When I first heard that a film was being made with the title Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, my first reaction was that of extreme excitement, largely due to the ridiculousness of the title.
That was soon followed though by the realisation that movies with titles like this rarely live up to their poster (see much of Troma’s back catalogue and any number of grindhouse movies for proof) and that, since Night Watch, Timur Bekmambetov hadn’t really lived up to expectations either.
So it was with a sense of hope, but not much more, that I headed into the cinema.
With an opening quote from the bible and a very cheesy opening scene of Lincoln as a child trying to rescue a slave family my hopes continued to be a bit low, however soon this was to change.
Once we had left child Lincoln, to be replaced by Benjamin Walker’s twenty-something Abe, things suddenly turned up a gear as he headed out to avenge his mother’s death and ran into vampires along the way.
Two things really provide highlights for me in this movie; first is the fact that rather than being ‘The Young Abe Lincoln Chronicles’ it actually follows his life through the Civil War and his presidency, all with the backdrop of vampire hunting, which struck me as a brave move as it tried to weave real events into the plot.
Secondly is the action scenes; using slo-mo and gravity defying CGI to enhance the action in brilliant ways, it backs up the whole over blown tone of the movie to create something very close to being a comic book on-screen. A highlight of this was the climactic train based sequence that felt like a much higher quality, steampunk, version of Jean-Claude Van Damme’s Derailed.
My only criticism of the action scenes is that there were points where the 3D intent of them was a bit over powering and actually distanced me from them (in the way that 3D can do) even though I was watching in 2D, this was a particularly odd experience, but generally soon left me as some other ridiculous happening took place.
Once the credits rolled and I saw Tim Burton’s name crop up the production design suddenly made a lot more sense as it had his finger prints all over it, and I could easily see Burton having cast Johnny Depp as Lincoln had Burton directed, which, in this case, thankfully he didn’t.
I think it is in this involvement of Burton, combined with the stylistic flair, and vampire action nouse, of Bekmambetov, that is the cause of this films surprising level of success. The two styles merge excellently to create something a bit left of centre but at the same time straightforward enough to be great entertainment, and it even has a bit of a message to it (albeit one we’ve heard many times before and that isn’t really fully explored).
In the end Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is, as the title suggests, a wildly silly movie but it delivers in such a way as to live up to its b-movie style title with some suitably knowing performances and great straight-faced action which combines to create what could easily be a truly enjoyable guilty pleasure of a movie – if only all movies with excellent titles could live up to this… Robert Rodriguez the challenge has now been made, lets see what you can do with Machete Kills!