by NEVIL GIBSON
Myths about vampires, formerly-dead humans who have come back to suck the blood of the living, go back to the ancient Greeks.
But apart from some admonitions against eating blood, the Old and New Testaments do not contain specific references to vampires.
It wasn’t until the 18th century that creatures who preyed on others for their blood captured the popular imagination. These tales received a boost in the following century when vampires became linked with rabies — a fatal disease also associated with wayward behaviour.
The first recognisable vampire was the aristocratic figure of The Vampyre, a story by John Polidori in 1819. He was a friend of Lord Byron and the Shelleys. Mary Shelley created Frankenstein, based on similar East European folklore.
An Irishman, Sheridan Le Fanu, added to the genre with Camilla (1871), but it took another Irishman, Bram Stoker, to create by far the most famous of all vampires — Dracula.
The early days of the cinema didn’t ignore these stories of impressionable young victims and their other worldly seducers.
The German filmmaker F. W. Murnau made Nosferatu in 1922 and at latest count Dracula was beaten only by Sherlock Holmes as the character appearing in the most films.
Dracula was typically depicted as patrician and the films labelled as “horror” features. But more recently, starting with Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt (Interview With a Vampire, 1994), vampires have become younger and made appealing. This led to the adult TV series True Blood and the teen romance Twilight books and movies.
In other cases, vampires have been played for laughs or been crossed with famous works of fiction or historical figures.
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (20th Century Fox) is one of those and is based on a book by Seth Grahame-Smith, who also wrote Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.
It is surprisingly good fun for a film that raises no expectations. The plot starts in 1820 with the young Lincoln (Benjamin Walker) seeing an act of cruelty by a slave trader (played by New Zealander Marton Csokas) and then, as an orphan, committing himself to a life of revenge.
Gradually we are introduced to the vampires, who are living surreptitiously as real people, able to function in the daylight with dark glasses. They are also, we learn, upholders of the southern plantation lifestyle and champions of slavery.
Soon after Lincoln has launched his political career, having given up his vampire-hunting mission for family life and public service, he has to return to his old ways to save the Union in the civil war and abolish slavery.
Here, Russian director Timur Bekmambetov (famous for his high octane movies Night Watch and Day Watch) recycles slow-motion tricks from The Matrix as well as more conventional pyrotechnics.
A vampire army clothed in Confederacy colours at Gettysburg is something to behold. So, too, is the climax — a train crossing a burning viaduct — as Lincoln and his mates deliver the result we expect.
Restricted to 16 and over; 105 minutes.
by NEVIL GIBSON