Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (R)
20th Century Studios; Dread Central (Blu-ray/DVD); IMDb; Rotten Tomatoes; TV Tropes; Weta Digital; Wikia; Wikipedia
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This came out in 2012, but I didn't see it until 2016. (I watched it the day after Lincoln's birthday.) It's based on a 2010 mashup novel of the same name, which I haven't read. Incidentally, it's a genre that was started by the novel "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies," which I also haven't read, but earlier this month, a movie based on that book hit theaters, and I definitely hope to see it someday. Anyway, before I saw this movie, I wasn't quite sure where I'd put the review. Normally a movie about Abraham Lincoln would go under "period pieces," but this story deviates (I assume) too far from actual history for that. So I was thinking probably I'd put it under "scary movies," but possibly "supernatural," instead. (It's often a toss-up which of those two categories I'll assign certain movies to, as there can be a lot of crossover.) But while I watched it, I realized I'd have to put it under "badass." (Edit: When I later started a category for vampire movies, I moved it there, but I'll keep a link to it in my badass section.)
The movie is bookended by brief scenes set on April 14, 1865 (the day Lincoln was assassinated, though we don't actually see that in the movie). But the action really begins in 1818, when Abraham is a young boy who tries to stop a plantation owner named Jack Barts from whipping his friend, a slave named William Johnson. The incident leads to Abe's father losing his job, which means he would be unable to repay the debt he owes Barts. Later, Barts breaks into the Lincolns' home and attacks Abe's mother, which Abe witnesses. And we see that Barts is actually a vampire, though Abe apparently doesn't realize that. Anyway, his mother soon dies, and Abe vows to get revenge. However, his father makes him promise not to do anything foolish.
Nine years later, Abe's father dies, so Abe (now a young man) considers himself released from his promise. He shoots Barts and believes the matter settled, but Barts then gets up and starts kicking his ass. Abe is rescued by someone named Henry Sturges (who is pretty obviously a vampire, too, but once again Abe fails to realize this). The next day, Henry tells Abe that Barts is a vampire, and that he is a vampire hunter. Abe wants Henry to train him, so he'll be able to kill Barts, but Henry will only do so if Abe promises to obey his instructions, and only kill the vampires he assigns him to kill. Abe agrees, though he's still eager to get his revenge. Once his training is complete (and he's got himself a silver-bladed axe), he moves to Springfield, Illinois, where he studies to become a lawyer. He has no money, but a shopkeeper named Joshua Speed gives him a room above the shop, in exchange for working as a clerk there. (I get the impression that Speed is well-connected politically, more than I would expect a shopkeeper to be, but that's never explained.) Anyway, one day Abe meets a woman named Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). She's engaged to a politician named Stephen Douglas (Alan Tudyk), but it's pretty clear from the start that Abe and Mary will wind up together. Meanwhile, Abe gets telegrams from Henry telling him who to kill each night.
So... this goes on for awhile. And eventually Abe's old friend William shows up, having escaped slavery via the Underground Railroad. (And yes, Harriet Tubman has a role in the story.) And about halfway through the movie, Abe finally gets to kill Barts. But he also finally learns that Henry is a vampire, which leads to Henry explaining his own tragic backstory, about an ancient vampire named Adam having killed Henry's wife and turned Henry into a vampire. And since, according to this story's rules, vampires are unable to kill each other, I guess Henry has recruited and trained various hunters over the years to kill Adam for him. Abe is the only one of them we ever see, and I assume the others had all been killed by Adam, or another powerful vampire named Vadoma (Wikipedia says she's Adam's sister, but I don't recall hearing that in the movie). But Adam tries to get Abe to join him and turn against Henry, instead. Which of course Abe refuses to do. And from this point on, Abe will get some help against the vampires from both William and Speed.
Meanwhile, we never really see Abe become a lawyer, but we do occasionally see him giving speeches and becoming popular with the locals. And then at some point he's just suddenly President; we never even see an election, but whatever. Um... anyway, for some time he stopped hunting vampires, focusing instead on the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation. At this point I must explain... there's this whole subplot, or a bridge between the two aspects of the story, about vampires building an "empire" in the South, and wanting to create their own country. I mean, I'm sure the movie's not saying all Southerners were vampires, and in fact probably most of them had no idea vampires even existed. But... the fact that there were a lot of them in the Confederacy is a major reason Lincoln wanted to go to war against the South. To its credit, the movie makes it pretty clear, ever since he was a young boy, that he is opposed to slavery, so... it's not like the war wouldn't have happened without vampires being involved. But I do kind of have to wonder if it's maybe a bit problematic to tell a story like this (whether a book or a movie) with a central premise that's basically a joke, when dealing with something so serious. On the other hand, I think portraying slave owners as vampires is a pretty decent metaphor, because whether they're vampires or humans, they are real monsters. I'm also quite glad that William got to engage in a fair amount of vampire slaying badassery, because if it were just Abe and Henry (a couple of white guys)... that would be problematic in its own way.
Anyway... lots of stuff happens. Including Jefferson Davis making a deal with Adam to get vampires to help fight the Union at Gettysburg, which nearly led to victory for the South. That is, until Lincoln had an idea about shipping silver weapons to the troops. Of course Adam and Vadoma and some other random vampires try to stop the shipment, but there's a twist that I saw coming all along. (It was still pretty cool, though.) And of course, the Union finally wins the war. There's also... a personal tragedy for Abe and Mary, the nature of which I don't want to spoil, but I have to say that I loved the way Mary eventually got revenge for it. Then there's the 1865 bookend again, shortly before Abe and Mary go to the theater. And then there's another brief scene, which I don't want to spoil, but I thought it was reasonably neat.
So... yeah. I guess the movie didn't do so well critically, but personally I thought it was awesome. There are some questionable elements, and of course the whole concept is redonkulous, but the action scenes were incredible. And come on... you gotta admit it's wicked fun to imagine one of history's most badass statesmen to have been a straight-up badass.