Aliens was wrapping up production and Bigelow had just finished writing her first script with collaborator Eric Red as well as co directed her first feature. At the time she and Eric really wanted to work on a western film but unfortunately they were pretty dead at this point so in order to sell the idea of a western they decided to mix it with the horror genre. The choice? Vampires! But they wouldn’t merely use the gothic tropes of old as they created a more hardened type of creature that would bear resemblance in certain aspects to the vampire but wouldn’t stick to religious aspects of the creature nor would the word vampire ever be uttered in their script. Bigelow would take most of the cast of her then husband’s film Aliens and with the financing of the Dino Delaurentiis Group she would embark on her first solo feature and only horror film!
Caleb Colton is a young cowboy type from Oklahoma who lives on a ranch with his father who is an animal Doctor as they take care of the animals together. One night he goes out in the town meeting up with some friends and sees a beautiful young woman whom he’s never seen in town before and approaches her to see if he can give her a ride anywhere. As they drive along getting to know each other the girl, named Mae, notices it’s close to sun up and desperately begs Caleb to take her home. He begins driving her there but is confused at her worry and laughs it off thinking she’s worried her father will be upset with her. He says he won’t drive anymore unless he at least gets a kiss and Mae begins to passionately kiss him. In the heat of the moment though she bites into his neck drawing blood and freaks Caleb out who dizzyingly jumps out of the car and begins walking home. The sun is up and he is smoking and looking very sick. His father and sister are outside taking care of the horses as they see him barely walking toward the ranch and as he gets close an RV with covered windows pulls up and kidnaps him. Once inside he sees several dirty and mean looking people of varying ages. Among them is Mae. Severen the cowboy hot head of the group wants to kill Caleb and be done with it but Mae protects him saying it’s too late that the bite has stuck and he’s already turned. The leader Jesse states they’ll keep him for now but he has to make his first kill to become one of them and feed. As the group of killers feasts on people’s blood every night Caleb refuses to kill and is in turn very ill due to not feeding, forcing Mae to kill and feed so Caleb can suck the blood from her arm. This does not sit well with the others and eventually gets them in trouble when Caleb refuses to kill someone whose witnessed their feeding. On the run from the police and Caleb’s father and sister the group fights to survive with their supernatural powers and guns trying to make Caleb one of them.
The movie starts off with a strange late night romance with Caleb and Mae. She keeps talking about the sounds of the night and how deafening it is if you just listen to them. It’s a nice little set up of how strange Mae is and that’s what initially attracts Caleb to her because he wants someone different. As the movie goes on you get the idea that he was an intended kill but he himself was a spark of romance to Mae and the oncoming sunrise ruined any plans of eating as well. Once he’s bit, the movie descends into a bit of madness as the rest of the film Adrian Pasdar’s performance of Caleb is reminiscent to a junkie who needs a fix. Constantly sweating and unable to fully comprehend things or formulate complex thoughts which gives a new light to the idea of vampirism especially of one who is reluctant to partake in the rituals of his own survival. The budding romance between Mae and Caleb do ground and calm the movie at times but is also a tragic love as Mae has come to terms with what she is while Caleb can’t kill forcing Mae to constantly feed his addiction of blood with her own. It’s such a strange new way to play it, Mae has easily embraced being a cold blooded killer and she seems to have no remorse while Caleb is physically ill at the thought of it but also ill without the blood. You shouldn’t feel for Mae but do a little bit in that her lover has become a sort of leech on her.
