Well the box office tallies are in, and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter... did okay. It certainly didn't break any records, but it opened higher than many summer horror films (it nearly outgrossed the Fright Night remake's entire run in just three days), and will probably do okay in the coming weeks with the lack of any real genre offerings. But even if it flat out tanked, I'd take comfort knowing that the film existed at all. Here, in between all the superhero movies and sequels and kiddie fare, is a (relatively) big budget movie about our 16th President of the United States fighting vampires.
And yes, that is a thoroughly ridiculous concept for a movie (or a book; screenwriter Seth Grahame-Smith based it on his own 2010 novel), but what I liked about it is that the filmmakers played it straight. Not only is it structured like a typical biopic, putting (quite charming) star Benjamin Walker in various stages of aging makeup and hitting many bullet points of Abe's life (meeting/marrying Mary Todd, becoming President, the Gettysburg address, taking off to the theater), but at no point do they play up the concept for easy laughs. In fact, a closing scene really nails the idea perfectly (spoiler!) as the good vampire who trained Lincoln in the ways of vampire hunting (and axe-twirling!) is seen in the present day recruiting another.
See, in the movie, it's not like someone enters the Oval Office one day and tells Lincoln that there are vampires nearby, prompting him to spring into action. No, Abe is recruited as a young man, before he even took an interest in law, and it just so happens that he later becomes a powerful political figure and then President. He doesn't appear as "beard and stovepipe hat" Abe until the final third of the film, at which point the audience should be on board with the narrative and just go with it. With the closing scene, the movie seems to be suggesting that anyone can be a vampire hunter (we don't see the face of the new recruit), and it just so happens that this one became a President. Maybe this next guy will become an astronaut or a taxicab driver, who knows?
But even if the movie HAD given us ninety minutes of "traditional" Lincoln fighting the undead and making one-liners (a movie which does exist, for the record: The Asylum's "mockbuster" Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies), who cares? Why is there something seemingly WRONG with a movie that has a nutty plot, particularly in the horror genre? It's the genre most ravaged by remakes and copycats, and thus anything a bit different is automatically worth of at least SOME adulation. Besides, at the end of the day, whether a movie has a "normal" plot or a crazy one, it still costs millions of dollars, employs the hard work of hundreds of technicians and laborers to make it look good, requires solid actors to deliver their lines convincingly, etc. And personally, I'd rather all that effort went into something I hadn't seen before instead of yet another zombie movie that was trying to be Shaun of the Dead or 28 Days Later.
Now, obviously I see more horror movies than the average Joe, so perhaps I am a bit more prejudiced toward generic stories than most. Most folks probably aren't aware that there is practically an entire sub-sub-genre that can be called "Shaun Of The Dead Clones," yet I've seen a dozen or so. In fact, part of the reason that I'm quitting Horror Movie A Day next year is because I'm tired of writing the same old things about the same types of movies all the time. I've lost count of how many times I've had to namecheck Saw because of all of the "x number of people wake up in a dungeon" movies I've suffered through over the past five years, and if I can go the rest of my life without seeing another variant on Texas Chain Saw Massacre's plot, I'll be a happy man.
Because here's the thing about how I usually approach a movie when writing my review: how well it executes its concept, and whether or not I feel they've made a strong effort to do the best version of that movie it can be. So I don't care what the plot is or how silly it may sound on paper - I just don't want to feel like the filmmakers themselves think it's silly and half-ass their job. Make me believe in your goofy idea, and you've already won half the battle. Earlier this year everyone had a good laugh at the trailer for ATM, a low budget horror/thriller about three people trapped in an ATM kiosk. "That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard!" "That's an actual movie?" etc were the comments I read, and I just didn't get it. So what if it sounds ridiculous? Maybe they could find a way to make it work, and I'm much more excited about an unusual concept than another Resident Evil movie that seems designed around how many times they can have a closeup on Milla Jovovich's eyes.
Now, sadly, ATM did suck, but not because of the concept. I was already rolling my eyes at the movie before they even GOT to the titular locale, due to the inane character dynamic, obnoxiously reverse-engineered reasons to get them into the ATM all at once, etc. But you know what? On paper it doesn't sound any sillier than "Three people trapped on a chair lift," but that movie (Frozen) is pretty great in my opinion. Where ATM had the characters doing ridiculous things over and over, Frozen's trio mostly does the same sort of stuff anyone would do in that situation - wait around assuming someone would see them, attempt to jump off, go hand over hand to make it to the next chair and then to the giant pole that has a ladder down to safety, etc. Anyone who knows anything about ski boots and the razor sharp cables would be hard-pressed to find any major plot holes in the film (you gotta factor SOME suspension of disbelief - it is a movie after all), and I think it does a damn good job of helping you forget that the basic plot is a bit goofy.
Some other plots that could be considered silly by some: A haunted videotape (The Ring). Two guys trapped in a bathroom (Saw). A guy who kills you in your dreams (A Nightmare On Elm Street). A killer doll (Child's Play). Snakes on a plane (Snakes On A Plane). At some point, these ideas were probably scoffed at as well, and why? Because they didn't sound familiar. Nightmare On Elm Street came at the very end of the golden era of slashers, and somehow it's the only one in that time that really tried doing something different than all of the other Friday the 13th/Halloween wannabes, focusing on a new kind of villain and stronger characters instead of just attempting to up the body count of whatever movie came before (indeed, NOES' body count is only four; most of them were in double digits by that time). Hell even some remakes manage to pull off what seemed to be impossible; I doubt anyone figured a serious, genuinely great horror movie could be made out of the silly 1950s movie The Fly, but David Cronenberg did just that in 1986.
On that note, I'm not immune to rolling my eyes at certain ideas either. Last year we were "blessed" with a prequel to John Carpenter's The Thing (which turns thirty years old today, incidentally), showing us what happened to the Norwegian (not Swedish) camp discovered in the 1982 film. I thought this to be a rather idiotic idea, but if you go read my review* you'll notice that I found plenty of reasons to dislike the movie without comparing it to (or even MENTIONING) Carpenter's film until a post script I added at the last minute. However, in (purposely) doing so, I wasn't able to make a rather crucial point: the film spent so much time trying to remind us of another movie that it never found the time to be itself. And that's the same problem that plagues so many masked slasher or "terror in the water" movies - they ape the classics (Halloween and Jaws, respectively, in those examples) seemingly out of obligation, and as a result I just spend most of the time watching it reminded of a superior film, ultimately wondering why I didn't just watch that again instead of this allegedly "new" movie.
Now, I'm not saying Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is a great movie, but it COULD have been - the film was held back by some obvious editing and a rather generic villain, but in some ways that even helps make my point: the film's faults had nothing to do with seeing Abraham Lincoln spinning around killing vampires. No, for me, the more out there the plot sounds, the better, because good or bad, that means the movie won't constantly be reminding me of a dozen others. If every day I was presented with a movie as unique (in broad terms, anyway) as Abraham Lincoln, I might consider running the HMAD site longer. It's not "too many bad movies" that have worn me out - it's too many movies that don't give me anything new to say.
*Regarding my dismissal of the helicopter part of that movie, lots of people have said that the Thing panicked because it was just born and wasn't smart yet. Fine. They have yet to come up with convincing arguments for the dozen other problems I had with the movie, but good job on coming up with a theory that a monster that's smart enough to assimilate human beings is too dumb to let a helicopter land safely and execute a more sensible plan when no one knew exactly who it was.