Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter sells itself as a campy fun horror movie, but it plays itself too seriously to be campy fun.
I knew quite a bit before going into this movie. More so than I usually do when going into a movie that isn't gonna be a huge hit like The Avengers and Prometheus. I've seen a couple of trailers, pictures, and I have read plot summaries of the movie. I didn't know how to feel about it at first. I kinda resented the idea, because it's about Abraham Lincoln... SLAYING VAMPIRES. That's ridiculous no matter how you try to convince me otherwise. But, strangely enough, that's what kinda got me interested after a while. Going in, I knew this movie won't have a well written premise and won't be realistic in the slightest. It won't have any awards going for it (at least major ones, like Academy awards), but putting all that aside, I thought I could enjoy this movie as being a fun, campy film; that it might be like Army of Darkness, where they have horror elements with wacky, strange, out-there moments. So, when I went into the theater, that's the idea I had in mind about it. And what did I get?
Well, let's get into it.
The movie starts off with a narration about how history remembers legends instead of men (if you've seen the trailers, you know what it is). Then we see young Abraham Lincoln himself working on a dock on a plantation with his family, when one of the other workers starts whipping a black child, who is a friend of Abe. Abraham gets in the way, and his father goes to help him by punching out the worker, causing Abe's father to be fired by Barts (the plantation owner) and demands Abe's family to pay their debts to him up front. When Abe's father refuses, Barts visits the Lincoln's family's cabin at night, and bites Abe's mother, killing her the next day. Nine years later, Abraham Lincoln decides to face Barts for the murder of his mother, only to find out that Barts is a vampire. Before Barts can kill Abe, a man named Henry Sturgess, who Abe met at a bar a few hours prior, saves him from being killed. Henry takes Abe into his home, and Abe tries to convince Henry to teach him how to become a vampire hunter, so he can kill Barts. Henry makes Abe promise to give up on having any friends or family, and to only kill the vampires he is assigned to teach him how to be a hunter. 10 years of training, Abe moves to Springfield, Illinois and meets a shopkeeper named Speed, who gives Lincoln a job at the shop, where he works during the day and at night goes out and slays vampires. While in the shop, Able begins to have feelings for a woman named Mary. Barts, having moved to Springfield, finds out about Abe's romantic affair, and begins to target him. While there, the black child that Lincoln knew as a kid, named William Johnson, has come to Springfield to help free slaves and asks Lincoln to help him. It is this encounter that gets Lincoln more into politics, and eventually starts to make speeches at the town's center. Sturgess eventually gives Lincoln the task to kill Barts. He confronts Barts at a farm, and they chase each other in a giant horse chase, before Lincoln gets Barts down. Before dying, Barts reveals that Sturgess is a vampire himself. Lincoln confronts Sturgess about this, and Sturgess reveals that the head vampire, Adam, killed his wife and turned him into a vampire a long time ago, and since a vampire cannot kill another vampire, Sturgess has been unable to act on his revenge, thus revealing that he taught Abe how to hunt vampires so Abe can act out his revenge for him. Disappointed, Lincoln decides to give up his vampire hunting, but Adam has kidnapped William, and Lincoln and Speed rescue him and flee to Ohio, but Adam obtains Abe's silver watch, which allows Adam to identify him now. Lincoln gives up his vampire hunting for good and starts to campaign against slavery. Sturgess warns that slavery is what keeps vampires in the south under control, and the act of freeing them will cause vampires to act against him, but he ignores the warning. Lincoln is eventually elected into office as the 16th President of the United States, and has married Mary and has a son. Lincoln signs the Emancipation Proclamation, the slaves are freed, and the Civil War begins with the south fighting with (and this is gonna sound absurd) vampires. Vadoma, Adam's sister, makes her way into the White House, and bites Lincoln's son (much in the same way Barts bites Lincoln's mother), eventually killing him, and she leaves Lincoln's old watch behind to mock him. With the war continuing to kill northern troopers, Lincoln decides to act on this by gathering all the silver they can to form them into bullets and bayonets (since silver is toxic to vampires). They load a train filled with the silver and ship it out to Gettysburg. Unknown to Lincoln, Speed betrays the north and tells Vadoma about the train filled with silver, which causes Adam to plan an ambush to crash the train. With Lincoln, Speed, William, and Sturgess on the train, they fight off all of the vampires that try to board the train, but Adam soon finds out that the train they are on is actually a decoy, only carrying boxes of rocks, and that the real train containing the silver has already made its way to Gettysburg, and that Speed set Adam up to kill as many vampires as they could. Abraham kills Adam before the train crashes off of a burning railroad track, in which Sturgess, Lincoln, and William make it out, but Speed is killed in the process. Vadoma escapes and tries to kill Lincoln's wife Mary at Gettysburg, but Mary shoots Vadoma in the head with silver, killing her. The north wins the war, and the few remaining vampires flee the states and return to Europe and other countries. At the end, Sturgess tries to convince Lincoln to make him immortal so they can fight side by side for all eternity, but Lincoln is late for his destiny at the Ford Theater. Nearly 200 years later, Sturgess is at a bar in modern times, when he comes across a man in a similar fashion that he did Lincoln, revealing that Sturgess is still training vampire hunters.
