‘Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter’

To test a man's character, give him power


Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” is a brain-dead undead movie that takes America’s 16th president, the Great Emancipator, and turns him into the Great Decapitator, using his hitherto unknown kung fu fighting skills and silver-tipped axe to dismember dozens of ghouls. One can only imagine what further pseudo-historical travesties Hollywood has up its sleeve: “Mahatma Gandhi: Chainsaw Hero”? “The Apostles: Fists of Fury”? “William Zombie Shakespeare: Cursed be He Who Moves My Bones”?

Regardless, it would be hard to imagine that any of them could suck any harder than “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.” The film’s screenplay is by Seth Grahame-Smith, who had a novelty best-seller with his Jane Austen parody, “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies,” and clearly surrendered to that age-old impulse to “do the same thing, but different” with more 19th-century horror. Any similarity to “Queen Victoria: Demon Hunter” by A.E. Moorat, which was already on the shelves when Grahame-Smith was getting, uh, inspired to write the book from which this film is adapted, is purely coincidental. (Although as Carl Jung says in “A Dangerous Method,” there’s no such thing as a coincidence.)

“Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” was rather cheekily billed as “transforming a masterpiece of world literature into something you’d actually want to read,” assuming of course that “you” are a fanboy who’s never read anything more demanding than “Lando Calrissian and the Mindharp of Sharu.” A similar arrogance is also apparent in “AL:VH”: The book and film insist that nothing the historical Lincoln did — rising from indentured labor as a child to become president, guiding the North to victory in the civil war, preserving the union and ending slavery in America — is of any interest whatsoever unless he can run up walls and massacre ghastlies in bullet-time slow-motion with “cool” steampunk weaponry.

With “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies,” much of the humor came from how much of the source material Grahame-Smith wove into his grindhouse version; he attempts the same trick with “AL:VH,” taking all sorts of incidents from Lincoln’s life and reinterpreting them as connected to the secret history of vampires. Thus the sudden death of Lincoln’s mother is due to a bite on the neck, Lincoln’s stand against slavery is because the Southern aristocracy are all vampires feeding on the blood of their servants and the Battle of Gettysburg is won with an arsenal of silver-cladded bayonets.

Don’t get me wrong: There’s nothing inherently bad about the undead genre — I’m knee-deep in episodes of “The Walking Dead” — it’s just that “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” is such crap. It’s the kind of movie that thinks its audience is so dumb, attention-deficit-disordered or both that it can make a huge point of establishing the fact that vampires can’t attack or harm other vampires, and then simply discard this rule in the climactic battle, no reason given. Similarly, some people who are bitten by vampires turn into vampires themselves, while others merely die. It’s hard to buy into the story when the filmmakers can’t even keep their universe straight.

Director Timur Bekmambetov (“Night Watch”) is well on his way to becoming the kind of generic hack who could work for producer Jerry Bruckheimer. (Or maybe I should say producer Tim Burton is fast on his way to becoming the next Bruckheimer.) He fills his film with flashy special effects — such as disappearing vampires who suddenly re-materialize, and Lincoln using his trademark stovepipe hat like Oddjob in “Goldfinger” — which are “improved” by headache-inducing 3-D. The sudden fangs-bared-gaping-jaw-in-your-face shot must be used at least 20 times. Bekmambetov doesn’t stint on the gore, and manufactures the usual fanboy orgasm in the last reel, where the action just gets louder and faster and LOUDER and FASTER until it climaxes with one big fireball explosion.

Oh yeah, there are actors in this. Benjamin Walker has the misfortune of playing Honest Abe in the same season as Daniel Day-Lewis (in the forthcoming “Lincoln”), and suffers by the comparison. (Note to the director: Having blood on your hero’s face in almost every scene does not make him look tougher, it just makes him look gnarly.) Dominic Cooper, so terrifying in “The Devil’s Double,” gets the Yoda/Morpheus role here, teaching Lincoln zen lessons in esoteric antivampire martial arts, such as how to fight in the dark and chop down a tree with a single stroke. “Power, Lincoln, comes not from hate, but truth!”

About the only good thing I can say about this film is that it respects history enough to end with Lincoln on his way to, presumably, an assassin’s bullet at Ford’s Theatre: Surely there can be no sequel.