JUNE 8, 2012
The first time I saw a trailer for Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter I was confused, but not about the fact that he was fighting vampires - I was fine with that. No, I just didn’t get why Abe was some dude that looked younger than me, and sans a beard to boot. I mean, obviously at some point Abraham Lincoln was a young man, but that’s not the image that anyone brings up when they think of him. We think beard, stovepipe hat, bad theater seat selector… THAT’S the guy we want to see fighting the undead. So kudos to the Asylum for getting that much right with Abraham Lincoln Vs. Zombies, which depicts a traditional Abe, wielding a scythe and saying things like “Emancipate THIS!” as he decapitates some poorly made up zombie extra.
Being an Asylum production, you can’t really ask too much of it. Most of the period setting is depicted by what I assume is stock footage of Civil War battles and such, while the actors have hilariously glued on beards and try their best to look like they’re from the 19th century. Likewise, it’s not surprising to discover most of the movie takes place in a single fort (thankfully shot in Savannah instead of Los Angeles, like most Asylum productions), with the plot mostly serving as an excuse to move the actors from room to room every now and then – this movie must hold the record for most action sequences revolving around someone opening/closing a door in time.
It’s also kind of boring, despite the promise of the scenario. I can only assume that the zombie extras weren’t being paid enough to move, because more often than not they’re all just literally standing motionless as our heroes run around them (“they’re sleeping,” someone says, to cover their asses). Even the hilarious sight of Abraham Lincoln decapitating a zombie gets old after a while, and when he’s not on-screen it’s nothing but an amateurish, repetitive zombie movie without any real personality of its own. Even the Civil War backdrop isn’t exploited for maximum effect – since the whole thing is in a single fort and there are Confederate AND Union hero characters, I was hoping for some Assault on Precinct 13 style uneasy alliance stuff, but after a few lines of lip service regarding their opposition, there’s no tension whatsoever between the blues and the grays.
However, it still ranks as one of their better films. First off, Bill Oberst Jr is terrific as Abe, taking it totally serious and getting the voice and mannerisms down pat; when he’s not fighting zombies you can buy him as playing the man in a legitimate drama. I don’t know if he’s ever played the role before, but he’s in some good company (Lance Henriksen, and Daniel Day Lewis in Spielberg’s upcoming film), and does a damn respectful job. I don’t know how many Asylum films I’ve seen, but I certainly know that this is the first one that had a real performance at its center, so well done.
I also liked how they made some admirable attempts to fit it into the real history of Gettysburg, bookending the film with Abe’s difficulty in coming up with something to say only for the events of the film to serve as his muse. And Abe was sick for real during his address, so it’s kind of funny that they chalk it up to him being exhausted after a few days of fighting zombies. There are other little touches as well; he even has a young Teddy Roosevelt aiding him during the battle. But the best is kind of a twist; John Wilkes Booth is another character in the film, and how they tie in his importance to the ridiculous plot of the movie is kind of genius, even somewhat touching.
And that’s the thing that is either a major problem or a good sign about the movie – they almost seem to be trying to make a real movie here. Overall I think the Asylum has improved over the past couple of years, churning out more consistently enjoyable films and living up to (muted) expectations, but I’m not sure if this particular title was the one where they should be trying out legitimately interesting story ideas or laudable lead performances. Try as they may, at the end of the day it’s still a movie about the President of the United States fighting zombies, and thus it’s impossible to take seriously. I couldn’t help but wonder if they shouldn’t have just had Oberst as a legit Abe on the sidelines as his secret service guys (and his ex-girlfriend, who they run into) did all the zombie fighting. It might have been easier to swallow. At any rate, I laud the Asylum for inching closer to making movies that feel like they have real scripts, and hope they continue putting in this level of effort with the storytelling and acting. As long as they know that if they present what seems like a real movie, I have to give it real criticism, instead of just grading them on how bored I get like usual.
The disc has two extras of note; a gag reel that doesn’t seem to have any actual mistakes, and a brief making of that curiously focuses on key grips and gaffers instead of any of the principles. A full minute of it is devoted to a crew member’s (quite understandable) attraction to actress Hannah Bryan, which is kind of weird but probably the only interesting thing about it. Sadly (for real!) there is no commentary – given the authentic location and what I assume are Civil War re-enactors filling out the cast, there was probably something interesting to talk about for a change. Oh well.
What say you?