Now, that's pretty much the whole movie. I probably left some stuff out, but if you read all of that, and are still interested in the movie, then this might be for you.
I saw a 6:35 showing, and I went with a friend of mine, Pim. The theater wasn't very crowded. In fact, there was hardly anyone there. I've already looked up the box office numbers for this movie, and I don't think it's gonna do well. It came in at third in the box office. I guess people aren't drawn to the premise of old United States presidents slaying mythical creatures. Those people probably don't watch a whole lot of movies though. I don't go into a movie looking for historical accuracy, or really anything that would make sense realistically. I go into a movie expecting two things; will it intellectually stimulate me? Or will it entertain me? And I have to say, this movie really did entertain me.
I was surprised though how straight forward this movie was played. It wasn't played like Army of Darkness, or Snakes on a Plane, where it's basically a comedy. This movie isn't a comedy, but a horror drama in a way, and I think that is a problem with the premise that they put forward. You can't have a movie named Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, where Abraham Lincoln is going around chopping vampire's heads off with an axe, and touch on real life issues like slavery and the Civil War. But, that's what this movie does. I think, conceptually, that was a misstep. This movie needed to be a horror comedy, and not a horror drama. How much more entertaining would it have been if it were that type of campy horror movie where Abe Lincoln, as president, slaughters vampires, and blows up buildings while saying cheesy, Arnold-Schwarzenegger-like puns? I would have enjoyed it a lot more had the movie been that, but for the movie that we did get, I did enjoy quite a bit of it. Mostly during the first half of the movie, but we'll get there in time.
The actor they got to play Abraham Lincoln is actually really good in this. Surprisingly good, and he looks quite a lot like Abe Lincoln himself (mostly during those older years). His name is Benjamin Walker, and I haven't seen him in anything, really. He's only done a few small films. His biggest one is Flags of Our Fathers, but I haven't seen that movie yet. But I thought he played it very well. And he's not the only actor onscreen that I really like. I pretty much like everyone on screen. Sturgess and Mary are the two biggest surprises to me. If you see Sturgess, and you recognize him, but don't exactly know from where, that's because about a year or so ago, he played Tony Stark's father Howard Stark in Captain America. That took me completely by surprise. I did not know he was gonna be in this movie, and when we first meet him at his house, he's sort of playing the same character that he did in Captain America. We see him f*cking some random woman that is never seen again, he's wandering around the house afterwards finding clothes to put on while drinking wine. It seemed to be the same character that Stark is, and I think that was intentional, because out of the entire cast (excluding Benjamin) he's the one I loved seeing. Anytime he was on screen, I just loved the presence he gave off. He was cool, he was a badass, and just all around awesome. The other surprise with this cast came from Lincoln's wife, Mary.. played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead! That blew me away. I think Mary Elizabeth Winstead is a great actress. She has been in some of my favorite movies, like Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, The Thing (2011), and Sky High. I didn't really find her too interesting during the second half of the movie, but that may be because she doesn't have much to do during the second half of the movie. But I liked her relationship with Lincoln. Even though it seemed like he was having an affair with her (when they first meet, she's engaged to someone else), but I wanted these two to get together. It's a shame that she doesn't have much to do in the second act. I also found it weird that she hates on Lincoln after finding out about him slaying vampires, saying he lied to her, but earlier in the movie, he does tell her. Sure, to her it seemed like a joke, but he did tell her. Not much of the other cast is really notable. We mainly focus around these three and the villains of the movie, but even if they are not very notable, I did like seeing each one of them. Each person brought a presence that made me glad to see them when they got screen time.
