The ’80s Dark Vampire Crime Thriller Everyone Needs To See

By Charlene Badasie | Published

near dark

The 1987 neo-Western horror film Near Dark is available to stream via The Criterion Channel. Directed by Kathryn Bigelow, the film blends elements of the vampire genre with a gritty Western setting. It stars Adrian Pasdar, Jenny Wright, Bill Paxton, Lance Henriksen, and Jenette Goldstein. Set in a small Oklahoma town, the story follows a young man who crosses paths with a family of vampires.

Near Dark Streaming On The Criterion Channel

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Near Dark begins when Caleb Colton (Adrian Pasdar) is unknowingly turned into a vampire after meeting a mysterious girl named Mae (Jenny Wright). Mae is part of a nomadic vampire gang traveling in an RV and later saves Caleb from the deadly sunlight. The group, led by the charismatic Jesse Hooker (Lance Henriksen), includes the unhinged Severen (Bill Paxton), among others.

At Mae’s insistence, Jesse agrees to let Caleb stay with them for a week, testing his ability to adapt to their nocturnal lifestyle. But Caleb’s struggle with his newfound vampiric nature becomes evident as he refuses to kill, creating a rift with the group. To protect him, Mae hunts for him so that he is able to feed on her blood instead.

Although Caleb is reluctant to embrace the violent nature of his companions in Near Dark, his selfless actions during a daylight police raid earn him a reprieve from their growing anger. The dynamics intensify when Caleb’s sister, Sarah (Marcie Leeds), becomes entangled with Homer (Joshua John Miller), a child vampire within the group.

Near Dark’s Reception

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Near Dark had a limited theatrical release and did not perform well at the box office, earning $3.4 million against a budget of $5 million. Despite its financial disappointment, the film was praised for its unique take on the vampire genre. The performances, especially by Bill Paxton as Severen, were widely appreciated.

The film currently holds an 83 percent critics score on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes. The audience rating is equally impressive at 74 percent. 

A Cult Classic That Had Everything Working Against It

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Near Dark has become a cult classic in the vampire genre in the years since its release. It is especially interesting since Kathryn Bigelow originally intended the film to be a Western only. Vampire elements were added to make it more marketable.

A Vampire Movie Without Vampires?

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Moreover, the word “vampire” is never used in Near Dark, and traditional vampire rules, such as aversion to sunlight and wooden stakes, are not strictly adhered to. The film’s score was composed by electronic music group Tangerine Dream. The soundtrack contributes to the movie’s atmospheric and moody tone.

Losing To The Lost Boys

Bigelow also attributed the film’s underwhelming box office performance to its unfortunate timing in relation to the release of The Lost Boys. The latter was released just two months before Near Dark and enjoyed a wider release on 1,542 screens. The Lost Boys also had the financial backing of Warner Bros., providing robust distribution and marketing support.

By contrast, Near Dark struggled as an independent film. Bigelow (at the time of its release) acknowledged the challenges of being a small presence in the shadow of a vampire movie with considerable industry support, describing her film as a “little whisper.” Her film still had a few unique plot points which include a cure for vampirism.