Lincoln swings nasty axe as vampire hunter

While the title, “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,” may look fine on
the science-fiction/horror shelves of the book store, on the
theater marquee it almost induces snickers. As a movie, it seems to
provoke one thought about its expected style: campy.

But this movie, based upon the best-selling novel by Seth
Grahame-Smith, does not serve it up with a wink to the audience. It
is presented in a totally serious fashion, which might please hard
core fans of horror films but leave others feeling underwhelmed.

Graham-Smith wrote the screenplay, which has several deviations from
the book. Key characters in the book have been left out while others
have been added. The climactic finale is not written about at all in
the book.

The director is Timor Behmambetov, who displayed stylish action
chops with the Angelina Jolie adventure “Wanted.” In “AL:VH,” he
exploits many opportunities for slow-motion scenes of mostly
ludicrous human feats of dodging or deflecting mortal damage while
serving up dire consequences to the bad guys.

The book is a clever piece of historical fiction, offering the idea
that Abraham Lincoln, one of the greatest presidents — an
emancipator and a man with the heaviest of burdens of keeping a
country from collapsing amid a civil war — had a secret life as a
vampire slayer. In the novel, Grahame-Smith inserts himself in an
introduction wherein he, as a struggling writer, is mysteriously
given a packet that contains an old journal that turns out to be the
writings of Lincoln. The rest of the book details what was in these
writings, interjecting Lincoln’s recollections into a narrative that
tells of Lincoln battling vampires that were thriving anonymously in
America, mostly in the South where they could feed off slaves.
The book reads like a history text and can be slow at times, but
interestingly, old photos and art work are distributed through the
pages, supposedly authentic proof of vampires.

In the movie, Benjamin Walker has the title role and at 6-foot-3
certainly has the lanky build of Lincoln, but he looks like a young
Liam Neeson — and in fact played a young version of Neeson’s
character in “Kinsey.”

As a child, young Abraham is traumatized by the death of his mother,
believing she was killed by the businessman Jack Barts (Martin
Csokas), who had employed Abe’s father before a falling out. Abe
stews for years, vowing revenge, and as a young adult goes on his
quest to avenge his mother’s death. Instead he finds Barts to be more
than he expected, surviving a gunshot to the eye. Consequently, Abe
is knocked around and upon regaining consciousness finds himself in a
strange home, hosted by Henry Sturgess (Dominic Cooper).

It is Henry who enlightens Abe about the presence of vampires,
including Barts. Henry then recruits Abe to become a vampire hunter.
But this comes with sacrifices — putting aside for now his plan to
kill Barts, and to live a life of a loner with no family or friends.

Abe does put his revenge plans on hold, but violates Henry’s decree
about solitary living. He meets Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead),
and although attracted to her does not act until prodded by his
employer and friend Joshua Speed (Jimmi Simpson).

Two characters not in the book are the two head vampires, Adam
(Rufus Sewell) and Vandoma (Erin Wasson), who have allied with the
South, naturally wanting slavery to continue so vampires can have
sustenance. Also, Adam would like the country to become The United
States of Vampires.

The cinematography is the work of one of the superstars of the
trade, Caleb Deschanel — father of Zooey. The result is a visually
masterful movie. The scenes of Lincoln twirling his deadly axe are
exceptional — although one wonders what the point is of twirling an
axe. A lot of the action sequences do force one to suspend disbelief,
especially in scenes where Lincoln and his undead foes defy gravity.
The heretofore mentioned finale is an edge-of-your-seat piece of
great action, but do not spend any time thinking about it — it truly
is ludicrous.

As for the performances, Walker’s Lincoln is pretty ordinary. His
scenes with Mary lack any chemistry. He is best when interacting with
Henry or Joshua. The physical aspects of the role are where Walker
thrives. He really does look like a expert axe man, although he does
sometime tend to be a lame cowboy when going after vampires, getting
sucked into terrific jams.

Winstead as Mary Todd Lincoln is a real deviation from the book, and
true history. In the book, after the Lincoln’s son Willie dies —
seen afflicted by Vandoma disguised as a maid in the White House —
Mary is bedridden. In real life, the tragedies of her life — losing
children and her husband in death — pretty much drove her crazy. In
the movie, Mary recovers from Willie’s death and plays an integral
role in the strategy employed by the president that turns the tide of
the Battle of Gettysburg, and The Civil War.

Cooper’s Henry is the soul of the movie, a man whose fate has left
him immortal in an eternal battle against those who destroyed his
life and continue to prey upon the world.

Another character not in the book but in the movie is Will Johnson
(Anthony Mackie), a black childhood friend of Lincoln’s who as an
adult becomes a valuable ally, standing with Abe against the vampires.

A Carnival Glory cruise ship excursion is being offered for fans of
the “Saw” horror movies. The cruise, from New York to Canada over
five nights, allows those on the ship to play volleyball and
miniature golf and more with stars of the series, Costas Mandylor,
Mark Rolston, the Jigsaw puppet and various actors who played victims
in the movie. Could the cruise turn out to be wicked and the setting for the next
“Saw” movie?

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