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In 2009, author Seth Grahame-Smithís Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, his post-modern adaptation of the Jane Austin classic, was an audacious notion that became a smash hit with readers.  Fans looked forward to Grahame-Smithís next opus and werenít disappointed when Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter was released the following year.  The idea of combining historical facts about the Sixteenth President, one of the most respected and revered American heads of state, with (allegedly) fictional Van Helsing/Buffy-type skills to dispatch the bloodsucking undead was so outrageous and bizarre that only one thing could happen with such a premise; a big-screen adaptation.

There are some things one simply canít stand by and take.  This is the feeling that bursts out of young Abraham Lincoln as he watches his best friend, Will Johnson receive a whipping for not being able to tote a bundle as large as himself for the big boss.  Little Abe launches himself at the large man, shielding his friend and in turn is rescued by his own father, who doesnít take well to Bartsí manhandling of his child.  Not satisfied to merely fire the senior Lincoln, Barts takes his revenge in an unimaginable way: Abe is awakened one night to see the shady (and shaded) businessman creep into his motherís bedroom and leave her with a mark on her arm that festers and eventually takes Mary Hanks Lincolnís young life.  Being unable to tell anyone what he witnessed, Abraham vows revenge against Barts and bides his time until heís old enough to point a gun at the villain; a strategy that goes horribly wrong.  Abraham cannot predict Bartsí supernatural skills and resilience and has his clock thoroughly cleaned.  Abe seems soon to join his late mother in the Great Beyond until a stranger comes to his aid. This helpful interloper sees potential in Abraham as a helpmeet to his cause; the total eradication of the vampire race that has infiltrated American society.  Thanks to Henry Sturgess, not only is there someone who understands Abeís need for personal revenge, but he further opens Abrahamís eyes to just how deeply into the fabric and policies of the United States the bloodsuckers have sunk their fangs.  Chiefly among their crimes is the slavery that Abraham abhors.  The slaves are so devalued by this country that their disappearance in mass numbers means nothing to anyone of import, and so the vamps have a renewable resource for food and free labour.  This is only one step in their grand plan to turn the entire nation into an undead domain and they are only too happy to increase their numbers by turning humans into their own, or dispatching anyone who stands in their path.  Abraham realises that one of the best ways to stop this ghastly scheme is to change the policies that made it so easy for the vampires to thrive, and so he passes the bar to become a  renowned lawyer and eventually runs for government office.  The other way he can end this scourge is by pure and simple butt-kicking.  Under Sturgessí exacting tutelage, Lincoln becomes a lean, mean fighting machine; training as hard and stoically as a Shaolin Temple monk and learning to wield his weapon of choice, his axe, like a Wuxia master.  Abe decimates entire tree trunks with one blow, spins the axe all over and around his body as if it was alive and ends the existence of many a bloodsucker.  This bears him no small attention from the head vamp, Adam, who begins his plan of attack against Lincoln, now the President of the United States and commanding the war between the Confederacy and the Union for the soul of the country and the freedom of all of its people.  While the War Between the States is waged by living and undead alike, the danger reaches right up to the Lincoln bedroom in unthinkable ways that threaten every aspect of Abrahamís life.  None of this shakes Abeís resolve to end the vampireís dominance of his country.

The Russian director who brought us the action odysseys, Nightwatch, Daywatch and Wanted, Timur Bekmambetov, helms this story of a man regarded as a true American hero for more reasons than those weíre all familiar with.  I knew Bekmambetov could bring the high-powered, kinetic thrills, but what about the cleverness and ingenious twists of fact and fiction that made the original novel such a success?  A step in the right direction was in hiring Seth Grahame-Smith himself to write the screenplay.  Unlike many book-to-film transitions, the author rarely gets the chance to adapt his work to the big screen.  It must then be inferred that whatever differences between the two mediums are made with the authorís approval.  The changes are pretty apparent straight off: There are less of the details about Lincolnís younger life in between childhood and adulthood and his formative experiences living in the shadow of slavery.  There is less interaction with other famous folks of the age, including those whose presence gives us a real understanding of how deeply the vampires have penetrated American culture.  In their place are additions like a clear main bad guy in Adam, silkily played by the suave Rufus Sewell.  Lincoln is also given a partner in vamp-killing, his real-life compadre, William Johnson, an African-American free man and Abeís closest friend, played by Anthony Mackie.  In the midst of the vamp-killing strife, Abe engages in a romance with the lovely Mary Todd, vivacious played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead.  In another of the changes both from the novel and history, Mary not only never loses her sanity over the familyís misfortunes, but becomes a true war wife, taking on-the-ground risks to save both her country and her husband.  Dominic Cooper is arch and weary as Abeís mentor in bloodsucker-hunting, Henry Sturgess, who Lincoln trusts so much he ignores the obvious answers to some of Henryís mysteries.  Finally and most impressively, as our Sixteenth President, Benjamin Walker does an uncanny job of capturing the figure from our history books and bringing Abraham Lincoln to life.  As this is nowhere close to a pure biopic, we donít get a lot of emotional stretching, but Walkerís embodiment of The Great Emancipator is gripping to watch as his every look and movement and stalwart bearing is exactly the picture of Lincoln.  Walker also handles the tremendous physical demands of the role wonderfully.  Itís obvious he worked hard to get those axe twirls down perfectly and the fantasy fight choreography is as convincing as one would see in a good Hong Kong actioner.  Thereís an abundance of CGI in the movie, which is very well done, and the set pieces like Lincolnís battle aboard a moving train against a vampire ambush, and his invasion of a bloodsucker ball are a thrill and great to see on the big screen.

On the minus side, as a fan of the books, itís awfully hard to see some of those clever aspects and details that made the novel so refreshing and sharp, pushed by the wayside to make room for more bombastic action film leanings; particularly with such a winning cast and the frequent moments of humour throughout the movie.  There is a notable twist missing that may ruffle the feathers of the bookís followers as it was so satisfying and cinematic that there seems to be no reason not to have included it and its substitute is inferior.  Then again, when you have as outrageous a proposition as turning Honest Abe into a slayer of the parasitic undead, you have to give up the goods and show the president snuffing out vamps in astounding ways.  To this end, the mission is well accomplished and at its most visceral level, as pure, thrill-ride entertainment, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter certainly delivers.

 

~ The Lady Miz Diva

June 21st, 2012

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Photos

(Courtesy of 20th Century Fox)

 

 

 

 

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