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Vamping up American history

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (15)
Review rating ***
You have to admit, it’s a good title. Sadly though, we’ve been here before as far as genre “mash-ups” are concerned. Cowboys and Aliens (a film so poor the head of the studio publicly apologised for it) trod a similar path of marrying American history with fantasy-action, and succeeded in making both remarkably dull. Does Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, the latest in this embryonic genre, fare any better?
In its favour, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter has a few nice ideas to sustain it. Firstly, a number of scenes attempt to dovetail Abraham Lincoln’s hatred of slavery with his mission to combat the blood-sucking dead by casting the Southern states of America as a sort of embryonic vampire nation. In the same way that the wealth of white settlers was dependent upon the exploitation of slave labour, Abraham Lincoln’s sunlight-shirking baddies must exploit the slaves for their food. In a fleetingly chilling scene, set during a vampire ball, the master of ceremonies announces that “dinner is served”, at which point the house slaves are mercilessly devoured.
The second relatively neat idea concerns the way Americans have mythologised their own history to the point where it’s more fiction than fact. To a considerable extent, figures such as Abraham Lincoln now exist more clearly in the minds of the public in quasi-mythologised form, with incidents such as the (almost certainly apocryphal) cutting down of the cherry tree in a single axe-blow seamlessly co-opted into the myth-making process. Since America’s arguably most famous President is already halfway towards legend, why not go the whole-hog and turn him into a full blown superhero?
This was a much more prominent idea in the novel on which Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is based, and gave a certain backbone to the rather schlocky narrative. Sadly though, the film adaptation doesn’t pull these ideas through with any real force, and the interesting analogies it does create tend to get lost amid a welter of sizeable, but somehow never terribly frightening, action set-pieces.
Possibly the film’s biggest problem, however, is its script. Cowboys and Aliens had great problems with tone, deciding whether to play the story out seriously or for laughs, and Abraham Lincoln falls into some of the same traps. Some lines are quite obviously gags (“Hurry up Abe, we’re going to be late for the theatre”), but others are just a bit daft (“This first day of Gettysburg has been a disaster!”). The film never entirely resolves to its own satisfaction what pose to take on the subject, leaving the audience in the undesirable position of having to arbitrate whether scenes are serious or comic.
But still, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter was an entertaining romp, and a perfectly enjoyable way to spend an afternoon. It’s not nearly as good as its title would suggest, but while it never quite lives up to expectations, it doesn’t fulfill one’s worst fears either.

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