Warning: This review reveals details of the plot.
Historians were aghast and controversy reared its ugly, misshapen head, when the screenplay for Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, a biopic of the 16th US president, seeped onto the Internet. Hollywood’s relationship with the past is often noted for its cruelty and neglect but Spielberg’s treatment, read by millions, seemed nothing short of vandalism. Amongst the many omissions was the death of Lincoln’s mother from a vampire bite, the young Abe’s instinctive views on slavery, the axe training he received from an undead mentor that enabled him to slaughter countless nosferatu and the President’s role in marginalising their contribution to the Confederate cause. Fortunately action pornographer Timur Bekmambetov and Seth Grahame-Smith, still sought by the International Film Crimes Court in The Hague for his contribution to Dark Shadows, are artists, not imbeciles with a $70m train set, so have studiously avoided the same mistakes.
Watching Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter reminds you of the immortal tag for Peter Jackson’s Braindead – “you won’t believe your eyes!”. Indeed there are moments in this mound of historic mash, where you rub your peepers until they look like glacé cherries. Never mind the optics, you won’t believe the movie opening with a quote from the book of Genesis, or the moment where Abe has a HORSE thrown at him, or, while we’re here, the part where Dominic Cooper’s tutor tells Lincoln, “I sent you to Springfield to hunt vampires, not to chase votes!”
All of which might have been great fun, after all this wasn’t designed to help tadpoles pass their GCSE in American History, though by all accounts it wouldn’t be out of step with the current exam, but Abe’s travails are beset by the Grahame-Smith effect. His is an approach to writing that pairs a classic text or historical figure with a monster and then, with the scribe high on his own hybridising genius, “breaks the story”, which in script terms usually refers to plotting the beast, but in Grahame-Smith’s case, is the literal outcome.
The screenplay that Bekmambetov has shot… kicked, gashed and blown up, is goop to fill a stovepipe hat: a ragbag of style clichés and platitudinous bullshit. Abe is given advice like, “real power comes from hate, not from truth” and if you like that, plenty more fortune cookies were cracked open on set. Characters are dragged through the story using familiar devices like dead relatives who must be avenged and that old reliable, the family under threat. When Abe’s Willie is sucked dry by a satanic feminoid, that’s Willie, his young son, we’re prompted to wring our poor, battered eyes and see what flows, but tears there are none. Long before then, anaemic players have slain our sympathies, so too the withered plot. In a movie like this the distended train-bound finale, with its fat, 360 ° visuals, and The Gettysburg Address intercut with a vampire being stabbed through the skull, constitute something of a recovery, but should they really?
Abe’s retcon killing spree may only be notable for being the latest example of Hollywood’s southern discomfort. When General Lee surrendered he couldn’t know that 147 years on, the Confederacy would still be lumped in with all life’s depravity and social sickness. Here vampires join the ranks of confederate soldiers, a neat metaphor for their inhuman bent. In fact, the movie makes the point that only in the deep and dirty south, where slavery was as natural as incest, could vampires thrive: a constant supply of food with great institutional cover. Those poor rednecks; they lost the battle *and the war.