So I’m sure my reaction was similar to many when Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter was slated for release as a novel: “Srsly? Guys, Srsly?”
I may be coming at the whole historical/horror mash-up genre a bit biased, and a bit worried, because this kind of thing is sort of my bag, but the extreme mash-ups are far more over-the-top in dealing with established history and great literature than I’m comfortable with for myself.
After Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, everything else seemed a copycat and I was sure the trend could not last. And yet I’d heard people whose opinions I trust say that Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter was a really good book. So it was added to my eventual TBR pile. Which, sadly, I’d yet to make much of a dent in other than research tomes before the movie appeared.
Upon seeing the trailer before my myriad times of watching Avengers (myriad times, srsly guys, I have a problem) I was sold on wanting to see the film. The trailer caused me to giggle in the best way. It was a deep, belly giggle of: Oh that looks so ridiculous I think I might love it.
And I am here to tell you I loved every *bleeping* minute of Abraham *bleep*ing Lincoln, Vampire Hunter.
I had gained respect for the film before seeing it because the movie had no real star power behind it. (I mean I love Rufus Sewell but he’s not exactly a superstar.) The stars of the film are more renowned as stage actors, not Hollywood types. As a classically trained Shakespearean actress, I respect this, and trust a film in the hands of those who have paced the boards, particularly when it comes to period dialogue, physicality, and presentation. So without star power, this film had to rely entirely on a talented cast and a strong premise. And it stuck to the premise that made it a best-selling novel, partly because Seth Grahame-Smith co-wrote the screenplay, another aspect that made me more inclined to give the film its due.
And from moment one you just have to sit back and enjoy the ride. Once it began, I started trusting the ride too, because you’re in the hands of really brilliant actors doing ridiculous things.
Right away, the film knows you’re going to laugh at it and it doesn’t care. It lets you laugh and then at the same time think: “OMG that is crazy. And gross. And actually, crazy-awesome. OMG do it again.”
Yes, it is trope-a-licious. Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your tropes. Lend me your black-guy best friend and your evil female lackey. Lend me your weak wife and your tortured vamp and we’ll all trope out and still manage to overturn some preconceived notions and carry off unexpected moments that literally had the audience clapping and cheering and laughing in disbelief. Some exclamations from our row:
“Ohmygod that just happened. What?! We are seeing this right now. This is happening. With horses. Awwww yeeaaahhh!” And any number of delighted or possibly disbelieving expletives as we watch beloved historical characters—characters who are already larger than life in our consciousness—do crazy things with axes, guns, and horses.
As an audience we are watching a political hero suddenly become an action hero and perhaps there’s something primal and gratifying about one of the most famous figures of legal justice putting down his pen and wielding an axe of physical justice that had us reacting so viscerally. Provided, like with any fantastical journey, that you let yourself enjoy the ride.
The film is surprising, taking battle scenes to unique levels using unique weaponry and staging that was thrillingly shot. It has moments of sheer beauty, utter horror, and it lets you appreciate both pretty things and terrible things and then you just want to see really shy, adorable Abe go all axe-ninja some more.
And then you’re back to “historical accuracy” for a spell, weaving in and out of two disparate worlds. I love the historical aspects it chose to use, I respect the historical aspects it chose to omit. There are some things we all know about history it just doesn’t address. Yes, it’s romanticized, sure, you might point to any number of issues with the film, but it just doesn’t matter. Because enough tropes were overturned, poked at, embraced then slightly bent that it isn’t easy to just dismiss it outright as schlock or a B movie. It’s too pretty and too well-acted for that. I think this film mixes two entirely distinct genres better than I’ve ever seen it done. The historical aspects aren’t lessened by the action, nor the other way around. It’s like if Merchant Ivory productions and John McClane had a baby. Yippee-ki-yay, Vampire Hunter.
I saw it with a racially and age-diverse crowd, my friends loved it, and it seems we were not alone for there was rousing applause throughout the course of the film and again at the credits. I’ll be seeing it again. And the phrase “Abraham *bleep*ing Lincoln” won’t pass soon from my entertained thoughts.
Leanna Renee Hieber is an actress, playwright, and award-winning, best-selling author of Gothic Victorian fantasy novels for adults and teens. Darker Still: A Novel of Magic Most Foul, an Indie Next list pick and a Scholastic “Highly Recommended” title, is currently a 2012 finalist in the Daphne du Maurier Award for excellence in Mystery/Romantic Suspense in the Historical category, the sequel in the Magic Most Foul saga releases this November. She will be playing Deputy Kellion in the Auror’s Tale web-series and tweets often @LeannaRenee.