The vampires in this movie are very brutal. I liked some of their tactics in killing humans. One in particular, when Lincoln goes to Springfield to hunt vampires, his first assignment traps Abe with a rope that dangles him upside down with a bucket below him that catches blood. I thought that was actually kind of a cool way to gather blood from a human. It was done in a similar way in Let Me In, where a guy kills someone, hangs him upside down, and drains his blood into a jug. These vampires were very brutal though. There was a lot of blood flinging around, which surprised me at first. I don't know why, but I went in thinking this was a PG-13 movie. Yeah, crazy I know, but that's what I honestly thought. But it does make sense to have this. In an age where teen-friendly vampire movies and TV shows are being made, we need some good, old-fashioned, blood-hungry vampires. I also liked that they went with a Fright Night approach to how the vampires look; where they are good looking as a human, but they transform into hideous, big jawed monsters. It's a type of vampire that I like.
The story I pretty much covered. It's not as campy as I wished it would be, but that's not to say that this movie didn't have any campy moments. They were peppered into the movie at various times, and they're most prominent in the first half of the movie. There are a couple of scenes that I thought were just absolute fun. At one point, during Lincoln's training to become a hunter, Sturgess tells Lincoln to chop down a tree in one swing, only focusing on what he hates most in life. It takes him a few tries, but he does eventually swing that axe, and slices it with that one swing. When I first saw it, I thought to myself, "Hell yeah!" That was the kind of stuff I wanted to see. It was just fun and awesome to see that. And we have a couple other scenes like that. A bunch of slow-mo shots of Abe slicing vampire's heads off. I was really into this first part of the movie, only because of the campy scenes; when Abe was hunting these vampires.
One of my favorites comes around the middle of the movie, when Sturgess finally gives Abe the task of killing Barts. Now, this movie is set in the 1800s. Keep that in mind. Well, Abe meets up with Barts at his farm, and they have a little fight moment, and then Barts runs off into a crowd of horses, and starts a stampede. This is where the wild, over-the-top action comes in that I wish the whole movie had. I'm sure they had this scene in there because cars weren't around in the 1800s, so they had to have some chase scene... So why not horses? This is an amazing moment; especially during one moment of the chase when Barts grabs a horse by its leg, and flings it at Abe. We needed more of that in this movie, rather than scenes of Abe dealing with life drama. Even though I like the romance between Lincoln and Mary, and I thought it was interesting seeing Lincoln rise to political power, but we needed less of that and more camp action like this horse chase.
The visual style of the movie is pretty impressive. For those of you that know me, I love the old style horror, where it's dark, almost black and white, with red being the main color in the film. It's what I loved about Sweeney Todd, what I loved about The Wolf Man, and for some parts, what I loved about The Woman in Black. The old fashion look of movies and this movie has it. The blood isn't as red as I would like it to be. The blood is almost black, and I found that kind of weird. I would have liked them to use blood effects like in Sweeney Todd, where it gushes out in and absurd way and brighter color red. But there is a lot of blood in this movie, which is to be expected in a vampire horror movie nowadays (minus Twilight, of course). If you're looking for blood, this movie has it in strides.
