“Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” (A Nickell-odeon Review)

June 29, 2012

Is nothing sacred? Ask that of the novelist (Seth Grahame-Smith) and the subsequent moviemakers behind Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. How else does one explain their cra$$ exploitation of the sixteenth president, who was martyred for emancipating the slaves and saving the Union at the cost of a bloody war? Bloody? Humor here, with fake blood by the barrelful. Ha, ha!

As a vampirologist—one who seriously studies the history, lore, and lure of the vampire myth (see my Tracking the Man-Beasts, 2011, pp. 121–146)—I can appreciate vampire folklore (shared tales), fakelore (literary creations), and even jokelore. However, as a longtime defender of Lincoln’s legacy (from various forgers and other scoundrels), I am not amused by Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Of course no one takes the movie seriously, but that’s the point: it trivializes a great period in American history.

Its plot follows the absurdity of the title. Lincoln’s mission is to kill the monster that took his mother. Famously known as “the Railsplitter,” he uses his trademark axe, which he twirls in martial-arts fashion, lopping off the bloodsuckers’ heads. It is not an ordinary axe, but one whose blade is edged with silver. Yet this vampire motif does not derive from the pre-Civil War era, nor even from Bram Stoker’s 1897 Dracula (which contributed much to the vampire in popular culture). Instead, the use of silver—originally in the form of a silver bullet—came from novelists creating fakelore about werewolves.

Yet the movie takes this displaced, non-vampire motif to the Nth degree. In the run-up to Gettysburg, to counter the vampire-infiltrated Confederate army, Lincoln launches a quest for silver that rivals the scrap-metal drives of World War II. Indeed, those no doubt inspired the movie’s scenes of the collecting and (in great factories) melting of silverware, coins, etc., to produce silver weapons, including bayonets and ammo—not only bullets, but even silver cannonballs!! Ha, ha!

Lincoln also has a vampire-slaying kit. Many people believe such kits are authentic historical artifacts, and they are today occasionally sold by auction houses and displayed in Ripley’s Believe It or Not! museums. Actually, they are notoriously faked. (Typically they consist of an assortment of real antique items displayed in a genuine antique box that has been repartitioned and relined, the original of the current wave of kits reportedly dating from just 1972.) Lincoln’s kit—which contains standard items, like wooden stakes—is much larger than the typical box. It is the size of a trunk because it must hold Lincoln’s axe. Wink, wink. Ha, ha!

But why fault the film for its perversion of vampire mythology? That pales to insignificance compared to what it does with American history. Some critics put such content concerns aside and rate the movie at, say, three stars, purely for its entertainment value (including some great special effects). Call me old-fashioned, but I insist on a movie being something more than an example of what not to do.

Rating: Half a wooden nickel (out of four)

Half Nickel