When contemplating Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, the question has to come up — “Didn’t Lincoln do enough? Do we really need to make him a vampire hunter, too?” The answer, of course, is “No, no we don’t.” But since we did, it may as well be good. And on that front, this movie based on Seth Grahame-Smith’s novel (he also wrote the screenplay) delivers. Seriously, I’m almost embarrassed by how much I enjoyed it.
The premise is absurd, obviously, but part of what makes it work is that the film isn’t just a vampire flick with some Civil War flavoring nor is it a historical piece with bonus vampires. I liked the way it melded two worlds that seem entirely incompatible. Clearly in a movie like this, the vampire hunting element is going to get the most play, but I don’t feel like other aspects of Lincoln’s life were particularly shortchanged, all things considered. (Though I’m sure there’s someone just waiting to tell me how very historically inaccurate it is.)
While the tagline — if it was indeed “President by day. Hunter by night,” as IMDB.com proclaims — may make it seem like a few vampire killings were some things Lincoln squeezed in between White House meetings, the movie’s reality is a little different. It begins with Lincoln as a boy witnessing his mother’s righteous indignation over slavery and her death at the hands of a vampire. As a young man, he finds a mentor, Henry, who teaches him how to hunt vampires, who have become very enmeshed in society. He does this for a while and gets his revenge, but the call of injustice is too loud to ignore, and he eventually puts away his silver-coated ax to run for office. It’s only after becoming president, and long after leaving the hunter’s life behind, that his past catches up with him.
So, the story ended up being better than I could have imagined, but the movie was also very aesthetically pleasing — and not just for the wealth of pretty people in it. The costuming and sets, two things I’m not usually one to take particular notice of, were beautiful. The action was very stylized, but not unsettlingly so — and in some cases really gave credence to the idea that good movie violence has more to do with dance than death (though there was plenty of bloody death, too). And for those fight scenes that were a little too unreasonable (Lincoln leaping from horse to horse during a stampede, I’m looking at you), a great score picked up the slack.
I was also pretty fond of its take on vampires. They don’t sparkle, but they have “adapted” to sunlight. Sure, maybe that’s not the most terrifying bit of vampire mythology to latch on to, but it does bring the threat out of the shadows from time to time — and they can disappear when needed, so there’s that. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter also doesn’t waste time with wooden stakes, crosses, holy water or the like. Instead, it’s actually pretty old-school, relying on judicious and creative uses of silver (an homage to Judas and his 30 pieces).
There were some stumbles, though. While it’s bizarrely easy to accept this fictionalized version of Lincoln that kind of runs mostly parallel to the actual man, it did feel grossly inappropriate to attribute the death of Lincoln’s young son to a vampire’s revenge and mildly inappropriate to have vampires be the driving force that needed pushed back at Gettysburg. The latter can be overcome somewhat with the knowledge that even in the film’s universe, the entire Confederacy wasn’t made of evil vampires. It would have, I think, been a major shortcoming if the film had tried to write off the Civil War as a war between the human North and the undead South with some slavery tossed in as an afterthought It’s harder to overlook the death of Willie Lincoln (and the conspicuous absence of the other Lincoln children). While it doesn’t cast a pall over the film, it’s very noticeable as it happens and in deeper thoughts afterward.
If you’re the sort to go all Deep Thought on a movie about historic U.S. presidents who also slay vampires, that is.