Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is an exciting and accomplished action film that presents an alt-history scenario where the 16th President of the United States was also a successful vampire killer in his spare time.
This is the second vampire western in as many years, following the under-rated Priest, but while that film moved the temporal location of its story from the wild west to the far future (but kept the trappings of sou’westers et al.) Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter sees its original source novel adapted by the author and so is a more faithful adaptation, albeit one that moves a little too quickly at times and changes the novel’s original ending.
The verisimilitude of the project comes from director Timur Bekmambetov, the new king of slow-mo action sequences following John Woo’s decent into self parody, who already has two great vampire action films to his name – Night Watch and Day Watch. Also, producer Tim Burton who, as well as previously helming a great adaptation of Sleepy Hollow in recent years, which showed his skills in period horror, is already responsible for another vampire film (Dark Shadows) already this year. Slickly made, the film is captivating in its set pieces which utilise 3D post-production well, including a duel between Abe and a vampire in the midst of a horse stampede and recreations of battles during the civil war where the ranks of the South are bolstered by the undead. Unusually for a ‘weird western’ the hero battles for the North, which makes a change from the unlikely Confederate heroes of Jonah Hex and John Carter (perhaps that’s why they were both flops).
Where the film falls down is the aforementioned pace of proceedings – often the film feels like the film-makers skipped a page or two of character development, replaced by a couple of lines of voice-over which barely cover the obvious holes in the plot – and while the amusing central concept of honest Abe being a 19th Century Buffy works well, the use of vampires in the civil war cheapens the history that actually happened, for the sake of spectacle.
The cast is almost uniformly good, with only Rufus Sewell’s taciturn lead vampire seemingly underwhelmed by the proceedings; Benjamin Walker is well cast in the role of another historical figure, following his turn as the young alter-ego of Liam Neeson in Kinsey, but this time isn’t replaced by a different actor when the plot skips thirty years and he dons rubber jowls and beard to play the more recognisable elder President in the midst of the civil war. Dominic Cooper and Mary Elizabeth Winstead (the Zooey Deschanel of horror movies) are engaging as Abe’s vampiric mentor and wife respectively with only Alan Tudyk somewhat wasted in a part – the future president’s political and love rival – that should have been given more screen time, with his disappearance from the film for half an hour after Lincoln romances his fiancée almost unforgivable.
So, while the film is frustrating at times, the fun that everyone involved obviously had making the film is evident on screen and one can only hope that if the other Seth Grahame-Smith historical horror mash-up – Pride and Prejudice and Zombies – ever reaches the screen, it will be as entertaining a film as this one.