The greatest thing about this movie is its ensemble of vampires. Bill Paxton who played Hicks in Aliens and countless other roles plays the sadistic old west vampire Severen. You get the idea he was truly around in the old west and had been in plenty of gunfights as his marksmanship is excellent and his quick draw an extension of his arm. He gleefully murders people with one liners such as, “Howdy. I’m gonna separate your head from your shoulders. Hope you don’t mind none!” Then of course we have the always epic most badass marine of all time, Vazquez aka Jeanette Goldstein as Diamondback. She’s a fifties type of girl who wants too look extravagant and does her best with what little she has living out of cars constantly on the road taking up anything she can get. Then we get one of my favorites and possibly the most messed up of the bunch Homer. Homer is hundreds of years old and the oldest of the bunch but is trapped inside the body of a ten year old forever. Having the knowledge and life he’s led he still has the urges of a child and it’s kind of twisted his world view into a very depressing and angry one using his demeanor of childlike innocence to take what he wants and often acts like a child when they are killing, dancing around in chaos and hanging off of things laughing at destruction. The creepiest thing ever though is he is completely infatuated with Caleb’s little sister whom he wants to turn to make her his mate. Physically he is her age but he is far older than any of the vampires and the lengths he goes to have her are insanely creepy. He’s played by Joshua John Miller from other cult classics as Halloween III and Teen Witch but has also gone into writing having penned the script for the excellence that is The Final Girls! Finally we have the leader Jesse played by genre veteran and favorite Lance Henrickson. He is notorious for burying himself in a role, bringing in personal items to dress the character as well as creating back stories for him. All the cast had their own back stories from where they were from when they were but the most interesting was Lance’s that’s never said in the movie. Caleb asks Jesse how old he is and in one line we understand the character as he states, “Let’s just say I fought for the South…we lost.” In that line Henrickson builds the costume sewing a confederate flag on the inside of his jacket and missed many meals to make himself bony and gave himself nail extensions and broke them off his fingers a bit to give himself these claws that seemed to look like the bones of his fingers were protruding out. His story though was that he had been in the confederate navy and in a terrible bloody battle his ship had been washed away to an island inhabited by some sort of Harpy’s that feasted on the blood of his fallen comrades. With his rib cage burst open and hanging on for dear life smashed against the rocks, one of the Harpy’s saw him and took pity biting him but not draining him so he would turn. Jesse is the perfect leader for this group of gunslingers and Lance gave him the perfect look and feel of a leader who had survived it all.
The shootouts and massacres in the movie are super suspenseful as especially Severen likes to play with his victims. In one scene in particular they walk into a bar and he begins spilling the drinks of one of the patrons and smack talks him. Eventually the patron is mad enough to fight and he throws weak Caleb in front of him as he gets Caleb beat by the man he’s angered laughing hysterically. Homer hangs off a table like a little kid while Jesse takes a glass from a waitress and begins flirting with her, his arms around her not letting her go while Diamondback comes from behind and slashes her throat! In a quick turn Jesse drains the blood from her throat into the glass and gives it to Homer and Mae as he blocks the exits. The bartender then pulls out a shotgun shooting Caleb which hurts but does not kill and the entire bar goes silent in fear as Severen jumps up on the bar smiling crushing glasses as he walks and finally slices the throat of the bartender several times with his Spurs! As for the shootouts there are several but one I love is when the cops surround a hotel they are staying in during the day and the vampires are forced to shoot it out with cops, only the bullets don’t hurt them. What they worry about are the holes of light that hit them like bullets and sometimes cause them to catch ablaze! The ending of the film plays out just like a western showdown to the point where Caleb even rides in on a horse to meet the vampires and fight them. It’s a pretty epic and gory match especially between Severen and Caleb as Severen is physically decimated but still keeps coming at Caleb.
Bigelow directs the movie really well and even some of the more sappy romantic elements come off pretty endearing and are original enough to hold their own and make you care about Mae’s and Caleb’s relationship. The shoot outs are pretty epic and the way they handle the vampires in the sunlight are very cool. The greatest contribution though to the genre I think with this film is that to my knowledge it’s the only vampire movie to utilize a true cure that is actually pretty smart. This movie has a lot going for it and I would love to see Bigelow and Red tackle another genre film because if anything over the years she’s proven her knack for character has only grown better and better!
5 More Day’s til’ Halloween! Halloween!
5 More Day’s til’ Halloween! Silver Shamrock!