Sometimes, the critics are just wrong. This week, we’re bringing Timur Bekmambetov’s Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter back from the dead.
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2012)
Director: Timur Bekmambetov
Starring: Benjamin Walker, Dominic Cooper, Anthony Mackie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Rufus Sewell
IMDb rating: 6.0
Metacritic rating: 42
Ignore the title for a moment – I’m going to start by talking about another historical action movie with a qualifying Metascore: The Lone Ranger. You see, in Movie Resurrection, the films have to come with a recommendation. So, while The Lone Ranger was perhaps a little racially naïve, with leads who were either blander than low-carb oatmeal or an inferior re-hash of Jack Sparrow, the fact that the bad guy always seemed to be doing an Orson Welles/Kelsey Grammer impression amused and the action scenes were filled with enough whiz-bang and bluster to make it an enjoyable-enough (if fairly brainless) way to spend a couple of hours in front of the big screen. And only a big screen.
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter has something The Lone Ranger doesn’t: the sheer bizarreness of its premise
The Lone Ranger doesn’t have enough else going for it to make it worthwhile watching at home. It’s neither very good nor very The Room bad, and has little cult appeal, so is likely to be shown on the big screen again only very rarely. Hence, it is impossible to recommend, and thus not suitable for Movie Resurrection. Many think that the above neatly apples to Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, too. And it does if your only interest in the film is for the action, story and characterisation. (I know, stay with me…)
But Abraham Lincoln: Abbreviation Requirer has something The Lone Ranger doesn’t: that something is the sheer bizarreness of its premise, and the way the film handles this. In its tiny summary beneath the Tomatometer, Rotten Tomatoes describes Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter as having “visual style to spare, but its overly serious tone doesn’t jibe with its decidedly silly central premise, leaving filmgoers with an unfulfilling blend of clashing ingredients”. I would argue that said clash works in the film’s favour.
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is extremely silly. Not only does Abraham Lincoln fight vampires, but he fights them with a gun-axe, baton-twirl style, and he can chop trees in half with a single swing. Lincoln’s mother and his son are both killed by vampires. The Confederate army at Gettysburg are all vampires. The ending implies that Obama was a vampire hunter, too. Mary Todd Lincoln is played by Ramona goddamn Flowers. Yet the film’s tone is absolute seriousness, and this is what makes it so engaging – Bekmambetov’s movie is always treading the line between fun absurdity and respect, and it’s fascinating to see if it’s going to fall off.
Part of the fun is the sense of disbelief, an elevated and sustained sense of ‘what am I seeing? What will they do next?’
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter in form and premise is a parody that’s (purposefully) not funny. However, stripping away the comedy allows the movie to cast some of the tropes of parody in a different light. In this case it’s the mashing up of genres – the respectful, dignified historical biopic and the brainless, apolitical action movie – and playing off established-but-never-fixed knowledge of those genres. In a true parody, the aim would be to create humour though incongruity.
Humour is not completely null in the movie, but it comes from axe-twirling Honest Abe battling vampires existing as a concept and from seeing that concept enacted. This is the incongruity theory of humour, that “humour is perceived at the moment of realisation of incongruity between a concept involved in a certain situation and the real objects thought to be in some relation to the concept”. Here, however things are played so straight that humour is only a small part of the effect, second to a sort of disbelief, an elevated and sustained sense of ‘what am I seeing? What will they do next?’
More Movie Resurrection: Rob Zombie’s House of 1000 Corpses
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is very much a one ‘joke’ film, kept fresh by the changing consequences of Lincoln’s life – how his presidency and the dawning of the Civil War are transformed by the fiction of his vampire hunting. The rest of the film is ‘good enough’. The characterisation is ‘good enough’, though characters’ motives are generally vague. The performances are ‘good enough’ to be carried by the action, cinematography and absurdity. The action scenes are strong (including the mandatory 19th century-action-movie-steam train-top fight) and the film has, as Rotten Tomatoes says, visual flair; but in the grand scheme of all cinema, neither are outstanding. They’re good enough.
So far, my Movie Resurrection articles have been based around there being one redeeming feature in a bad movie, which I believe is worth praise and attention (the ending in Repo Men, Society in Gamer). This is the first I’ve written where I wholly, un-ironically enjoyed the film. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is not a masterpiece, but Movie Resurrection isn’t only about finding wrongly shafted gems, but also about drawing attention to basically decent movies that were passed over and forgotten. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter deserves that attention.
More Movie Resurrection: Gus Van Sant’s Psycho remake
All images: 20th Century Fox