Now, there are two major problems I have with this movie that I would like to address, and they mainly come from the second half of the movie. The first would be when we get to older Abe Lincoln. The way they play this part of the movie is almost like watching a biopic of Abe Lincoln's life, but with vampires peppered into it. That's not really the problem I had (although it didn't make the movie more interesting). What I didn't like about it was now we get that this movie is gonna follow somewhat to actual history. They're not gonna have this set in an alternate universe where Abe Lincoln is literally on the battlefield chopping confederate vampires in half, but that we'd see him dealing with these issues with politics instead of axes. But since they played it pretty well to history, then I lost all tension in the movie. We all know how Abe Lincoln dies. He gets shot at the Ford Theater by John Wilkes Booth. That is factual. Because we all know that, all tension and suspense is gone now. We know that Lincoln won't be killed by these vampires ambushing the train he's on. I just didn't feel any suspense, where the first half I did, because they had a chance to play it further from historical accuracy. I think this really faults the movie to a degree. In order to feel for the movie, there must be danger and a sense that the main character may die, but since we know how he dies, we lose all of that.
But that problem isn't really as annoying as the second problem I had, and this one offended me pretty badly (even more so than the premise that vampires fought with confederates during the Civil War). After the Battle of Gettysburg is over, Sturgess and Lincoln are standing in the Oval office, and Sturgess offers to bite Lincoln so they can fight vampires for all time, and before Lincoln gives his final answer (which is no, of course), Mary is outside the window and says, "We're gonna be late for the theatre."...... Wow! I cannot believe how tasteless that was. I mean, the fact that Sturgess tried to convince Abe to become immortal the night before he gets shot is just... ugh. It's bad. It's really bad taste. I mean, we had some tasteless moments like this through the movie, like Abe's mom and son being killed by a vampire, but this one tops it. I mean, did they really have to do this? They could've had this moment play maybe a week before Lincoln is shot, and implied, with the passage of time, how he dies, but to literally have it about a few minutes before Lincoln is shot is just offensive. In a movie where I could go with a lot of the absurd stuff, this I couldn't go with at all, and it almost ruined the movie for me. For those of you that are easily offended by stuff like this, I'm gonna say right now, not recommended. You will not find anything enjoyable about moments like this, and there are quite a few of them.
This movie isn't bad. I have said throughout that there is a lot here that I like, but if you're looking for serious drama, you're not gonna get it. If you're looking for over-the-top camp horror, you're not gonna get it enough to enjoy the whole movie. If I do recommend this movie, then I would only recommend it because it is absolute fun, but unfortunately, I cannot recommend it to all of you who are reading this. It takes itself too seriously to have a fun time throughout, and its premise is too absurd to take seriously. It's a very odd combination of the two elements, and in most parts, it doesn't work. That being said... I did have some fun with this movie, mainly during the first half of it. If this movie had been like the first half throughout, I would weakly recommend it. I had so much fun watching Lincoln chopping up vampires, chasing through horses, and learning how to be a hunter. This movie has become a guilty pleasure of mine, and I am sure that I'll be seeing it again when it comes out on DVD. It is a pretty fun ride (despite the bump that is the ending of this movie), but it isn't fun enough for me to recommend you all to see it. I would say rent the movie when it comes out on Redbox and for your own opinion on whether or not the movie is fun enough to enjoy. Otherwise, you don't need to see it in theaters. You're not gonna miss out on much.
On a side note, I myself hope this movie has a sequel following Sturgess' character. Like I said, I liked those early scenes with Sturgess training Lincoln on how to hunt vampires, and the ending implies that he is still training vampire hunters. I would like to see some sort of sequel that continues this pattern. It doesn't necessarily have to follow some other historical figure, it's not really needed, but I feel that a sequel has the opportunity to fix the problem they had here, and make it campy fun. I would be in theaters for that movie.
For those of you who read my reviews on Facebook and Movieweb, I will start to write my review of Rock of Ages, which I saw about a week ago. I've been kinda lazy lately when it comes to writing these reviews, but rest assured that I will start on it right after I post this review. Not much to note about the next few weeks, except for the new Spider-Man movie coming out July 3rd. I will be seeing it in theaters, and I'm really hoping that my nostalgia for the original Sam Raimi Spider-Man movies won't tear this new movie a new *sshole. I'm gonna try going in with my expectations lowered, and try to judge this movie apart from the original trilogy. But, the trailers do look promising, and I have read early reviews and they seem to be looking good, but only time will tell.
Thank you for reading.