A film review by Craig J. Koban June 27, 2012


2012, R, 105 mins.

Lincoln: Benjamin Walker / Sturgess: Dominic Cooper / Will: Anthony Mackie / Mary Todd: Mary Elizabeth Winstead / Adam: Rufus Sewell / Joshua Speed: Jimmi Simpson / Vadoma: Erin Wasson / Jefferson Davis: John Rothman

Directed by Timur Bekmambetov / Written by Seth Grahame-Smith, based on his novel


Abraham Lincoln: country lawyer, Whig Party Leader, member of the House of Representatives,  16th President of the United States, the Great Emancipator of the American Civil War, the five-dollar bill guy, and...yes…vampire hunter. 

Wait, what?! 

Yes, the hilariously and absurdly titled ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER – taken from Seth Grahame-Smith’s 2010 novel of the same name – tells a different story of the man that is widely considered the greatest president in American history.  It's an origin tale of Honest Abe from his humble beginnings to becoming Commander-in-Chief that many historical texts have already taught us in high school, but what it reveals is that Lincoln was, in fact, a highly trained assassin of the undead who wielded a silver laced axe – with hidden shotgun in its handle - to decimate bloodsuckers that were waging war on mankind.  The film has also confirmed one long time suspicion that I have always had: ravenous nosferatus were in league with the Confederate States of America during the Civil War, which made them anti-Union and pro-slavery.  Those sons of bitches!.  

Sarcasm aside, the biggest mistake that audiences will make heading into a faux-history/horror film like this is to take it too seriously.  This is one silly, silly movie based on a single one-joke premise derived alone from its title.  Material as limitlessly ludicrous as this can be played either (a) for schlocky camp value and laughs or (b) fairly straight laced.  Going in I was expecting ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER to be an all out farce, but the makers here have perhaps more compellingly laid out Grahame-Smith’s source material with a relatively sincerity.  That’s not to say that the film takes itself too gravely, but the overall solemnity in which it casts the material allows ourselves to buy into its cockamamie premise and become more willing participants in the film’s spectacle of counterfeit history.   The film does contain real history, mind you, but it's balanced with monster flick underpinnings quite well.  In the end, ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER becomes kind of an engrossingly – and, frankly, surprisingly – entertaining mishmash. 

The first half of the narrative is based on Lincoln’s boyhood trauma of seeing vampires attack slaves and, in particular, the murder of his mother by one of these cruel monsters.  The film flashforwards to Lincoln as a young man (played by Benjamin Walker, who looks astoundingly like the love child of Eric Bana and Liam Neeson) as he continues to hold a serious grudge against his mother’s nocturnal killer, Jack Barts (Marton Csokas).  This leads Abe to have a chance encounter with the charismatic Henry Sturgess (the reliably charismatic Dominic Cooper) who reveals to Lincoln that he is an expert vampire hunter and killer extraordinaire.  Henry is willing to take Abe under his tutelage and teach him all of the ways – both messy and messier – to rid the world of vampires, but only if Abe divorces himself from all social distractions.  



After a swift ROCKY-esque training montage (during which Abe acrobatically twirls around his axe with the swiftness and dexterity of a Cirque du Soleil performer) the future lawyer and U.S. president moves to Springfield to not only kill vampires, but to become a lawyer, then a politician, and then a husband to Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) who is none the wiser as to Abe’s nightly skirmishes with vampires.  Eventually, the film moves forward in time again to the 1860’s when the elder Lincoln has become president ands now finds his great nation divided into Civil War after his signing of the Emancipation Proclamation.  Worse yet is that the leader of the vampires as a whole, Adam (Rufus Sewell) has allied himself with the Confederate President Jefferson Davies, which will make for a nearly unbeatable tandem on the battlefield against a far weaker Union army.  Alas, Lincoln has an ace up his sleeve when he finds a way of ensuring the defeat of the Confederate/vampire army.  Spoiler alert: the North wins. 

The performances in the film are remarkably earnest considering its limitless outlandishness.  Benjamin Walker may lack a magnetism as an actor, but he more than makes up for that as a tall and credible Lincoln in youth and in old age (most importantly, he never devolves his take on Abe to the point of being a silly cartoon figure, but rather inhabits the visage and spirit of Lincoln as he would perhaps playing the role in a straightforward biopic).  Dominic Cooper is a nice foil to Walker that plays his vampire killer/mentor figure with a full-bodied zest and determination.  And, yes, Mary Todd Lincoln is one serious babe in this film, especially considering that she’s played by the luminous Winstead; even she is given her moment to kick some vamp ass in the film as well, something that no other First Lady has ever been compelled to do. 

The film frequently looks sensational, thanks largely to the vision of Kazakh-born director Timur Bekmambetov, who previously helmed WANTED, a film that I thought had some of the most vigorous and creatively envisioned stunts and action scenes I’ve seen in a long while.  ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER lets Bekmambetov’s glossy, ultra-high tech, CGI and slow-motion heavy, and frenetically paced stylistic impulses loose with reckless abandon; he seems to be having a ball with every moment of gory, artery-spewing, and bone crunching 3D carnage (granted, seeing a young African slave boy whipped in a one gimmicky, in-your-face, multi-dimensional wow moment felt more than a bit sensationalistic and needlessly tawdry).  Nonetheless, Bekmambetov creates some truly bravura action sequences, such as one chase scene involving Abe and his prey in the midst of an endless number of horses galloping at full stride or a positively thrilling showdown between Abe and Adam on top of a speedy train that careens atop of a rickety woody bridge that’s been set ablaze, ready to implode at any moment.  

Yet, ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER misses the mark when it comes to areas of macabre social and political satire (the notion that slave owners were vampires elicits all sorts of scathing commentary, which is never highlighted or acted upon in the film).  The main villains themselves are not really intriguingly developed, and the sight of Sewell yet again playing his umpteenth movie villain feels more perfunctory than ever (imagine the type of eerie bite that a Michael Shannon could have infused in Adam).  The film also could have benefited from a bit more light-hearted fun, but it still has some sly moments that generate big laughs in spite of themselves.  My favorite occurs after a sequence that shows the greenhorn vampire hunter that is Lincoln failing to kill a member of the undead by shooting him in the eye (these creatures require more icky methods of elimination).  After Henry offers his protégée several choices of firearms that he rejects, he asks Abe what he would like to use.  “Well,” he politely tells his teacher, “I used to be pretty good at rail-splitting.”  

And with that...an axe swinging, vampire decapitating, Civil War-era, slave-freeing, Presidential super hero was born. Plus, how cool is it to sit through a history film that's not just a dry regurgitation of established facts?

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