Fourscore and Seven Dead Vampires Ago: Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter (Film Review)

America's 16th President in a reimagining of history

Just when you thought it was safe to go to an action movie, an historical figure and mythical creatures are mashed together into an action film that sounds like a fun concept. The premise of the 16th president of the United States leading a secret life of destroying vampires sounds so over-the-top you think you’re in for a real treat. Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter, just the title alone, has a catchy feel to it but this romp into revisionist American history turns into a case of taking itself a little too seriously. Unfortunately, this sepia-drenched film ends up feeling like a missed opportunity for a good adventure and a few laughs.

At the beginning of the film, we’re introduced to a young Lincoln (Benjamin Walker) who witnessed his mother’s death at the hands of a vampire. This event leads him into a vendetta of looking for revenge on the vampire who did this. However, the tide turns when meets a vampire hunter named Henry Sturgess (Dominic Cooper), a mysterious Brit who teaches young Abe the ways of killing vampires through joyless teachings that felt strangely contrived. Honest Abe decides he’s a terrible aim with a gun so his weapon of choice is a silver-coated axe. During his training, there’s one bizarre incident where he’s coached into chopping a tree down with one blow, and succeeds within a few minutes into his first try.

During his early years, he comes to Springfield, Illinois and lands a job as a storekeeper with Joshua Speed (Jimmi Simpson) and begins his studies to become a lawyer. In his off time he’s directed by Henry via letters to kill vampires in the area. His ability to wield his silver-tipped axe prepares him to go after vampire businessman Jack Barts (Marton Csokas), his vampire nemesis, and Southern gentleman Adam (Rufus Sewell), who’s the leader of the Vampire Nation. During this period, the brief battles with the fanged antagonists showcase his incredible axe slinging, which is reminiscent to some of the fight sequences in 300. He gets some assistance fighting vampires from his childhood friend William Joseph (Anthony Mackey).

Abe also ponders a career in politics during the conflict between North and South (or in this case, humans and the living dead), as a way to effectively battle evil. It’s revealed the vampires feast on slaves in the Deep South, which is juxtaposed by the Battle of Gettysburg. Some people may find slavery and the historic battle being reimagined as horror film plot devices a little offensive. In this universe where American history is being shaped by vampires, you forgive the silly premise (well, maybe just a little bit).

All is not lost in this film. There are action sequences that would make any adventure movie fan pleased, specifically a chase during a horse stampede that uses 3D effectively. If you’re willing to suspend belief that Abe Lincoln can jump on running horses without injuring himself you’re in for a treat. There’s also a few startling moments when vampires get right into your face, just enough to make you feel wearing 3D glasses was finally worth it.

Benjamin Walker, whose physical appearance makes him perfect for the title role, certainly is one of the highlights of the film. He doesn’t carry enough charisma in this particular role to fill the screen, but his portrayal of honest Abe is certainly a plus. In spite of the abundance of blood splatters and heavy facial makeup, he somehow makes the role believable. When he grows his beard and looks like the Lincoln we all know, the makeup comes close to replicating the horribly crafted faces of Leonardo DiCaprio and Armie Hammer in J. Edgar. In some moments it looks as if the Lincoln audio animatronic figure from Disneyland stood in as a body double. It’s sort of a mystery why director Timur Bekmambetov chose to age him faster than the rest of the cast. Somehow, the ever-present youth of Mary Todd Lincoln (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) doesn’t age at the same rate as Lincoln. Perhaps the drudgery of fighting the living dead on a daily basis took its toll on him. In spite of the heavy prosthetics, Walker’s performance still feels genuine. One can’t help but notice the close resemblance he has to a younger Liam Neeson.

Abraham Lincoln has a thing for killing zombies too

At the conclusion of the film, you get the feeling this all sounded very good in novel form, but somehow didn’t translate into film as well as it could have. For those who don’t mind history being taken out of context with a plethora of severed heads and flinging blood, you may enjoy Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter. The film isn’t all that bad, but it wasn’t a home run either. On a side note, there isn’t a hint of glittery vampires within miles of this romp.

The film stars Benjamin Walker as Abraham Lincoln, Dominic Cooper as Henry Sturges, Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Mary Todd Lincoln, Anthony Mackie as William Johnson, Jimmi Simpson as Joshua Speed, Rufus Sewell as Adam, Marton Csokas as Jack Barts, Joseph Mawle as Thomas Lincoln, Robin McLeavy as Nancy Lincoln, Erin Wasson as Vadoma, John Rothman as Jefferson Davis, Cameron M. Brown as William Wallace Lincoln, Frank Brennan as Senator Jeb Nolan, and Alan Tudyk as Stephen A. Douglas.

The film was directed and co-produced by Timur Bekmambetov, along with Tim Burton. The novel’s author, Seth Grahame-Smith, wrote the adapted screenplay.

If you still have an appetite for movie mash-ups with America’s 16th president, Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies is a 2012 direct-to-video horror/action film where our hero must save America from an outbreak of the Confederate undead. I hope he’s still carrying that silver-coated axe with him for this battle.

You can follow David Derks on Twitter at @dderks

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2 Responses to “Fourscore and Seven Dead Vampires Ago: Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter (Film Review)”

  1. Don Nutting says:

    “No glittering vampires within a mile of this romp” I about fell off my chair laughing. Great stuff.

    Too bad Lincoln lost that hatchet during the Civil War (or the War of Northern Aggression as we southerners say). He might have used it to clobber McClellan or given it to Grant.

  2. […] I wrote a movie review at Beyond the Marquee as an exercise is getting some thoughts out on a film that was good but not great: […]

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