Vampire what? What the heck does Abraham Lincoln have to do with the recent spate of vampire movies, and are there any sparkly boy vampires in the film? Okay, so odds are pretty good that the new film ‘Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter’ isn’t historically accurate – though I often wondered about those Southern slave owners – but, accurate or not, it’s a really fun horror film in the vein of ‘Dylan Dog’, a type of movie that we see too infrequently with the current zeal for either teen romance -gak- or heavy horror that takes itself too bloody seriously. Um, pun intended.
Abe is played by the tall, dashing Benjamin Walker as an earnest young man who is motivated by an incident from his childhood: revenge on the vampire Jack Barts (Marton Csokas) for killing his mother after young Abe rushes a dockhand who is beating his friend, slave’s son Will (played as an adult by Anthony Mackie). Abe ends up beaten too, until his father Tom (Joseph Mawle) intervenes, just to have Barts swear his revenge. Abe’s mother (Robin McLeavy) has the pithy motivational quote of the film – “until everyone is free, we are all slaves” – and then is killed as Barts exacts his evil revenge.
Years later, Abe is ready to exact his own revenge and is befriended by the mysterious and charismatic Henry Sturgess (Dominic Cooper), who insists he can teach Abe how to become a vampire hunter if Abe will put aside his feud with Barts and do Henry’s bidding. Abe agrees and in an entertaining sequence, learns how to channel his own anger to first cut down a tree with a single blow then become rather a ninja with his weapon of choice: an axe. Who knew President Lincoln was a ninja?
Lincoln moves to Springfield, Missouri to kill some of the vampires entrenched in that town and while there meets the lovely Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who is dating Stephan Douglas (Alan Tudyk) but, of course, falls for the lanky, mysterious Abe. Lincoln is a shop clerk by day, working for the amusing entrepreneur Speed (Jimmi Simpson) while studying to become a lawyer, and a vampire hunter by night, having all sorts of visual effects-enhanced battles with perfectly normal citizens of the burg who turn out to be, well, scary, ugly vampires. Abe wins. Go get ‘em, boy!
Things in the nation heat up with southern slave owners fighting the free north and it shapes up that the entire American Civil War was actually a battle between vampire southerners and non-vampire northerners. I kinda figure that’s not going to play too well in Alabama, Mississippi and the other hardcore Confederate states somehow, but it might be historically accurate. A little bit. Maybe.
More seriously, what I really enjoyed about ‘Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter’ was the witty use of historical figures – like Harriet Tubman (Jaqueline Fleming) and her underground railroad and Confederate leader Jefferson Davis (John Rothman) – to weave together a story of love and revenge, a story of a man taught a skill that comes to haunt him by a man who, far from being a savior, has his own dark secrets and motivations. Even to the very last scene, it’s a witty and engaging reimagining of a profound period in American history and a towering figure of a man, one of the best and strongest presidents the country has ever had, and a vampire film from the era when vampires were fast, cunning, and scary.
Go, enjoy, and don’t blame me when you want to reconsider why Lincoln was so set on his emancipation proclamation.