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Near Dark

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Near Dark
Theatrical release poster
Directed byKathryn Bigelow
Written by
Produced bySteven-Charles Jaffe
CinematographyAdam Greenberg
Edited byHoward E. Smith
Music byTangerine Dream
F/M Entertainment
Distributed byDe Laurentiis Entertainment Group
Release dates
  • September 1987 (1987-09) (TIFF)
  • October 2, 1987 (1987-10-02)
Running time
95 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$5 million[1]
Box office$3.4 million[1]

Near Dark is a 1987 American neo-Western horror film co-written and directed by Kathryn Bigelow (in her solo directorial debut), and starring Adrian Pasdar, Jenny Wright, Bill Paxton, Lance Henriksen and Jenette Goldstein. The plot follows a young man in a small Oklahoma town who becomes involved with a family of nomadic American vampires.

Despite performing poorly at the box office, critic reviews were generally positive. Over the years, the film has gained a cult following.[2][3]


One night, Caleb Colton, a young man in a small town, meets an attractive young drifter named Mae. Just before sunrise, she bites him on the neck and runs off. The rising sun causes Caleb's flesh to smoke and burn. Mae arrives with a group of roaming vampires in an RV and takes him away. The most psychotic of the vampires, Severen, wants to kill Caleb but Mae reveals that she has already turned him. Their charismatic leader, Jesse Hooker, reluctantly agrees to allow Caleb to remain with them for a week to see if he can learn to hunt and gain the group's trust. Caleb is unwilling to kill to feed, which alienates him from the others. To protect him, Mae kills for him and then has him drink from her wrist.

Jesse's group enters a bar and kills the occupants. They set the bar on fire and flee the scene. All except Mae want to kill Caleb after he endangers them by letting the only living occupant escape, but after Caleb endangers himself to help them escape their motel room during a daylight police raid, Jesse and the others are grateful and temporarily mollified. A camaraderie commences, with Caleb asking Jesse how old he is and Jesse responding that he "fought for the South" (during the American Civil War), making him about 150 years old (Severen had earlier suggested he and Jesse started the Great Chicago Fire of 1871).

Meanwhile, Caleb's father has been searching for Jesse's group. A child vampire in the group, Homer, meets Caleb's sister, Sarah, and wants to turn her into his companion, but Caleb objects. While the group argues, Caleb's father arrives and holds them at gunpoint, demanding that Sarah be released. Jesse taunts him into shooting him, then regurgitates the bullet before wrestling the gun away. In the confusion, Sarah opens a door, letting in the sunlight and forcing the vampires back. Burning, Caleb escapes with his family.

Caleb suggests they try giving him a blood transfusion. The transfusion unexpectedly reverses Caleb's transformation. That night, the vampires search for Caleb and Sarah. Mae distracts Caleb by trying to persuade him to return to her while the others kidnap his sister. Caleb discovers the kidnapping and his tires slashed but gives chase on horseback. When the horse shies and throws him, he is confronted by Severen. Caleb commandeers a tractor-trailer and runs Severen over. The injured vampire suddenly appears on the hood of the truck and manages to rip apart the wiring in the engine. Caleb jackknifes the vehicle and jumps out as the truck explodes, killing Severen. Seeking revenge, Jesse and his girlfriend, Diamondback, pursue him but are forced to escape in their car as dawn breaks.

Attempting to save Sarah, Mae breaks out of the back of the car with her. Mae's flesh begins to smoke as she is burned by the sun but she carries Sarah into Caleb's arms, taking refuge under his jacket. Homer attempts to follow, but as he runs he dies from exposure to the sun. Their sunproofing ruined, Jesse and Diamondback also begin to burn. They attempt to run Caleb and Sarah over but fail, dying as the car blows up. Mae awakens later, her burns now healed. She too has been given a transfusion and is cured. Mae says she's afraid, and Caleb pulls her into a hug to comfort her as the film ends.


Near Dark features three actors from Aliens, two of whom (Paxton and Henriksen) had also previously been in The Terminator and the other of whom (Goldstein) would later be in Terminator 2: Judgment Day. However, there is also a much more obscure casting connection between Near Dark and the Terminator movies: Robert Winley, who played a biker in the bar scene in Near Dark, and who had never been in any James Cameron movies at that time, later played the biker whose clothes, boots, and motorcycle are stolen by the T-800 in a very similar bar scene at the beginning of Terminator 2. His characters are identified in the credits as "Patron in bar" for the former movie and "Cigar Biker" for the latter.


