While stuck in school on a beautiful day, Bart Simpson once started daydreaming about rafting down the Mississippi River with Huckleberry Finn. Turning his head, he suddenly noticed Abraham Lincoln on the raft with them.
"Hey Huck, what's L-I-N-C-O-N doing here?" asked Bart, to which Finn naturally responded "I dunno, it's your fantasy."
Indeed, Bart was free to remake Lincoln however he wanted, and he wasn't the first person to do so. Since his assassination in a Washington D.C. theatre in 1865, Lincoln has been alternately remade into a hero and a villain. Many people either see him as the man who singlehandedly freed the slaves or the man who cruelly burned the Southern states back into the Stone Age.
In Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter, Lincoln is remade once again - this time as a revenge-seeking, axe-wielding destroyer of the undead. Based on the novel of the same name by Seth Grahame-Smith (Pride, Prejudice and Zombies), it's exactly as the title suggests (unlike Naked Lunch, as Bart Simpson finds out).
In this version of history, the United States is still being torn apart by the evils of slavery, but the slave-owners are actually vampires who use the slaves for food. Young Lincoln initially starts hunting them for revenge, but his motivation changes to a passion for social justice. He stops hunting, turns to politics and becomes President. There, he gets bogged down directing a bloody and seemingly futile civil war against the vampire-infested South. The war eventually turns his way after Lincoln dusts off his silver axe for one more scrap with the Nosferatu.
Although I'm sure I'm swimming upstream, I really enjoyed the movie. It was fun, at times sad, and genuinely scary at points. There are plenty of plot holes, but I think the movie understands that the plot is so silly that people who need to have a plot make sense aren't going to like it.
What impressed me the most were the pace and tone of the movie. It would have been easy to get bogged down in the details of vampiric involvement in the stages of Lincoln's political career or the Civil War but instead it moves quickly to a select few important moments in Lincoln's life. The tone of the movie, as best I can describe it, is knowingly silly while pretending to take itself seriously. Amazingly, it stayed consistent from the opening to the end. I was worried that it would spiral into an overly dramatic saga or just become comically absurd, but it never did.
After sitting through previews for "The Watch" and "Gangster Squad", I also found Vampire Hunter refreshing in that I only recognized one actor (Alan Tudyk, who had a relatively minor role). Maybe I'm getting old and cranky, but I feel like I've seen too many movies that try to blow you away with an all-star cast to paper over a so-so product. In this movie, Lincoln is played adeptly by Benjamin Walker who effectively channels the character's wisdom, humour and passion for justice and revenge. Rufus Sewell plays the head vampire (of course there has to be one) and brings a cool, intelligent kind of evil to the story.
Rufus Sewell as Adam, the Vampire in Chief
Some of the people I went to see Vampire Hunter with didn't like it very much. I think my fondness for it has something to do with the fact that I've read a very good biography of Lincoln called Team of Rivals, by Dorothy Kearns Goodwin. Lincoln's real life, like many of his countrymen and countrywomen, was incredibly difficult and tragic. He is an extremely sympathetic figure and he makes a good, if unlikely, template for an action hero. His real life ended when he went to the theatre but now the theatre has brought a surprisingly compelling version of him back to life.