Blood! Blood! Blood!
The essence of both life and death, blood has been a source of magick and mystery since ancient times.
Some civilizations even believed it to be food for a number of supernatural beings, from gods to demons.
But no folkloric creature’s bloodlust has penetrated the modern zeitgeist more than the famed creature of night: the vampire!
And, despite its idiosyncratic approach, no movie has highlighted the mystic and transformative power of blood better than 1987’s Near Dark.
Blood is Family
Coming on the heels of The Lost Boys, Kathryn Bigelow’s vampiric-western set itself apart as a fresh yet gritty take on the genre(s).
Gone were those beautiful, bloodthirsty punks led by a charismatic (and VERY blonde) David (Kiefer Sutherland).
In their place stood a savage family of outlaws, bonded by their eternal thirst and led by the filthy, scarred face of Jesse (Lance Henriksen).
The film follows Caleb, a dream of a cowboy, as his life is turned upside down by the young Mae, her bite and her adopted family of nomadic hellraisers.
Disgruntled with his clan’s unwelcome new member, Jesse gives Caleb an ultimatum: kill or be killed.
Our protagonist has his work cut out for him as the burgeoning bloodlust attempts to override his moral compass in a bar scene worth its weight in gore.
While blood may have got him into this mess, it, too, is what gets him out.
Caleb’s all-too-convenient blood transfusion culminates in a bodily transformation and he is human again.
But what initially appears as a lazy deus ex machina actually serves as a showcase for the film’s truest star: blood!
Old Blood, New Body
With its literal association to both childbirth as well as bodily injury, blood continues to be seen as a dualistic element of the supernatural, bestowing life to some and death to others.
Ancient Babylonians & Assyrians propagated the myth of Lilitu, a demonic ghoul with a thirst for the blood of babes.
The Greeks had Empusa, the blood-drinking daughter of Hecate, goddess of moon and magic.
Ancient Germanic tribes also believed blood held special powers, sprinkling it upon sacred statues during their sacrificial times known as blóts.
Even monotheism saw blood as a powerful substance, with Christianity’s Last Supper culminating in a blood-drinking ceremony as a means to eternal life, through Christ.
But it was the folklore of 17th and 18th century eastern Europe which would bring the vampire to Western minds; most notably, that of Bram Stoker.
Dracula in the American West
Bram Stoker’s Dracula, with its tale of contagious demonic possession, set the stage for the vampires of today.
Near Dark unabashedly subverted Stoker’s tale of romantic nobility and gothic chateaus, replacing it with a story of fang-less vampire grifters, sucking from the system and bleeding society one drop at a time.
While Dracula’s drinking of blood sustained his beauty…
…the vampires of Near Dark reflect the repugnancy of their deeds: faces frozen in time, accumulations of filth and fear.
Furthermore, the blood of their world takes on a drug-like quality, providing for a family of hemoglobin junkies, eternally cruising for their next score.
Even with these modernizations, blood remains a source of supernatural power til the very end.
While Mae’s mingling of her and Caleb’s blood bestowed him with the everlasting life of a monster, his transfusion allows the regaining of what made him human: eventual death.
Death, A Welcome Reprieve
Blood’s transformative power has deep roots in our esoteric history, from ancient mythologies to more modern fiction.
Blood is part of what makes us human, but Near Dark shows that it’s not all.
Stories of inhuman creatures subsisting on blood and death permeate our collective history.
These stories show us what it means to be alive; that by accepting our inevitable death we may cherish that life which remains.