red, really attempted something unique with "Near Dark." On the one hand, we’ve got most of the trappings of a vampire movie – neck bites, mouths dripping with blood, sunlight as destroyer – but they are no cowerings from the crucifix, no welts from holy water or even fangs for that matter. Yet, playing loose with the rules also opens up some major inconsistencies that detract from the narrative logic. (In one scene during a hotel shoot-out, we see one character burnt by a small shaft of sunlight, yet during other moments we see contact and nothing happens). Even with ten gallon hats, twangy accents and a rescue on horseback, the cowboy elements of the story really boil down to that venerable coda of every Western: "a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do."

Despite a parade of beautifully composed shots and a couple of kick ass sequences (including a bar sequence that ranks up there with "The French Connection" and "48 Hours"), the film suffers from erratic pacing. Maybe it’s a product of fifteen years of MTV-style editing and too much channel surfing, but I found myself squirming in my chair a few times, anxious for Caleb to muddle through another moment of indecision or for the annoying Homer to just shut up. He reminded me of the old-but-eternally young Claudia character from "Interview from the Vampire," the only difference being that I wished Homer would disappear within the first five minutes of meeting him. Bigelow and Red want us to admire these vampires, for their sense of family (albeit a twisted one) and their unapologetic embrace of who they are. But even at 94 minutes running time, the film could use some tightening.

The <$THX,THX>-certified 1.85 <$16x9,anamorphic> transfer is excellent. While I remembered more daylight scenes (don’t ask me why), the majority of the film takes place at night (duh!). With so many night scenes, I braced myself for grainy shots with details lost in the darkness. Not so. The image always looked sharp, clear and detailed. Helping matters here is the quality of the source print; I found nary a speckle or glitch in the picture. Colors are solid and respectful of Adam Greenberg’s cinematography, even if the crimson lip moments don’t exactly recall the saturated reds of the Hammer films. I could not see any digital or compression artifacts, even with the darker shots.

Remixing the original Ultra-Stereo sound, the disc offers 5.1 soundtracks in both <$DD,Dolby Digital> and <$DTS,DTS>. The word best describing the remixes is "appropriate," with good dynamic range, clean playback and surround sound activity when the scene calls for it, rather than simply pumping up the rear channels to justify the increased number of channels. Dialogue for the most part reads loud and clear, except for a few instances with lots of sound effects. In that respect, the DTS track gets a slight nod over the Dolby Digital version. LFE moments are also sparse, but effective.

The special edition aspect starts on the first disc with an <$commentary,audio commentary> by director Bigelow. While it may be feature-length, by no means is it wall-to-wall talk. At first, she appears too measured in explicating technical details or narrative concepts, with big gaps in-between the comments. Then I got the rhythm: her remarks briefly interject a tangent and then she lets the scene finish the thought. She ruminates on behind the scenes trivia about location and shooting difficulties as well as showing how certain scenes played against genre convention.

Disc two houses the bulk of the extras. The centerpiece of the supplements is a newly produced retrospective documentary. Clocking in at 47 minutes, "Living in Darkness" charts the genesis, production and ultimate endurance of the film with generous and humorous anecdotes from director/co-writer Bigelow, stars Goldstein, Henriksen, Pasdar, and Paxton, producers Ed Feldman and Steven-Charles Jaffe and director of photography Adam Greenberg. Comments run the gamut from the concerns of casting the three "Aliens" alumni to look-back observations about the material. Check out Paxton’s comparison of the film’s subversion of the nuclear family to "The Godfather’s." (It makes sense.)

There’s also a single deleted scene. Shot in black and white and presented in <$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen>, the dream sequence involves Jenny and Caleb frolicking in the daylight. The clip has no audio, except for commentary by Bigelow. She explains how it was shot and what the scene represented, but doesn’t say why it was cut. The storyboard section breaks down five scenes with the drawings automatically scrolled against music from the film. Two clean-looking trailers in <$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen> and stereo, a gallery of posters and photos and Anchor Bay’s typically well-written notes, in the talent bios section as well as the insert booklet, round out the goodies.

Revisiting "Near Dark" was fun, but wouldn’t be nearly so if not for Anchor Bay’s typical attention to quality. Whether you’re into Westerns, horror, or 1980s cinema, "Near Dark" fits "neatly" into all those categories.