There are a lot of horror mash-up movies floating around these days. It’s as though studio executives have set up a wire tap to listen into teenagers’ inane school yard conversations: Who would win if Godzilla fought Superman? Wouldn’t it be cool if Ryan Giggs was also a time travelling werewolf hunter? This mash-up trend pays tribute to the kind of campy 70s B-movies where the title of a film told you everything you needed to know about the movie. If you were watching Blacula, you know you are in for a rollicking film about black Draculas. In exactly the same way, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is pretty much the film you expect it to be.
Using the life of the 16th President of the United States as its baseline, AL:VH creates an alternate history in which the vampires of the American South have rebelled against the union in order to keep their slaves (who also happen to be their staple diet). After witnessing his mother dying at the hands of a vampire, young Abe Lincoln vows to avenge her and in his quest, he encounters Henry Sturges (Dominic Cooper), a wealthy young man who mentors him in the way of hunting bloodsuckers. After training Lincoln to twirl his axe like a baton (this is apparently the core skill of the vampire hunter), Henry insists that his protégé live a monastic existence, forgoing friends and family for the greater good. He naturally ignores this command, falling for Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and launching a highly visible career in politics.
Adapting his own novel, writer Seth Grahame-Smith (who also penned the popular mash-up Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) has incorporated elements of Lincoln’s story where possible. In classic historical fiction style, we see that Lincoln learnt every one of his principles and maxims in his quest to cleanse Illinois of vampires. There are plenty of nods and winks to anyone with a basic knowledge of Honest Abe’s life but the movie isn’t campy enough for its own good. Director Timur Bekmambetov handles action sequences very ably, but these characters are portrayed very reverentially and the tone of the performances don’t quite mesh with crazy story.
Bekmambetov benefits from the solid cast, with stage actor Benjamin Walker taking his first lead role as Lincoln himself. Looking uncannily like a young Liam Neeson, Walker carries off the various ages of the president with great aplomb, only to be let down by unconvincing old man make-up. In fact, Lincoln is the only man who seems to age in any meaningful way. In later scenes, Winstead and Anthony Mackie look the same apart from the talcum powder in their hair while Lincoln goes from young man to geriatric in a few short years. It seems a decade of vampire hunting and federal governing really takes its toll on a man’s face.
Some of the computer generated effects are quite bad but the theatrical 3D version features a fight that takes place on top of a train that is one of the best 3D scenes of recent times. While the action itself doesn’t arrive as regularly as one would expect, the movie never lulls in part thanks to its solid cast. British thespians Dominic Cooper and Rufus Sewell (as the evil Vampire slave owner) both look like they’re having a blast while Walker showcases his ability to bring some gravitas to totally stupid movies.
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter has not been hyped or publicised as much as most other summer blockbusters and it works in its favour. If you have low-to-no expectations of this movie, you just might enjoy it as pure popcorn fare.