Near Dark was part of a resurgence of American vampire films in the 1980s, along with the likes of Fright Night, Once Bitten (both 1985), Vamp (1986), The Lost Boys and The Monster Squad (both 1987).[4] Director and co-writer Kathryn Bigelow wanted to film a Western movie; when she and fellow co-writer Eric Red found financial backing for a Western difficult to obtain, they decided to mix the Western genre with the then more popular vampire genre.[4] The combination of the genres, which Bigelow and Red felt were ripe for revisionist interpretation, had been visited at least twice before on the big screen, with Curse of the Undead (1959) and Billy the Kid Versus Dracula (1966).

Bigelow knew (and later married) director James Cameron, who directed Aliens (1986), a film that shares three cast members (Paxton, Goldstein and Henriksen) with Near Dark. Actor Michael Biehn was offered the role of Jesse Hooker, but he rejected the role because he found the script confusing. Lance Henriksen took over the role.[5] A cinema seen in the background early in the film has Aliens on its marquee and Cameron played the man who "flips off" Severen.


Near Dark
Soundtrack album by
GenreElectronic music
LabelVarèse Sarabande
Tangerine Dream chronology
Three O'Clock High
Near Dark
Shy People

Near Dark is the thirty-second major release and tenth soundtrack album by Tangerine Dream. It was released in 1988.[6]


Near Dark premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) in September 1987.[7]

Box office[edit]

Near Dark was released on October 2, 1987, in 262 theaters, grossing US$635,789 on its opening weekend. In its second week, the film's release widened to 429 screens.[8] Near Dark went on to make $3.4 million, below its $5 million budget.[1]

Bigelow has since attributed the film's lack of box office success to its close proximity to The Lost Boys—which was released two months prior to Near Dark, opening on a comparatively wider 1,542 screens—as well as it being an independent film.[8] She has stated that The Lost Boys was a "vampire movie made by Warner Bros. that had a tremendous amount of muscle behind it, distribution and marketing muscle behind it. And so we were just this little [...] whisper out there."[9]

Critical response[edit]

Part of a late 1980s revival of serious vampire depictions on the big screen, it received mostly positive reviews for its mix of the Western, biker and vampire movie genres.[10] On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, Near Dark holds an 83% approval rating based on 75 critic reviews with an average rating of 7.4/10. The consensus reads: "Near Dark is at once a creepy vampire film, a thrilling western, and a poignant family tale, with humor and scares in abundance."[11]

In her review for The New York Times, Caryn James wrote, "Ms. Bigelow's too-studied compositions – Caleb in silhouette riding a horse toward the camera – clash with her unstudied approach to the characters' looks".[12] Jonathan Rosenbaum of the Chicago Reader was impressed by Bigelow's first foray into big budget films with the "hillbilly vampire" movie, describing it as "beautifully shot".[13] Hal Hinson of The Washington Post said the intermixing of vampire legends, westerns and biker movies has a result that is "both outrageous and poetic; it has extravagant, bloody thrills plus something else – something that comes close to genuine emotion".[14] In his review for The Globe and Mail, Jay Scott wrote, "Bill Paxton as the undead sex symbol – is exceptional, but not exceptional enough to put across the cop-out that concludes the film".[15]

Richard Corliss of Time magazine called Near Dark "weird (and) beautiful" and "the all-time teenage vampire love story".[16][17] Richard Schickel (also of Time) considered the film a clever variant of the vampire film genre.[18] Peter Travers of Rolling Stone concurred, calling it "gory and gorgeous".[19] Alan Jones of Radio Times awarded it four stars out of five, calling it a "1980s horror landmark" and "one of the best vampire movies ever made." Jones described it as a "visually stunning and frightening package, spinning a genuinely scary tale" and highlighted the "stand-out degenerate performances" of Henriksen and Paxton.[20]

It has also been analysed for its queer coding of the vampire characters - specifically Severen.[21]

Home media[edit]

