When Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter was released in early 2010, it took the publishing world by storm. A hybrid work of historical fiction and horror, no one was prepared for the outpouring of critical and commercial success Seth Grahame-Smith’s novel received. Ever on the search for popular works to adapt to the big screen, 20th Century Fox bought the movie rights to the story and are releasing it in the hopes that they will have a new franchise on their hands.
Directed by visual filmmaker Timur Bekmambetov (Wanted), the movie version introduces us to a side of our 16th president heretofore unseen. We are shown a young Lincoln (played by Broadway star Benjamin Walker), still grieving the death of his beloved mother at the hands of a vampire. After fortifying his nerves with whiskey, he locates the monster (Marton Czokas), only to find himself inches from death were it not for the help from a stranger (Dominic Cooper).
Upon awakening in the stranger’s home, Lincoln is offered the task of becoming an exterminator of vampires. It seems that the country is overrun with the creatures, living in the Southern states and using the slave market as a form of sustainable crop. Accepting the job offer, Lincoln is sent to Springfield, Ill., to clean the city of its evil. Shortly after unpacking, he meets a young Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), and woos her away from Stephen Douglas (Alan Tudyk).
When not busy killing vampires, Lincoln finds himself making impassioned speeches against slavery in the city square. It’s not long that he is wooed into entering politics. The resident Lord of the Vampires, Adam (Rufus Sewell), doesn’t take too kindly to both the deaths of his minions or the idea of his steady supply of blood being taken away, and uses the Civil War as his opportunity to turn the United States into a nation ruled by vampires.
If all of this sounds ridiculous, that’s because it is. Bekmambetov has proven himself to be an interesting director, one that has been able to use special effects to move stories along in the past. Here he introduces scenes that could have easily been left on the editing room floor, had it not been for the money used for unnecessary action sequences that bury the film under tons of cheese. While it is necessary for the director to show Lincoln fighting vampires, it is not crucial to showcase the man running across the backs of a hundred stampeding stallions during a chase.
When the actors are actually given a chance to work, they prove themselves to be more than ready. Walker is magnetic as Lincoln, giving a performance that (as ridiculous as it sounds) ranks among the finest portrayals of the man to be captured on film. For every scene that involves ridiculous ax-fu, it is followed by a powerful speech that encapsulates the ideals that would turn brother against brother in this nation.
Perhaps the most surprising performance in the film is that of Winstead as Mary Todd. Giving a fiery characterization to a somewhat controversial historical figure, the actress contributes to the story a character that is full of life and light in contrast to the rest of the movie. After appearing in such lackluster fare as The Thing it was becoming questionable as to whether the actress had lost the flash and verve she had shown in earlier work; here she brings those qualities to the forefront and makes the audience fall in love with her all over again.
In the end, Lincoln’s return to the theater proves to be once again disastrous for the great man, only this time all of the damage manages to occur onscreen. While Bekmambetov isn’t quite the villain that John Wilkes Booth proved to be, the director is responsible for the travesty he has delivered to us, and finds himself with a smoking gun of a terrible film in his hands.