WHAT'S IT ALL ABOUT?
Near Dark has gathered a wicked reputation over the years. Debuting in 1987 to dismal box office opposite the mediocre but strongly backed Lost Boys, the superior Near Dark found a modest, loving audience that seemed to swell over the years. Today, the cult adoration of Near Dark is at a fever pitch, thanks mostly to its long unavailability in video form and a rumor that its original film elements had been long ago destroyed. Anchor Bay sets all that to rest with a beautiful 2-disc DVD package that boasts striking image quality, an enveloping sound presentation, and some enticing supplements.
Admittedly, Near Dark is a great little B horror flick, a nasty, down-n-dirty gothic tale of sex and violence. It tried something that no one else was doing: Cross-pollinate the horror genre with the western genre. Make it wholly about vampires and their bloodlust, but never mention the "v" word. Throw in a little romance, a little Greek tragedy, and go for it with guns blazing. You've gotta admire director Kathryn Bigelow and her team—both behind and in front of the cameras—for having the balls to attempt it. The resulting film certainly gets an A for effort, but as big a fan I am of the idea of Near Dark, I'm not totally convinced it lives up to its cult hype.
The film gets right to it, as young smalltown-cowboy Caleb (Adrian Pasdar) catches a glimpse of the beautiful, seemingly innocent Mae (Jenny Wright), licking suggestively at an ice-cream cone. Soon, Mae's mystery deepens, and Caleb is left marveling, "I sure haven't met any girls like you before," to which Mae answers knowingly, "No, you sure haven't." Before long, Mae's teeth are sunk into Caleb's fine midwestern neck, and he's stumbling through dirt, his skin already smoking under the evil sun, his guts churning for the taste of blood. Near Dark kicks into high gear with the introduction of Mae's "family,' which includes Jesse (Lance Henriksen), Severen (Pill Paxton), Diamondback (Jenette Goldstein), and Homer (the somewhat irritating Joshua Miller). Genre aficionados will recognize most of the cast of Aliens in this vampire clan. With the cops and Caleb's family in pursuit, the motley crew blazes across the dusty landscape, pedal to the metal, blood flying, smoke billowing, skin sizzling.
As perfect a film as that sounds, the reality is that Near Dark ain't a perfect film, particularly as it crashes toward its ending. At about the moment that a blood transfusion finds its way into the film, you're left wincing at plot developments. You'd think at that point that your suspension of disbelief was firm and strong and ready to hold back any development, but that blood transfusion...nope, there's just no getting past it. At that unfortunate moment, the film just goes clunk, and everything that follows is suspect. The climax, which does show off some fun western iconography in the midst of its grand guignol essence, is way over the top in a way that you'll find only in Hollywood. And the happy ending...well, let's just say that if ever a movie cried out for a downer ending, this is the one.
Despite my misgivings, Near Dark is a great time at the movies. It's infused with a dark and seething brutality, and a nasty, dirt-grimed lustfulness. I would still say that it's the best horror-western movie to be found in these here parts, so climb off that horse and settle into that sofa for a kick-ass flick. Anchor Bay has definitely done Near Dark and its fans proud.
HOW'S IT LOOK?
Anchor Bay presents Near Dark in a startlingly fine anamorphic-widescreen transfer of the film's original 1.85:1 theatrical presentation. Rumors fluttered around last year that the original film elements of Near Dark had been lost—in fact, the rumor is addressed in a nicely detailed booklet that's part of the DVD package—but it's clear once you pop this baby in that the rumors were nonsense. Frankly, I was blown away by the quality of this image, which is far better than the image of most films of the period. This is a careful, loving transfer to be savored.
Detail is exquisite, reaching into backgrounds. Colors are as warm as they can be inside the distinctive steely color palette. Blacks are deep, deep, deep. I recommend watching Near Dark in a completely dark—not just near-dark—room. The print is unbelievably clean, exhibiting very little in the way of dirt or specks. This print rivals current film elements for cleanliness. I noticed no edge halos whatsoever.
Flaws? Maybe a couple. I noticed compression artifacting a few times, particularly in one early bright scene of the sun descending beyond the horizon. Mild grain appears in some of the brighter scenes, but really nothing to get worked up about. Grain is a part of film, right? These complaints are minor. This transfer has a vivid, three-dimensional beauty that had a film-geeky joy bubbling up through my chest. Perhaps it was because I expected far worse. In any case, this is fine work indeed.
HOW'S IT SOUND?
The DVD offers three sound alternatives: Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1, and the original 2.0 stereo presentation. The differences between the first two are negligible enough to make one wonder why Anchor Bay didn't just pick one. The soundtrack isn't exactly aggressive as far as surround activity is concerned, but both 5.1 presentations offer some cool ambient sounds in the rear, providing a deliciously creepy envelopment. Bass is tight, adding a rich low-end presence particularly to the action sequences. Dialog mostly comes across naturally, but a loss of fidelity over the years is apparent in some of the higher-range screaming and yelling. The wonderfully moody Tangerine Dream score fares the best, sounding precise and edgy.
WHAT ELSE IS THERE?
Near Dark is a 2-disc set that contains a commentary on Disc 1 and several enticements on Disc 2. Although Disc 2 is relatively light on supplements, I'm glad Anchor Bay devoted them to a second disc in order to uphold the quality of the feature's image and sound on Disc 1.
The Audio Commentary with Director Kathryn Bigelow is an acquired taste. Many have expressed disappointment in Bigelow's style, and it's true that there are long silences and her voice is somewhat monotone. That being said, she imparts a fair amount of information about the casting, the shoot itself, tidbits of trivia, and anecdotes. Her style is to make concise comments at the beginning of a scene, and let it play out. She uses no wasted words. Sure, this could have been a more enlightening track, but I'm still giddy to have it.
Definitely the highlight of Disc 2's extras is the brand-new 47-minute documentary Living in Darkness. Presented in gorgeous 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, this doc looks amazing, almost as vibrant as the film itself. Most of the film's cast has been reassembled—including Lance Henriksen, Bill Paxton, Adrian Pasdar, and Jenette Goldstein but with the sad exception of the stunning Jenny Wright—for illuminating interviews in which they share behind-the-scenes anecdotes and practical jokes from the set. Also present are director Kathryn Bigelow, producers Steve-Charles Jaffe and Edward S. Feldman, and director of photography Adam Greenberg. Near Dark was obviously a labor of love, and all involved look back on the development and making of the film with nostalgia.
The Trailers section gives you two very different looks at the film, one with an odd 80s rock song laid over action segments. Both are presented in anamorphic widescreen.
Next is a Deleted Scene with Commentary by Director Kathryn Bigelow. This 2-minute anamorphic-widescreen scene is an experimental-seeming sequence in which Caleb enjoys his new ability to see great distances in darkness. It contains no sound and is shot in black-and-white.
The Original Storyboards section shows you storyboards for five sequences from the film: Caleb's Transformation, A Taste of Blood, Feeding Montage, Roadhouse Slaughter, and Motel Shoot-Out
The Still Galleries section presents stills of poster art and behind-the-scenes photos. Many of these photos appear in the documentary.
A final couple of words: The 8-page Collectible Booklet is full of fun information and poster art and is definitely worth a read. Also, the evocative Tangerine Dream score plays over the menus, sounding rich and moody and gearing you up perfectly for the film you're about to see.
WHAT'S LEFT TO SAY?
A terrific transfer, great sound mixes, and an illuminating new documentary make Anchor Bay's Near Dark essential for most libraries. If you're not into the whole vampire-western thing, well...that's your problem.