Near Dark was released on VHS in 1988.[9] By 1989, the film was released on LaserDisc by HBO Video.[9] In 2002, Anchor Bay Entertainment released the film on DVD.[9][22] In November 2009, the film was released on Blu-ray by Lionsgate Home Entertainment.[23]

Cancelled remake[edit]

A remake of the film was announced in October 2006 as a co-production between film companies Rogue Pictures and Platinum Dunes, with Samuel Bayer attached to direct.[24][25] In December 2008, Platinum Dunes producer Bradley Fuller stated that the project had been put on hold due to similarities in conception with Twilight (2008), a film which also contained a romance between human and vampire characters.[26]


  1. ^ a b c "Near Dark". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved January 15, 2014.
  2. ^ Tobias, Scott (November 5, 2008). "The New Cult Canon: Near Dark". A.V. Club. Retrieved January 15, 2014.
  3. ^ Mathijs, Ernest; Mendik, Xavier (October 14, 2011). 100 Cult Films. Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 147–. ISBN 978-1-84457-571-8. Shatteringly romantic and tough as nails, Near Dark is the cult film that embodies brilliantly the ambivalence and hybridity that was a trademark of the 1980s.
  4. ^ a b Abbott 2020, p. 6.
  5. ^ What the Hell Happened to Michael Biehn? – Article on the website Lebeau's Le Blog
  6. ^ "Near Dark [Original Motion Picture Soundtrack]". AllMusic. Archived from the original on April 13, 2019. Retrieved May 16, 2019.
  7. ^ Abbott 2020, p. 5.
  8. ^ a b Abbott 2020, p. 7–8.
  9. ^ a b c d Abbott 2020, p. 8.
  10. ^ Newman, Kim (1988). Nightmare Movies: a Critical History of the Horror Film 1968–1988. London: Bloomsbury. p. 36. ISBN 0-7475-0295-1.
  11. ^ "Near Dark (1987)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved December 23, 2023.
  12. ^ James, Caryn (October 4, 1987). "Near Dark, a Tale of Vampires on the Road". The New York Times. Retrieved September 30, 2008.
  13. ^ Rosenbaum, Jonathan. "Near Dark". Chicago Reader. Retrieved February 4, 2009.
  14. ^ Hinson, Hal (May 5, 1988). "'Near Dark' (R)". The Washington Post. Retrieved February 4, 2009.
  15. ^ Scott, Jay (October 2, 1987). "Vampire myth spawns new terrors in seductive demons of Near Dark". The Globe and Mail.
  16. ^ Corliss, Richard (July 22, 1991). "Cinema: Board Stiff". Time. Archived from the original on November 22, 2010. Retrieved February 4, 2009.
  17. ^ "The Hurt Locker: A Near-Perfect War Film". Time. September 4, 2008. Archived from the original on September 6, 2008.
  18. ^ Schickel, Richard; Elizabeth L. Bland; Mayo Mohs (October 14, 1991). "Hollywood's New Directions". Time. Archived from the original on November 22, 2010. Retrieved February 4, 2009.
  19. ^ Travers, Peter (October 17, 2002). "Near Dark". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on May 27, 2008. Retrieved February 4, 2009.
  20. ^ Jones, Alan. "Near Dark". Radio Times. Retrieved December 4, 2021.
  21. ^ Year Of The Vampire: Near Dark Is A Western Horror That Reworks The Captivity Narrative|/Film
  22. ^ Bovberg, Jason (September 20, 2002). "Near Dark". DVD Talk. Retrieved September 19, 2023.
  23. ^ Melton, J. Gordon (2010). The Vampire Book: The Encyclopedia of the Undead. Visible Ink Press. p. 489. ISBN 978-1-57859-281-4.
  24. ^ Fleming, Michael (October 5, 2006). "Dunes digs up rich Rogue deal". variety.com. Retrieved April 4, 2016.
  25. ^ Weinberg, Scott (April 7, 2006). "Near Dark Remake ... Nears". Cinematical. Retrieved February 13, 2009.[permanent dead link]
  26. ^ Hewitt, Chris (December 12, 2008). "Near Dark Remake Is Off". Empire. Archived from the original on October 11, 2015. Retrieved January 15, 2014.


Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]