All presidents have their secrets. But what if the greatest president in our history, Abraham Lincoln, was hiding the most important secret of all time? What if Lincoln was fighting not just to save the Union and eradicate slavery, but also to destroy America’s most savage enemy: vampires!?
Such is the rather silly premise of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Based on the best selling novel (which I will state, for the record, that I have not read), this potential summer blockbuster turns Lincoln—already more of a myth than a man in the American imagination—into an even greater hero by recasting him as an ax-wielding avenger of humanity. Several of my friends have asked me to do a review of the film from the point of view of an American historian of the nineteenth century, and so I’ll sink my teeth into it.
Let me begin with the most obvious point—you can’t expect much historical accuracy from a movie with a central premise that vampires are real! It just doesn’t work that way. The only way to take a film like this is to NOT expect things to be ‘historically correct.’ Otherwise, you’ll spend your entire time in the theater going “WHAT? HUH? NO WAY!” When I realized that I was getting so worked up over the legion of historical liberties, I concluded that the way to enjoy such a crazy movie is to fall for its ridiculous premise hook, line and sinker. That being said, I would have appreciated some more logic in places. Just because I can accept vampires in Confederate uniforms doesn’t mean I can accept a train that can defy the laws of physics. I mean, really. Come on.
Oddly enough, I found myself liking the movie. It had humor in places, pathos in others, and at its core a message that the worst way to be enslaved is to be snared by our own evil, selfishness, racism, and inhumanity. In an odd way, the film was a valentine to Lincoln; you certainly couldn’t accuse it of being disrespectful to him, despite possessing enough historical inaccuracies and continuity lapses to fill up Ford’s Theatre. I feel certain the writer chose Lincoln as his hero (instead of George Washington, Zombie Executioner or Calvin Coolidge, Mummy Slayer) because Lincoln is the president we love the most. Even the laziest student knows that Lincoln struggled to rise from poverty, overcame hardship, and devoted his life to a cause beyond himself. He’s the person that, deep inside, we all want to be in our very best moments. Therefore, there’s something oddly reassuring about Lincoln’s righteous bloodsucker slaying, especially after actor Benjamin Walker assumes the oh-so-familiar visage of Father Abraham.
Is this a great film? No—I doubt anyone will call it a classic now or in years to come. Technically it isn’t spectacular (I kept wondering if it had been shot in Instagram) but the acting is acceptable (I especially liked Rufus Sewell as the chief villain). I could go on and on about things that bugged me (How could a woman walk around in pants in the 1850s and nobody notice? Hey, Lincoln had more kids! Wasn’t Mary Todd a lot crazier?) but that would be missing the point. And I’m not at all worried that little kids are going to start believing Lincoln killed vampires. They’re smarter than that.
Ultimately, I don’t mind having a little fun with history as long as the heart of the ‘mash-up’ is in the right place. Americans have been making up myths about Lincoln ever since he took the political stage. Lincoln had a wonderful sense of humor, he loved a tall tale and a good joke. I think he might have gotten a chuckle out of this movie, which is the most we should expect from a film with a pretty good message buried in layers of historical wackiness, oppressive CGI, and fairly amazing ax-twirling.