Before I begin, I feel it’s important that you know that Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter wasn’t just some crazy screenplay that Tim Burton found. No, it’s actually a book written by Seth Grahame-Smith, author of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and How to Survive a Horror Movie: All the Skills to Dodge the Kills. Besides the fact that Grahame-Smith is a total film and comic book nerd, he is also hilariously intelligent. Who else could write a bestselling novel by adding zombies to a Jane Austen book? Oh, and did I mention that these books are typically categorized as humor and comedy? If you’re wondering why I’m explaining this to you, let me ask you this…
When you first saw the trailer for this movie, did you believe it was comedically ironic or did you think some Hollywood big-shot was trying to make a badass out of Abraham Lincoln? The latter, you say? Hmm, interesting. Well, gird your loins because I’m about to rip this movie a new one.
Oh, and the plot? Here’s how the official website describes it: “Visionary filmmakers Tim Burton and Timur Bekmambetov reinvent the time-honored genre and present the terrifying creatures of the night as they were meant to be experienced—as fierce, visceral, intense, and bloodthristy. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter brings to the screen the secret life of our nation’s favorite president…as history’s greatest hunter of the undead.”
Let’s start with the things that worked well, like the actor who played Abraham Lincoln (Benjamin Walker). He was a good choice because he really did look similar to our 16th president. He was tall, had the right bone structure, and carried himself in a way that I imagine Lincoln would’ve done. His acting skills were meh, but the dude could at least wear the hell out of Lincoln’s beard and top hat. I will say, too, that this movie’s take on the vampire look was different in a good way. The vampires had fangs, but they were almost zombie-like in their facial expressions and flesh tones; and considering they’re the villains in this movie, it made them all the more unsettling to look at.
And the train fight sequence at the movie’s climax was pretty cool. It was well-choreographed, and Lincoln really did seem like a total badass as he chopped and swung his axe at every vampire who tried to board the train (which, plot point, was pretending to carry silver to the Union troops in Gettysburg so that they could defeat the Confederate vampire soldiers while the real silver for the troops was being snuck in by the Underground Railroad). Obviously, toward the end of the fight, things started to go downhill (literally). The whole bridge burning and crumbling and “We have to jump from the train as it falls” thing was hilariously fake, but at least, in the moment, you can get caught up in whether or not the characters will live.
But there was so much wrong here that this movie was impossible to enjoy. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is a prime example of what happens when Hollywood gets their hands on a book and completely muddies its concept, of which you can tell by the lack of focus on the genre and the presentation of the story.
When Seth Grahame-Smith wrote Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, he did so with a sense of irony. He knew how ridiculous adding the supernatural into a period piece would be. He also knew how ridiculous making our 16th president into a vampire hunter would be. That’s why it’s funny—why the book is specifically listed as humor. I read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (which, apparently, is also in the works for a movie) and found myself laughing constantly. The way Grahame-Smith used all of Jane Austen’s original prose from Pride and Prejudice and just threw zombies into the plot while still referring to the zombies in Austen’s manner was absolutely hysterical (imagine Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy chopping off the heads of zombies while they discuss the propriety of her family’s actions). Again, this is why it’s funny!
But this movie failed miserably when it tried to focus too much on being a “serious” action movie and didn’t try (at all) to capture the irony of Grahame-Smith’s work. Hollywood doesn’t get subtlety, and few directors can convey the intentional irony of certain screenplays or books. So, if you saw this movie and you thought it sucked, I guarantee you…this is why.
And the special effects in this movie were terrible. I hope it’s because they had a low-budget and not because their CGI designers just suck. The scene where the terrible special effects were most noticeable was when Abraham Lincoln chases Jack Barts (Marton Csokas), the vampire who killed his mother, in a field of running horses. Besides the fact that the horses were very obviously CGIed as they darted around Abraham and Jack, there was the whole Abraham and Jack jumping across the backs of the horses as they fought. I honestly eye-rolled during this part. You could tell they put more CGI effort into the train scene because it didn’t look as awful as the one with the horses; but nevertheless, if you can’t afford good special effects, then don’t make an action movie.
And don’t even get me started on the RAMPING! What is this—high school technology class?! This is such an action movie cliché! (If you don’t know what ramping is, it’s when the normal 24-frames-per-second is upped to 48 or some other ungodly number, which slows down the action, making the sequence look like it’s in slow-motion). One minute, the character is fighting in normal time, then his movements slow down, and then they speed up again. So cliché. And every action movie does this, too. Don’t believe me? I dare you to find an action movie within the last five years that hasn’t used ramping.
Overall, this movie was just a hot mess. I don’t blame it at all on Seth Grahame-Smith’s book because I know that he writes hilarious and unique stories. No, I blame this ALL on the production company, the director, and the writers for screwing this story. They tried to “Hollywood” what was written as an ironic, alternate history of Abraham Lincoln (by which I mean they tried to make it badass in order to appeal to their target demographic of adolescent and young adult males), and it just came out seeming cheesy. It makes me sad to say this, especially with the respect I have for the author of the book, but this movie just plain sucked. Unless you’re my grandpa, who happens to love terrible movies, then I wouldn’t recommend it. In fact, I would prefer that you didn’t go see it at all so that way Hollywood will learn that they can’t take a good book, repackage it as a piece of shit, and then sell it to you for more than it’s worth.