‘Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter’ Proves History Bites

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HollywoodChicago.com Oscarman rating: 2.5/5.0
Rating: 2.5/5.0

CHICAGO – In this new film, don’t describe the 16th U.S. President as “The Great Emancipator,” call him “The Great Kick-Ass-ipator.” In this high concept romp, the President who presided over the Civil War is now winning it single-handedly by fighting his demons in “Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter.”

This is a truly bizarre re-imagining of history, especially if you hadn’t read the source novel. The legacy of Abraham Lincoln is co-opted into a horror film, which presupposes that the United States will be overrun by vampires – and they all have super strength, the usual blood lust and immortality – unless they can be stopped by expert vampire killers, which includes Lincoln. This is comic book territory, and that element has its moments, especially in the Civil War parts, but overall the mix of vampires and history – especially the tragic struggle on the slavery issue – ultimately is unsavory.

Abraham Lincoln (Benjamin Walker) is shown writing his memoirs at the film’s onset, chronicling his heavy burden in the just finished Civil War. But some other truth is about to be self-evident, for as a young man he was picked to be a vampire hunter. The source of that occupation involved his mother Nancy (Robin McLeavy), who was killed by a blood sucker named Jack Barts (Marton Csokas). When Lincoln is older, he clumsily tries to exact his revenge, and is rescued in that pursuit by a mysterious stranger named Henry (Dominic Cooper).

Benjamin Walker
His Ax is Marching On: Benjamin Walker (Young Lincoln) in Action for ‘Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter’
Photo credit: Stephen Vaughan for Twentieth Century Fox

Henry is a vampire hunter trainer, and puts Lincoln through the killing motions, as the old Rail Splitter learns some fancy ax maneuvers in order to efficiency displace the vampire army. In exchange for his training, he must move to Springfield, Illinois, where Southern gothic vamps are infiltrating the north. Slavery is part of the equation of these evil garlic haters, and Lincoln not only uses his killing skills, but his oratory gifts to fight the usurpers. As the boy grows to a presidential man – and marries Mary Tood (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) – he will face his greatest challenge during a crucial battle in the Civil War. Will Honest Abe be able to defeat a dishonorable enemy?

The hardest thing to swallow in this film is the parallel history that Sean Grahame-Smith – the source novel author and screenwriter – has cooked up. The Lincoln legacy is well-known to most history lessons, and the crassness in which his life story is attached to the vampire threat is truly disrespectful to the real deal. This is comic book stuff, and not to be taken in any literal form, but it was just so disconcerting that the absurd nature of it couldn’t be overlooked. And to use the horrible circumstances of slavery as a plot football was just wrong, the rewrite of having an ex-slave be Lincoln’s right hand man (Anthony Mackie) and leaving the hate of real men out further muddies a dark stain in U.S. history.

The vampires themselves are rather ho-hum. Supposedly they are coming from the gothic South, and slavery is one of their controlling parts in the plan for world domination. But the design of them is rather pedestrian, as in not scary, and they tend to die rather easily for all their super strength. Old Abe does get some quality kills, and lot of blood gets splattered (The Great Splatter-ator?), but the overall effect of the vampire population makes the killings just academic.

The actors, and their approach to playing such historic figures, is so serious that it’s hilarious in parts. Benjamin Walker’s Lincoln is as stiff as the marble statue at the Memorial, and approaches every scene as if he’s reciting a debate with Stephen A. Douglas (Alan Tudyk). Beyond the action sequences, everybody is in some sort of Victorian parlor play, if there wasn’t the fancy ax work of the 16th President, they all would have felt at home in a bad HIstory Channel re-enactment.

Benjamin Walker
Taking a Break From the Hunt with a Speech in ‘Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter’
Photo credit: Stephen Vaughan for Twentieth Century Fox

This was not to say it doesn’t have its moments. Once Abe becomes President, the Civil War is tied in, and the epic vampire battle is about to begin. His eureka moment for the final defeat is so-bad-it’s-good, and leads to a big chase scene involving a old-timey train and the fanged ones. There is something also to be said for seeing Lincoln as some sort of superhero, prancing around with an ax and decapitating the cross haters with barely suppressed glee.

Forget real history – boring! It’s not enough that Lincoln saved the Union through passionate speeches and unprecedented legal manifestations. He must now kill, kill, kill – faster, vampire slayer, faster! Besides that Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?

“Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” opens everywhere June 22nd. Featuring Benjamin Walker, Dominic Cooper, Anthony Mackie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jimmi Simpson and Marton Csokas. Screenplay by Sean Grahame-Smith. Directed by Timur Bekmambetov. Rated “R”

HollywoodChicago.com senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Senior Staff Writer

© 2012 Patrick McDonald, HollywoodChicago.com

ziggy one of the best's picture

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

This was one bad ass shit kicker movie old honest Abe was awesome

Manny be down's picture

Vampire Hunter

kind of cornly but I did like it went he made’s speeches he talk in his gr8 self

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