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Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington

Wilmington on Movies: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

U. S.: Timur Bekmambetov, 2012

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is a movie of almost stupefying idiocy and bad taste — though not enough, unfortunately, to make it funny, or even to make it idiotically amusing. With a straight face and scant story-telling skill, this hopelessly ridiculous movie suggests (tongue-in-cheek, of course) that history’s beloved 16th American president, in the spare time left over from running the country and the Civil War, and not to mention abolishing slavery, had a secret life in which he pursued vampires with a huge silver ax tricked out with James Bond “hidden gun” gimmicks, and chopped their heads off.

Vampires, it seems, had killed Abe’s mother and over-ridden America and especially the South, where they lived in bloody plantation mansions, ate their slaves, were in cahoots with Jefferson Davis, and supplied most or all of the Confederate troops at the Battle of Gettysburg — which was won by Abe when he found and smelted and sent over enough silver bullets to kill the vast companies of the undead, just in time for the little speech he scribbled for the occasion.

More shocking revelations await — shock after shock, in fact. The ax-swinging Abe Lincoln (played very soberly and seriously by Benjamin Walker) — who stole his future wife Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) from talkative senator Stephen Douglas (Alan Tudyk) — used to stroll around Springfield and elsewhere, waving his weapon and looking for action. And he was schooled in vampire detection and demolition by the legendary Henry Sturgess (Dominic Cooper), who picked Abe up in a bar, taught him how to wield his ax and eventually revealed his own terrible secret. (No, not that terrible secret. Another one.)

Unfortunately, Henry’s name has been lost to conventional history, as have largely the names of Abe’s two closest Washington advisors (revealed here), his boyhood freed-slave pal Will Johnson (Anthony Mackie) and his old general store boss Joshua Speed (Jimmi Simpson), who both took over all presidential advising duties when the entire Cabinet and the White House staff were apparently fired (or revealed as vampires) by Abe shortly into his first term. And as have vanished the names (accursed be their memories!) of Abe’s principal scourges in the world of the quick and the undead: fancy-dan vampire muckety-muck Adam (Rufus Sewell), his dominatrix-clad cohort Vadoma (Erin Wasson) and evil mother-murdering minion Jack Barts (Martin Csokas). And as  Abe’s might have vanished too, had he ever been sold to us before, as he is here, painted as a fellow who ran around waving and twirling axes, like nunchucks. decapitating people, rescuing prostitutes, leaping across the backs of a stampeding herd of horses, or fighting supernatural bad guys in a runaway train full of vampire-slaying silver bullets, while barreling over exploding bridges — or any of the other asinine things screenwriter Seth Grahame-Smith and director Timur Bekmenbetov have dreamed up for him to do, here.

I didn’t read the book — and believe me, I never will — but it seems to me that the only way you could possibly make an entertaining show out of a title and a concept as dumb as this, is to do it as a five minute sketch for “Saturday Night Live,” maybe starring Will Ferrell as Lincoln, Tina Fey as Mary Todd Lincoln and Adam Sandler as Adam, the vampire. Get in and get out, fast. Make fun of your own bad judgment.

Unfortunately the people who made Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter — including Grahame-Smith (who also wrote the novel, which probably makes him a repeat offender), most of the actors, and especially director Bekmanbetov (who directs this movie the way this movie‘s Abe Lincoln fought the Battle of Gettysburg) — seem to be either lacking a sense of humor or to have temporarily mislaid it, or to have decided that actually financing and making a movie called Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is enough of a joke for one year.

Despite the seemingly golden comic potential of  the grotesque and dopey things I’ve synopsized up above, much of the movie is actually played straight, ruinously straight — just like your average clichéd bad action movie, interspersed with gaudy action scenes. And Walker plays Abe mostly straight too — when it might have worked this time to do Abe as Stallone or Schwarzenegger may have played him, as a two fisted, rail-splitting, vampire-bashing Great Emancipator who every once in a while dashes off something like The Address before hopping aboard another train and chopping off another head. Think of Stallome or Schwarzenegger in a black stove pipe hat and fringe beard, muttering “Four Score and six years ago… No, four score and seven…” and you’re closet to an entertaining movie than anything you get here.

