Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter – Review


A bloody good time

In 2009, Seth Grahame-Smith entertained the literary world by publishing Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, a mash-up of Jane Austen’s classic love story and horror. The result was crowd-pleasing, as he successfully and believably incorporated zombies into the well-known lives of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy. Grahame-Smith then published his second mash-up, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, which adds vampires into enough historical fact to make it completely believable that Honest Abe really did hunt vampires with an axe.

The film begins with a young Abraham witnessing his father being bullied by a man collecting a debt; an ordeal that includes his best friend, who just happens to be African American, Will Johnson being whipped. That night, young Abraham is reading in his loft while a man stealths into his family’s home and bites his mother. The real Nancy Hanks Lincoln passed away of milk sickness when Abraham was nine years old, who knows if the cause of her death really was from the bite of a vampire.

The death of his mother becomes the source of vengeance in Abraham (Benjamin Walker), and when he is in his early twenties, he believes he is old enough to find and kill his mother’s attacker. Abraham meets a mysterious man named Henry Sturgess (Dominic Cooper) who trains him on how to destroy – not kill – vampires. “You cannot kill that what is already dead.”

So Abe begins working a day job at a general store while hunting vampires at night; and breaking his promise of solitude to Henry by courting the lovely Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). Abe attends law school and runs for office, all while trying to promote his belief that slavery should be illegal. Little does Lincoln know that the Adam the Vampire Maker is a successful plantation owner in New Orleans, who is very much for slavery.

Of course, with Abraham Lincoln being one of the most influential presidents our nation has ever seen, some might be opposed to Grahame-Smith and his tampering with history. It goes without saying that a little suspension of disbelief is required to enjoy Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Once you can do that and not take it too seriously, it’s a fun ride.

Timur Bekmambetov was the perfect choice to direct this crazy romp through distorted history, as he did a very similar project in 2004 with Night Watch and Day Watch follow-up. The film that most Americans will remember him from, however, is 2008’s Wanted starring Angelina Jolie and James McAvoy, that showed off his flair for intense action scenes with an emphasis on slow motion. More of that can be seen in AL:VH, with splattering blood and splintering wood.

The 3-D effects did little more than add depth, and provide distracting reflective glow off of specks of dust. Certain scenes are really cool with that added depth, like a horse-drawn carriage busting through the walls of a plantation, or the nail-biting climactic fight on top of a locomotive.

And those vampires? They’re SCARY. With jaws that overextend, rows of sharp, shark-like teeth, and greyed, sallow skintone. When the first vampire appeared onscreen, the audience jumped and recoiled.

Benjamin Walker is the spitting image of Honest Abe, especially towards the end when he sports the same iconic beard. He also is reminiscent of a young Liam Neeson; and Walker is just as bad ass. He plays the vamp-slaying former president with confidence. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is a joy to see in any movie (why isn’t she a superstar yet?), and her mere presence adds softness to Walker’s character. Her storyline isn’t as prominent as it is in the book, but she does well with the material.

The screenplay feels rushed however, which is a bit odd seeing as Grahame-Smith himself wrote it. Hopefully those who have not read the book will not pick up on this, but judging by its Rotten rating on Rotten Tomatoes, it appears they do.

As a whole, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is just as surprisingly fun and enjoyable as the book was. Bekmanbetov works well with high concept, and the movie probably wouldn’t translate well with someone else behind the camera. Scenes of the Civil War where the South increased their army with vampires in order to win the Battle of Gettysburg are historically outlandish but WORK within this premise, and the scenes are made completely riveting. As a huge fan of the book, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter was the summer movie that I was personally most looking forward to, and it delivered.

Director: Timur Bekmambetov
Notable Cast: Benjamin Walker, Dominic Cooper, Anthony Mackie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Rufus Sewell, Marton Csokas, Jimmi Simpson
Writer: Seth Grahame-Smith, based on his novel

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