June 25, 2012

THE SHOWBUZZDAILY REVIEW: “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter”

ABRAHAM LINCOLN:  VAMPIRE HUNTER – Not Even For Free – An Unconstitutional Offense Against Moviegoers


Honestly:  how is a movie called ABRAHAM LINCOLN:  VAMPIRE HUNTER not a comedy?  It’s as if Woody Allen had given the title Bananas to his film Interiors–it makes no sense.  And yet, Timur Bekmambetov’s picture, and presumably the source novel by Seth Grahame-Smith (he also wrote the script) is deadly serious, twisting American history to hit routinely idiotic horror movie cliches.  One can imagine a movie with this title that could be subversive, even politically satiric fun, but this is just another dumb genre item–except more pompous than most.

In the movie’s mythology, Honest Abe’s mother was murdered by the vamp plantation owner Jack Barts (Martin Csokas) before his eyes when he was a child.  She had been trying to rescue a slave. because the story posits that slaveowners were all vampires whose slaves were human property raised and slaughtered for food.  (Since the vampires have huge appetites, It’s not clear who was raising the cotton.)  Abe nurtures his desire for revenge while he’s growing up, and once an adult (Benjamin Walker) he’s prepared to shed blood for blood.  At that point he’s approached by Henry Sturgess (Dominic Cooper), who says he can teach Abe how to hunt down and kill vampires, and who, it’s obvious to everyone but Lincoln (presumably because dumb horror movies don’t yet exist for him to have seen any), is himself a vampire–you can tell because only vampires wear sunglasses in the 19th century.  Henry is the now-requisite Good Vampire, who only eats evil people.  But he needs Abe, because another piece of the mythology here is that vampires can’t kill each other–when they try, their hands stop as though they’re fanged mimes who’ve reached the limits of their invisible boxes.

Abe starts doing away with vampires, which eventually rouses the attention of that other cliched figure:  the Ancient All-Powerful Vampire, here Adam (Rufus Sewell).  As Lincoln becomes a lawyer and then a politician, Adam decides to launch the Civil War to protect the rights of Southern vampires, and Abe himself, with the help of that rescued slave, now his best friend, Will (Anthony Mackie) and buddy Joshua (Jimmi Simpson), as well as the spunky Mary Todd Lincoln (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), has to personally stake them or blow them away.

Let’s not even concern ourselves with how little sense this makes, either within or outside the context of actual American history (the connections to real life are pretty much limited to bit part appearances that are supposed to make history buffs say “Look, it’s Stephen Douglas/Jefferson Davis/Harriet Tubman!”).  The point is that even as a dumb horror movie, Abe Vamp Hunter is lousy.  Bekmambetov (who made his own vampire pictures Night Watch and Day Watch in Russia, as well as the hit Wanted), directs with his foot heavy on the Matrix slow-mo pedal, a mode of filming action sequences that now seems as quaint as the tinkling piano music accompanying silent movies.  The picture lurches through the years with little sense or continuity, and a typical episode of True Blood is scarier.  Although Tim Burton is credited as producer, none of the movie’s visuals have his trademark flair.  And because the budget was a relatively limited $70M, the CG money seems to have been conserved for the big finale on a flaming bridge and a few nice shots of Washington DC under construction–other special effects sequences, like a battle in the midst of a horse stampede, look awful and cheap, with the actors’ harnesses all but visible.

Benjamin Walker was acclaimed for his stage performance in the musical Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, but there’s no sign of that reputed magnetism here.  Walker doesn’t move like an action star, and there’s certainly nothing Lincolnesque about him.  Sewell and Cooper act with their British Accented Horror Movie kits.  Only Winstead brings a bit of energy to her early flirtatious scenes as Mary Todd Lincoln, but soon enough she’s blowing away vampires too.

Abraham Lincoln:  Vampire Hunter isn’t worth getting angry about–it’s just another shoddy horror movie.  One only wishes that if great men of history are to be appropriated for pop fiction, it would be in the service of something actually worth seeing.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."