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Sunday, July 22, 2012

Day 204: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
Abraham Lincoln: Night Pimp

Ret-conning literature and history is the hip thing right now. Call it a reboot, a reimaging, or an alternate universe, this trend involves taking established characters (or real-life figures) and altering their story to create a new one. I'm not exactly when it became popular, but I first became aware of this concept when Seth Grahame-Smith's book Pride And Prejudice And Zombies came out. I first experienced the concept when I saw Quentin Tarantino's Inglorious Basterds. It's a silly and fun idea, but I'm not a huge fan of it, at least in mainstream entertainment. I love the “What If?” line of comics from Marvel, but that's contained in it's own universe. I'm a little uneasy at the concept of someone taking an established character or saying “Nah, check this out. It's about Albert Einstein, but he is really a crime-fighting sideshow freak with a heart of gold set in a steampunk universe. Sounds insane, right? If the writing is strong enough and the story is entertaining, you could do just about anything.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is a 2012 action horror movie based on the novel of the same name by Seth Grahame-Smith. The film stars Benjamin Walker (Flags Of Our Fathers, The Notorious Betty Paige) as Abraham Lincoln. As a young boy, Abraham sees his friend, a free African-American boy named Will Johnson, being whipped by a white man. Abraham rushes to his aid, but is whipped as well. His father, Thomas, stops the man and is fired from his job with a promise by the owner of the plantation, Jack Barts (Marton Csokas, Lord Of The Rings, xXx) that his debt will be collected one way or the other. That night, Abraham awakens to find his mother being bitten by a vampiric Jack Barts. His mother dies the next day and his father follows nine years later. Now a man, Abraham tries to kill Barts, but is unsuccessful due to a misfiring gun. He is saved by Henry Sturges (Dominic Cooper, Captain America, An Education), who then trains Abraham to fight vampires. After his training, he goes to Springfield, Illinois to kill the town's vampires. He takes up work in a shop while studying to become a lawyer. It is there that he reconnects with his friend Will (Anthony Mackie, The Hurt Locker, Million Dollar Baby) and meets and falls in love with a woman named Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, The Thing). Through Henry, Abraham learns that all vampires in America are descended from a vampire named Adam (Rufus Sewell, A Knight's Tale, The Illusionist), who owns a plantation in New Orleans and has a desire to take over the country. Abraham once again comes across Barts and is able to kill him this time, but not before revealing that Henry is also a vampire. Adam learns of Abraham and kidnaps will to New Orleans in hopes of drawing him out. Abraham kills many vampires, but is stopped by Adam and his enforcer, Vadonna (Erin Wasson). Adam tries to recruit Abraham, but he is able to escape thanks to his friend and employer, Joshua Speed (Jimmi Simpson, Breakout Kings, It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia). Abraham marries Mary and puts down his hatchet to begin his political career, leading all the way to the White House. As the nation tears itself apart through civil war, Abraham's son is bitten and killed by Vadonna. Adam has aligned himself with the Confederacy and the Union is unable to kill them. Will Abraham Lincoln be able to defeat the vampires or will the South destroy the Union, turning the country into a nation of vampires?

"George Washington ain't got nothing on me"

I can't remember the last time I saw a horror-based movie with so much action. Abraham Lincoln:Vampire Hunter is best described as a popcorn flick. The story gets to the point quickly, but still takes the time to establish characters and motivation. Most of that is window dressing as most of the movie is filled with high-octane fight scenes and computerized special effects. There is plenty of action and lots of fun explosions, though certain scenes, such as the train heading scene, that were a bit too fantastical, even for a movie about the 16th U.S. President fighting vampires. It's a bit strange to see Abraham Lincoln twirling a hatchet-gun and throwing roundhouse kicks. That's part of the problem with ret-conning characters, especially historical figures. We know how Abraham Lincoln's story ends, and if you step back and think about it, there is no real danger to him. Of course, this could have went the way of Inglorious Basterds and given the middle finger to history in order to create a different story, but that wasn't the case.

As a fan of U.S. History, I felt a bit conflicted while watching the movie. I got a kick out historical references such as a spot-on Jefferson Davis teaming up with the vampires to take down the Union and Abraham Lincoln's ill son, William. At the same time, the movie skips over, ignores, or replaces history to suit it's purpose which is irksome at times. Benjamin Walker is god as a young, awkward Lincoln and plays an action star well. He's not quite as good as the older, Presidential Lincoln, which requires an air of stateliness and raw emotion. Lincoln is the Great Emancipator, but was still treated as an action star. The supporting cast is very good which helps create a fuller experience. The computerized vampire faces look good and more terrifying than your average vampire. I am a traditionalist when it comes to my classic monsters and wasn't happy that the vampires in the movie can walk about in the daylight. We see Henry put on sunscreen but it takes too much suspension of disbelief to think that all vampires do and that it doesn't run in the Southern heat. I've learned to accept fast zombies, but vampires in the day still doesn't work. 


Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is a strange concept for a novel and a movie, but it is still entertaining. The action sequences come at your quickly and can be a bit much at times, but they are well choreographed and have a decent amount of blood for a summer blockbuster-style movie. The historical references are fun to catch if you know your U.S. History and I would have actually liked to see more. It does take some effort to ignore the actual historical facts and a lot of suspension of disbelief to enjoy some of the action scenes. The vampires look good, but I wasn't happy to see them walking around in sunlight. The acting is good, but Benjamin Walker didn't play an older Lincoln the way he should have. The special effects are good, but I feel like they relied on them too much instead of good storytelling. Ultimately, it's a fun movie with a few flaws that doesn't require much thinking. I am still wary of historical figures and characters being thrown into horror situations because it comes off as being lazy and cashing-in on someone else's work. Only time will tell if we will see William Taft: Luchador Wrestler.


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