No one loves adaptations like I love adaptations, especially if a mashup novel like Seth Graham Smith’s Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter is the victim. The author was also responsible for breathing new life (or death?) into the venerable Jane Austen with my favourite horror creatures in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (also to be adapted, with Natalie Portman mentioned in the context of the project, yay!).
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is as serious an alternative history as it gets. Lincoln (Benjamin Walker) witnesses the horror of slavery early in his life when his best friend, a small boy, is being mistreated. There is a price to pay for everything, he soon learns, as he witnesses the death of his mother at the hands of a ruthless vampire who poisons her, condemning her to a slow painful death.
Lincoln tries to avenge her and nearly gets himself killed, but is saved by vampire hunter Henry Sturgess (Dominic Cooper). Henry teaches the future President to fight unseen enemies and lead a life of seclusion, where family and friends are a big no-no. Despite his warnings, Lincoln marries Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), telling her the truth about his nightly adventures, but she doesn’t believe him. That’s one of the few jokes of the movie, and a good one.
Then the war breaks out and the South gets the support of the vampires, with the American leader of the Vampire Nation, Adam (Rufus Sewell), giving it willingly. Together with his friends Will Johnson (Anthony Mackie) and Joshua Speed (Jimmi Simpson) Lincoln has to find a way to win the war in which soldiers disappear into thin air, take the form of sexy as hell (pun intended) vixens like Vadoma (Erin Wasson), and can’t be killed by regular bullets.
It’s kind of strange to see Russian-Kazakh director Timur Bekmambetov (Night Watch,Day Watch, Wanted) take on a project with so many American flags in each frame. But Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter works in the sense that Lincoln and the other humans are fighting evil in the most general sense of the word. Mind you, this is no 28 Days Later, and the action does get a bit tedious by the end.
But boy are those millions (70, to be exact) worth the magnificent helicopter shots of horses running for their lives (and Lincoln plus a hungry vampire running atop them) and the train crawling up a falling bridge blazing from the ground up. The plot holes here are huge but producer Tim Burton makes sure the viewers don’t have enough time to contemplate them (his Dark Shadows was written by none other than Seth Grahame-Smith, by the way), and then again most people are having so much fun they don’t need to answer a question like ‘Why didn’t the vampires kill Lincoln before he became President?’
This is exactly the kind of movie that gives you a thrill and shakes you up a bit (the mockbuster Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies is also out, if you are interested). Some visuals are stunning and rarely before seen (flying horses, anyone?), and they pretty much substitute for the lack of substance here.
Verdict: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is good fun. If a little queasy.