By any logical measure Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is a bad movie. The key here is that it knows it’s a bad movie. Quoting one of my critic colleagues after the screening had finished he turned to me and exclaimed, “Gleefully bad.” The movie isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel; it simply wants to rewrite history in the most illogically entertaining way possible.
Expectations need to be tempered before seeing it. If you go in expecting anything other than a hilarious, self-aware action film with Honest Abe swinging a sliver-tipped axe at the heads of undead vampires then you’ll end up disappointed. I mean really, why would you go into a movie with a title like Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, directed by the same guy who directed Wanted, with any expectations at all?
The movie is based on the tongue-in-cheek novel by Seth Grahame-Smith who also penned the screenplay. Smith weaves a ludicrous, but entertaining tale about how Abraham Lincoln (Benjamin Walker), the sixteenth president of the United States, was more than just a politician. When Lincoln was just a boy he witnessed his mother’s murder as a man sneaked into their home in the dead of night and bit her. Seeking revenge, Lincoln grew up with the sole purpose of finding and killing her mother’s murderer, a man named Jack Barts (Marton Csokas). Barts isn’t what he seems to be. He’s a vampire. After a botched attempt at killing the man he hates more than anything Lincoln meets up with a mysterious friend named Henry Sturgess (Dominic Cooper). The movie wastes no time in getting to the reason why we’re here: ACTION! And there’s plenty of it.
Sturgess has been hunting vampires his entire life and is about to pass the knowledge onto Lincoln. A few training montages later and Lincoln has become a full-fledged, axe-wielding vampire slayer. All the while studying to be a lawyer and eventually finding a home in politics.
Lincoln soon gains the ire of the head vampire of the South, Adam (Rufus Sewell). See where this is going? In the South vampires thrive by drinking the blood of slaves. Lincoln, as he becomes more entrenched in politics wants to free all slaves. The Civil War commences.
It’s actually quite a bit of fun watching how the movie casually rips out pages of our history books and replaces them with pages from a blood-spattered graphic novel. That’s what the movie feels like. A graphic novel come to life (much like ‘Wanted’).
The movie is fully aware that its entire plot is absurd and it revels in it. Lincoln is always one step away from turning to the camera and winking at us. The movie’s tongue is placed firmly in its own cheek as we watch one of the most famous men in U.S. history fight his way through hordes of computer-generated vampires 300-style. Slow motion action scenes, complete with Matrix-style whoosh sounds take center stage. It’s dumb, but extremely fun if you’re in the right mindset.
It’s all style and no substance, but if you went in expecting any kind of substance, again I refer you to its self-referential title. This is Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and that’s exactly what you get. No more, no less. It’s a hoot watching Lincoln decapitate oncoming vampires all the while wondering how they’re going to fit this all into some sort of faux-historical context. It never takes itself too seriously. It knows that its entire premise is completely preposterous and it doesn’t care one bit. ‘Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter’ is one of the best bad movies I’ve ever seen.