History Prefers Legends To Men: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2012)

For the remainder of October I am going to focus my blog in a slightly different direction and jump on the blogosphere bandwagon of blogging about horror movies specifically.  I plan to, or at least hope to, run through a slew of different horror films from genre hybrids, to country variations and hopefully a few historically important ones as well.  I plan to even revisit a few of my personal favorites with the hopes of reflecting on my love of them in written form.  Ideally, my reflections will cover films that you as readers as heard of, but touch upon a few that are not familiar to mainstream audiences, and who knows maybe a few of the films I plan to focus on will have even myself reconsidering what I include in a horror oeuvre.  As always, I am fully open to suggestions for viewings and hope to blog about a film each day through the actual celebration of All Hallow's Eve.  This focus will maybe even help flesh out some research projects as I begin to draw connections of theory and criticism through various films, as well as serving as a means to see a few more horror films in theatre, a specific genre that I feel strongly benefits from big screen treatment.  With all this being said, I begin my October Horror Blog Wonder Extravaganza with a solid bit of absurdly terrible post-modern horror with Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.  I went into this film knowing full and well that it would be quite terrible and those in the theater with me clearly shared my views as they laughed at the films genuine attempts to be a bad-ass appropriation of a honored historical figure.  However, I did not expect some of the liberties taken by the writer and director about comparisons of slavery to evil creatures to be quite so problematic, but then again from Hollywood it should not have come as a surprise.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter for those inept at reading context clues, is about an alternative history in which America's sixteenth president Abraham Lincoln (Benjamin Walker) undertakes the job of being a vampire hunter, as a means to revenge the death of his mother at the hands of the monsters of the night.  To some extent this job is thrust upon him by an expert vampire hunter named Henry Sturges (Dominic Cooper) who engages in the act, as a means of revenge himself.  Lincoln must keep this act of hunting vampires a secret as he engages with other notable historical figures, whether it be his historical friend Joshua Speed (Jimmi Simpson) or Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), as well as one Stephen Douglass (Alan Tudyk) and Jefferson Davis (John Rothman) whom the film cast in the light of being similar to the vampires.  As Lincoln struggles with the question of slavery and an imminent war, his engagement with vampire hunting comes to the fore front after he confronts the lead vampire Adam (Rufus Sewell) only to fail to defeat him initially.  In a purely Hollywood move the final confrontations lay upon the battlefields of the Civil War, most notably that of Gettysburg, in which Lincoln requires that all silver be move to the battle front to help kill the vampires who have become soldiers for the Confederate Army.  This is where history coalesces, and the North wins, slaying the vampires in the process, Lincoln delivers his famous Gettysburg Address, but in this filmic narrative it has a edge towards condemning the vampires as well.  The film then fast forwards to present day where we are shown a man of African-American descent sitting at a bar being approached by Henry to become a vampire hunter for a new age...

If that closing scene does not prove problematic there are certainly a list of other problems in the "message" of this film.  First off, like Tarantino's Inglorious Basterds, AL: VH takes liberties to condemn the entire south as evil, going so far as to suggest that the vampires are fully responsible for the trading and abusing of slaves.  This action results in dismissing the true scar on American history by suggesting that it was enacted by some demonic force.  Similarly, the film suggests that at some point during the war the entire Confederate army was that of vampires making their being killed a moment of glorious celebration, at least that was the case in the theater where I viewed the film.  I had trouble with this scene specifically, partially because it was just ungrounded cinematic bloodshed, but also because it  dehumanizes the deaths of soldiers in America's bloodiest war, which indeed witnessed a very real amount of human bloodshed.  Finally, the gumption of the film's director to reconsider such important speech as Lincoln's Gettysburg Address as a means to condemn vampires, or that Jefferson Davis himself dealt with the dark lords, is in bad taste.  Such scenes could have proved as a means to get viewers not familiar with historical rhetoric to truly consider that ethical problems of slavery and human oppression, but instead it just serves as a stepping stone for another set of stylized vampire killings.  Finally, regardless of political leanings the blatant connection between Lincoln and Obama in the films closing shot is egregiously problematic.  

Key Scene: The stampede battle is quite well-crafted and paced ending in a explosive manner that was deserved of the applause it received.

To dismiss this movie completely would be incredibly unfair, however, one must take it very critically to realize the problems the rethinking of a troublesome portion of American history visits.  It is not intended to be a political commentary, but an argument could be made that the film does not do enough to deter the possibility for interpretations.

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