Comfortable and Furious

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2012)


Hahaha. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter? How incredibly stupid, amiright?!!

No. Periodically, a lot of people who are detached from popular culture and/or think Forrest Gump is a masterpiece because they regard cinema from the perspective of someone who is only aware of silly entertainment, some of which they mistake for great art, for which they then must find an opposite, just seem to arbitrarily latch onto some movie with a conspicuously goofy title and try to use it as an example of how superior their tastes are to those of the ever-dumber masses. Hahaha, I like serious historical dramas like Titanic but stupid people like Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.

I remember facepalming the mighty Carl Sagan because he opened The Demon Haunted World by crying about Dumb & Dumber being number one at the box office because he thought the movie was a celebration of stupidity, rather than just another comedy about a dumb guy with an even dumber friend, like every Laurel and Hardy movie. Or thousands of other such comedies, going all the way back to Rosencranz and Garfunkel, from The Old Testament. The last one these people got all worked up about was Hot Tub Time Machine, if my notes are in order. Hey, a hot tub can’t be a time machine! I’m so smart!

I mean, you do realize that these movies and their titles are meant to be absurd, right? The people who wrote this book/movie are aware of the fact that Abraham Lincoln did not actually fight vampires. I know it makes you feel smart to point out that Lincoln was a historical figure and therefore serious business, while vampires aren’t even real, but that’s the joke, as they say.

OK, OK, but it was stupid, right? Or as The Voice called it, decadent?

Well, compared to what? Rashomon? In all honesty, I think it might be the least “stupid” movie at the multiplexes right now.

But it’s about Lincoln fighting Vampires!

If I ever gain access to a hot tub time machine, I’m going to use it to wipe out your earliest ancestors and erase the sickening stench of your genetic line from all of space and time.

But what was something specific about Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter that was not stupid?

It was well acted and directed. The story held together well, unlike say, Prometheus. But I think it was also kind of a clever way to spoof hagiography. Like, I would not be surprised to learn that the idea for the story came when someone asked themselves, in their best Chandler voice, could the greatness of these guys be any more exaggerated?

1) I have read every hagiography and don’t see any connection. 2) Not again with this subtext bullshit. 3) Chandler? Really?

If by subtext, you mean Lincoln opening and closing the film (which is about him as a vampire hunter) by explicitly saying that history turns real men and events into preposterous myths then, yes, I guess that is subtext. This is just George Washington and the Cherry Tree taken to the extreme for the purpose of illustrating the absurdity of such cultural practices. You might even call it satire.

Yes, there was some more subtle stuff. Was Lincoln taking the first step to his new role by chopping down a tree meant to evoke Washington’s tree story? Maybe. But even the most superficially minded film student knows The Great Train Robbery was one of the first steps in establishing the narrative in American Film, so I’m certain that this was referenced intentionally. I’m not saying it leads to some grand point laid out in the form of a puzzle for us to solve, but it is clear that the film is having fun with the whole practice of storytelling and mythmaking. The real/imaginary mythology of history. The imaginary/real mythology of vampire lore. The fact that it is a horror/biopic/comedy/war/action/history film. The references to the key stepping stones in both the formation of cinematic stories and our national story. They’re all in the stew.

What is the point of all that unless the film is good?

It’s just clever fun and I think the film is good. Decent action and effects, decent humor. Though I’m generally opposed to the use of ludicrous, Hong Kong-style action sequences, I think this is exactly the kind of film where they are appropriate. You know, all that shit about people flying and walking on two fingers was originally just the Chinese version of George Washington never telling a lie. So, I enjoyed Abe playing horse Frogger in the middle of a stampede. Why not? The whole point is that he is almost divine.

It’s a well-made film, with a clear and consistent tone. For example, the gore and violence levels are high, but not abrasive. You feel bad for Abe when his family members die and want to see him get revenge, but it never gets too serious. For all the dabbling and meandering, every minute feels like it belongs in the same movie with every other minute. I think it was pretty well filmed, but I saw it in 3-D so it was hard to tell because I was too busy worrying I would do it wrong and wind up permanently cross-eyed.

I’m a Chicano Studies Major and I happen to know that the real Lincoln was not as keen on minorities as the one in the film.

You mean, when he wasn’t killing vampires? Actually, to the extent that the film did have a point or a message, it was to poke a thumb in the eye of The South for being the bad guys. You know, enough with this “Southern Heritage” bullshit. And this little Tea Party meme about how Lincoln was wrong to fist-fuck The South because of some string of anachronistically worded nonsense. You were supporting slavery you stupid hicks. Slavery! End of discussion.

So, I guess the irony underpinning the whole film–not the message of the film itself, necessarily, but a reality that frames it–is that while your far-right wing types are the ones to turn history into myth and recast historical figures as gods who would smile upon the contemporary causes of the far right, they are also the ones who find themselves painted into history’s few non-ambiguous corners. I just learned the other day that the vulgar right’s new project is proving that Martin Luther King was actually on their side all along. (Does this mean they will stop opposing holidays in his honor?) I guess the reasoning is that he was a Christian and they are Christians and… well, it doesn’t really matter.

These are the people who will tell you that Jefferson and Franklin were the founding members of the 700 Club because of the liberty, republic, constitution, preserve, founding, tar and feather, republic second amendment, liberty, republic. 100 years from now they’ll be claiming that they were the ones in favor of gay rights and that Nelson Mandela’s primary concern was promoting Intelligent Design. But as much energy as they might spend forging ridiculous myths, the far right can never quite wiggle away from the fact that they always seem to wind up fighting on the side of the vampires.

But good satire doesn’t just make fun of extremist nutjobs.

Well, that’s a good point. We’re all susceptible to and guilty of this sort of idiocy and idol making. I found myself thinking about the Yankee virtues portrayed in the film. Was there a time where we were characteristically a nation of idealists who rolled up our sleeves and beat up bullies? Maybe that spirit still exists somewhere… Or have we always just been a bunch of people who bitch about paying taxes? I don’t know. I look at it this way though. If someone tells you there is a hundred-dollar bill under a rock, most of us are going to have a look even as we are being snickered at.

Others will wind up digging a hole ten feet deep. So, we all tend to build these guys up a little too much. But at the same time, we Americans have enjoyed a pretty, pretty high level of peace at home and prosperity since The Civil War. Can we, individually, take pride in that? Where is the line between patriotism and inventing, and inserting ourselves into childish fairy tales? I can have a laugh at myself for being unable to find that line, but at least I know it exists, which makes this movie more fun. Plus, it is self-evident that Lincoln looks awesome wielding an ax.



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