In Defence Of… Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

It’s been a while since Damon Carter stepped up to the plate and attempted to defend the indefensible, but alas he’s back, with a topical look at one of last year’s most derided cinematic experiences.

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With Steven Spielberg’s Oscar nominated juggernaut Lincoln released in cinemas it seems appropriate to cast our minds back to last summer to a film that appeared in many critics worst films of 2012 list. 

Abraham Lincoln has become more than just a man and is now firmly ensconced into the category of American legend. In fictional terms he has had his more than fair share of interpretations. So to find an interpretation where President Lincoln found time around his draft of Emancipation Proclamation to do battle with armies of vampires is certainly one of the more outlandish interpretations.

Based on the source novel by Seth Grahame-Smith, Timur Bekmambetov’s screen adaptation is a vampire action adventure starring Benjamin Walker in the lead role and supported ably by Dominic Cooper, Rufus Sewell and Mary Elizabeth-Winstead as Mary Todd. It is directed with a confidence by Bekmambetov who needs to cut out on his slow mo love and concentrate on his strength scary scenes, especially in the opening fifteen minutes with a key scene from Lincoln’s childhood. As Lincoln has revenge on his mind he stumbles across a new race called vampires and with the help of Henry Sturges they set about wiping out vampires whilst Lincoln has his eye on slavery and polishing his awe wielding skills. Ludicrous set pieces (the horse stampede being a particularly memorable one and one of the most spectacular train chase crash scenes ever), ludicrous make up (how on earth does somebody’s chin grow so drastically as they get older) and the ludicrous possibility that theoretically this could have all happened. The key to whether a viewer will like this film can be summed up simply with the word “comedy”.

ALVH-217 - Abraham Lincoln (Benjamin Walker) and his vampire-battling mentor Henry Sturgis (Dominic Cooper) plan their next move during a fateful battle with the undead.

Imagine you’re in the queue at the cinema and you’re unsure what to watch, you glance over to the poster and see the poster for a film entitled Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, if it doesn’t evoke at least a titter from your diaphragm then you’re simply not human. It’s also not the coolest film to request a ticket for. In essence you would be safe to assume that a silly comedy was on the horizon. This isn’t entirely the case.

Much of the mud that was slung at this film was to do with the tone and specific criticism at Bekmambetov for playing the film entirely straight. It seems expectation is something that’s hard to get away from when you have a title that memorable. Here’s the thing, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is a comedy. Comedy is a fascinating element and doesn’t always travel very well through different languages and cultures. Could the Kazakh director be having a big laugh with us? Well, no apparently “This is a serious and exciting action movie” he was quoted in a wondercon 2012 interview. Well here’s the reason why it’s a comedy; I couldn’t stop laughing throughout.

There is a joy in watching a film that is stony faced in presentation that never mutters a silly line for the audience. There is also the crazy notion that bar the ridiculous plot you find yourself wondering if this was possible for one of the greatest American presidents to be as nifty with an axe as he is with words. It brought to mind Bubba Ho Tep where another American icon’s past is mashed up for the sake of a good romp across a cinema screen and a sly “could’ve happened” attitude embedded into the cinema screen.

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It is as silly an addition as you will find to the superhero genre and deserves to be enjoyed as such. Comedy doesn’t always have to be through actions and dialogue. There is the very real possibility that purely through what is in the frame can make us laugh. American Legend vs. fictional horror legend. This could easily be Ronald Reagan: Zombie Collector or Al Capone: Werewolf Fighter. Well, you get the idea.

Had we have had a tone of playful winks to the audience from Ben Walker, then the sheer craziness of seeing Abraham Lincoln spin in the air and wipe out vampires neatly with an axe would have lost impact. It is without doubt that this title doesn’t help an audience who all want different things from their comedy. Watch it expecting a Zucker-like experience and you will undoubtedly be disappointed. But watch it with comedy in mind and the jokes aren’t too hard to see.

Damon can be found on Twitter – @dimski

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