I’m not really sure if I would describe Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter as a good movie or a so-bad-its-good movie, but to be honest I don’t really care.
We’re talking about a movie where the man who abolished slavery as has no problem dabbling in a little kung-fu with an axe while fighting vampires who are throwing horses at him (for the record, Lincoln is unphased by the horses and the battle continues while you search for a change of underwear). Is the movie also cheesy, garbled, and absurd? Well…yeah, but while Lincoln is whipping a silver axe around his head like he’s in The Matrix and fighting off an army of vampires on a train flying along a giant wooden bridge that’s on fucking fire, you won’t really be thinking about that sort of thing. To be honest, if the movie works for you, you won’t be thinking about much at all. This is kind of balls-to-the-wall redonkulous B-movie that will make genre fans revert back to their awkward and socially stunted adolescent mindset where movies fell into the distinct categories of “cool” and “lame.” This is one of the “cool” ones, provided of course that you don’t mind it being a little stupid as well.
Adapted from a novel by Seth Grahame-Smith (a follow up to his best-selling Jane Austen/zombie mash-up Pride And Prejudice And Zombies) Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter finally uncovers repressed truths to tell the secret tale of honest Abe’s early days killing vampires before becoming a politician and also how those pesky bloodsuckers returned just in time for a little battle in Gettysburg. Getting into specifics about the “plot” is pointless since it’s just as absurd to describe as it is to watch and would probably make even less sense when condensed to a summary than when stretched to 105 hilarious n’ ridiculous minutes. However, I’m happy to report that the flick is a hell of a lot more fun than it has any right to be. Not quite a comedy, horror, or action movie Grahame-Smith nimbly mixes all three genres through a deadpan absurdist tone that is unlike anything else. It translates surprisingly well to the big screen where the author’s most unbelievable creations can play out on a larger than life canvas to an audience cheering and giggling in disbelief.
A key decision in the film’s success was bringing in Russian director Timur Bekmambetov who previously played around with vampires in Night Watch and dabbled in surreal Hollywood action in Wanted. Bekmambetov has a gift for baroque visual design and crowd-rousing set pieces and his limited, but specific skill set put to good use here (particularly whenever Lincoln whips out his axe for some delightful vampire slaughtering sprees). The visually-minded director has always struggled in the ways of characterization and storytelling, yet in an odd way those weakness kind of work here. The director obviously made no attempt imposed himself on Grahame-Smith’s screenplay, staying true to the author’s voice and focusing his energies on bringing the action to life.
More importantly, he plays the tale’s inherent humor so straight it’s almost as if he didn’t realize the material was comedic at all. It’s very easy to imgaine a deliberately campy version for this exact script (directed by say executive producer Tim Burton…shudder) that wouldn’t work nearly as well. Winking at the audience and acknowledging the batshit insane nature of the material would quickly become little muggy and irritating. Instead with Bekmambetov never treating the gags as gags (his cast all throw down straight and earnest performances as if they thought they were dropping Oscar clips, even the actors with established comedy chops), the humor is there to be discovered only by knowing viewers. The movie is infinitely funnier because of how seriously everyone takes ridiculous subject matter. It’s almost old fashion in how earnestly the Bekmambetov and co. spin their yarn and whether or not that tonal decision was deliberate is irrelevant. Their film is camp now and the best camp is never ironic anyways.
Simply put, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is an excellent piece of genre cheese with popcorn spilling horror/action sequences, surprisingly understated performances from the cast (thankfully composed of character actors rather than stars), and a sneaky n’ witty streak of humor. The movie is definitely too weird to register blockbuster hit, but it’s also just weird enough to strive for cult recognition after sinking like a stone at the box office. Wacko, weirdo, creative movies like this aren’t supposed to come out during summer blockbuster season and they certainly aren’t supposed to be financed by major studios. If you have the right sick sense of humor and a refined taste for trash movie cheese, this flick is an oddity to be cherished. It’s going to be pretty odd to watch Steven Spielberg and Daniel Day Lewis’ upcoming serious Abraham Lincoln biopic after this. Not that those two major talents need it, but I wish them luck. Every uncreative movie critic in the world is already preparing to kick off their review by asking where the vampires are. I’d like to promise right now that I won’t be one of them.