I like Tim Burton, and he’s made me laugh, and he can even be a bit of a pop-poet. But he really drove a stake through his own heart when he decided to make a movie out of this ridiculous material. (Apparently, the title is what attracted him.) And Burton nailed up his own coffin, rolled it uphill, and threw it into an active volcano when he hired Bekmanbetov (the other Tim) to direct. Bekmanbetov’s previous movies — the Russian horror hits Night Watch and Day Watch — were not exactly laugh riots, but at least they were fast and sleazy, and they held your attention. I wanted to walk out of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, almost as soon as I walked in, and it was that deadening sobriety that ruined the movie for me. Lincoln: Hunter actually tries for a mixed tone at times, part serious, part jokey, a mashup of Masterpiece Theater and Shock Theatre, but it’s awful anyway. There wasn‘t one funny joke in the entire show and if there was and I missed it, well Hell, Abe, what can I say, I’m sorry. But you see, Grahame-Smith left all the punch-lines for the critics. Maybe the best crcak was Colin Covert’s “(This) is the worst thing to happen to Abe Lincoln in a theatre, since he attended ‘Our American Cousin.’”

The whole movie is nervous and over-loud and expensive-looking, full of tacky jump-at-you 3D effects; and watching it sometimes makes you feel as if the country was under attack by a conspiracy of blood-sucking idiots. Even though it was shot by the sometimes marvelous Caleb Deschanel (The Right Stuff, The Black Stallion), the film’s visual style seems like a mistake. Deschanel switches on (or off) the lights and we seem to be lost or trapped in a string of dark, shadowy stage sets, inhabited by monsters and miserable actors, forced to make fools of themselves. The soundtrack is a din of iniquity. (Somebody else’s crack maybe, but it fits here.)

This has been a bad time, in some ways, for literature or history in movies. This ludicrous show gives us the great Abraham Lincoln reduced to a Nicolas Cage pick-up role in an action-horror monstrosity. The Raven put Edgar Allan Poe (the John Cusack smart-alec version of Poe) through the serial killer wringer. (The Ra7en?) In the nauseating Anonymous, director Roland Emmerich and writer John Orloff gave credence to all those snob theorists who think Shakespeare couldn’t possibly have written his own plays because he wasn‘t rich or toney or aristocratic enough — he was too ordinary, too human, (too Shakespearean?) — so it must have been somebody posh, like Edward De Vere, The Earl of Oxford. Well, give me a break, Rolencrantz and Orloffstern. Who knighted you guys, anyway? And I won’t even mention what others have done to Sherlock Holmes.
As for Grahame-Smith, his literary leg-up to this cinematic coup was a successful commission to write something called “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies,” which led him to “Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter” which may open the door for “David Copperfield and the Living Dead,” for “Andrew Jackson: Werewolf of Washington,” for” War and Peace and the Wolf Man,” for “George Washington: RoboCop,” or perhaps for “Hamlet Meets Frankenstein.” (I guess Kenneth Branagh got the jump on that,) Burton also hired Lincoln‘s latest assassin to write the recent Johnny Depp Dark Shadows, which may make the director of Edward Scissorhands seem even more a glutton for punishment.

I suppose we should be happy that moviegoers are reading, or at least thinking about reading, or going to movies that are about books that were once read. But I refuse to believe the ugly rumor that everything signed recently by Seth Grahame-Smith was actually written (and hidden away in a castle) by the Earl of Oxford. They aren’t aristocratic enough.


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4 Responses to “Wilmington on Movies: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter”

  1. Ed Boswell says:

    This person has NO IDEA , NO CLUE as to who did or did not write under the (obvious) pen-name WILLIAM SHAKE-SPEARE. There’s alot of coincidences that need to be explained away in regards to the WS canon and the life and circumstances of Edward de Vere’s life. This clown knows NOTHING about Edward de Vere, taking the lazy man’s route of parroting the tired attack of “snobbery”. As if anyone in America has a vested interest in proving the English peerage superior to that of an English “gentleman”. No, we’re actually interested in truth, and finding out who actually wrote the WS canon. De Vere had acting troupes, squandered his fortune supporting the arts, went to Italy, went to law school, was mired in debt with a money lender in Venice, etc. etc. The “coincidences” are staggering when listed in detail. A true portrait of the artist appears over time, and after hundreds of hours of researching and learning about the “Authorship Question”. DON’T BE FOOLED, this movie critic can pan Anonymous as a bad film, so be it, but his comments on the 17th Earl of Oxford, Edward de Vere, ARE RUDE AND UNINFORMED.

  2. Smiley Blanton says:

    Mr. Boswell: Which comments exactly “on Edward de Vere” do you find to be “rude and uninformed”?

  3. sheila kind says:

    There are schmucks and THERE ARE SCHMUCKS. This is a total schmuck-up from top to bottom. And money came forth to finance this. We live in a country and a time of the ill and uninformed.

  4. For more information try my Oxfordian website on the Sonnets but also subscribe to my blog at


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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon