2012, Benjamin Walker, Rufus Sewell and Dominic Cooper. Directed by Timur Bekmambetov.
For whatever reason, I can never recall the actual title of this movie. I keep calling it Abraham Lincoln Vampire Slayer. I don’t know why, I guess it just sounds cooler to be a slayer than a hunter. Would Buffy have been as popular or successful if she had only hunted the undead without bothering to kill them? Never mind…
I admit it: I was drawn to this movie not by the strange hybrid it represents between historical drama and gory horror flick, but by the name TIM BURTON associated with it. I generally find Tim Burton’s weirdness very entertaining, especially when Johnny Depp is involved. Alas, Burton was producer not director and Depp had already made his vampirical debut as a sympathetic bloodsucker in the excellent Dark Shadows.
Honest Abe the Vampire Slayer is unique and quite bizarre, but I’m unsure about its entertainment value. While it was an interesting mash-up of genres, using vampirism as a metaphor for the evils of slavery is simply too heavy-handed and off the wall to make much sense. In fact, it makes more sense that, if vampires do exist, they sparkle in the sunshine and drink only the blood of wild animals. That Abe Lincoln had the time to become an axe-wielding superhero-vampire-killer by night as he whiled away his time as a store-clerk-law-student by day is just a little too ludicrous, even for such a preposterous film. I was never able to successfully “get into the zone” and temporarily suspend my disbelief while watching this movie; I had to compensate by constantly telling myself that the action was all taking place in a parallel universe where Abe Lincoln fought a clandestine war with the undead for decades before it erupted into the War to Establish a Country Just for Vampires.
With that said, there were some interesting and mildly entertaining aspects to be found. The iconic image of Abraham Lincoln in his stove-pipe hat wielding an axe like a modern-day superhero bent on defeating evil is almost enough to justify the entire project. It was a waaaay cool tricked out axe, by the way. The most memorable scene for me was the one where Lincoln and the vampire he was chasing were caught up in a horse stampede. I’ve never seen anything quite like that done with CG – it was very impressive and exciting. The climactic train-crossing-a-burning-bridge scene was also very well done, though it felt much more familiar.
All in all, watching the movie felt like reading a graphic novel. If I had wanted to read a graphic novel, I would not have spent my money on seeing a movie in a theater. There was some great artistic effort put into it, but the characters (other than Lincoln) were far too two-dimensional. Once or twice I even found myself hoping that one of Abe’s close associates would be defeated by the vampires just to liven things up. The vampires were quite gruesome both when they were killing and being killed, but it just came across as more yawn-worthy than scary.
I’m not sure how he managed to pull it off, but Benjamin Walker’s performance was very good. He made a believable and sympathetic Lincoln even as he aged from a naïve backwoods boy into a troubled and distressed president plagued by an army of the undead.
The bottom line: The premise had great promise but the execution lacked substance. The tone was too serious for such a ridiculous take on the personal life of Lincoln and the execution too ridiculous for the true horrors of the Civil War. Let’s hope Pride and Prejudice and Zombies translates to the big screen much better than this did. If it doesn’t, someone please drive a stake through its heart now (or blow its brains out, whichever is appropriate for zombies) and save us all from it.