Book vs. movie: ‘Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter’
By Rebecca Susmarski firstname.lastname@example.org July 11, 2012 4:06PM
Author: Seth Grahame-Smith
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Stars: Benjamin Walker, Rufus Sewell and Dominic Cooper
Genre: Action, Fantasy, Horror
Rated: R for violence throughout and brief
Running time: 1 hour
and 45 minutes
Updated: August 14, 2012 6:01AM
★★★ for the book and ★★1/2 for the movie
As an unabashed history buff and horror aficionado, my geeky heart leapt with joy when I first heard about “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.”
Not only did the plot sound creative, but it also pandered perfectly to an America that has adopted a cultural obsession with vampires.
Seth Grahame-Smith, author of the renowned “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” (Quirk Books), capably transformed Honest Abe into a male, 19th century Buffy the Vampire Slayer in both the “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” book (Grand Central Publishing) and movie screenplay.
But one version proved better than the other. While we can (and will) list reasons why, there was one fact that made both the book and movie works of good quality: Mr. Lincoln never encountered one vampire that sparkled al a the “Twilight” series.
After a humorous introduction explaining how he obtained Lincoln’s secret vampire-hunting diary,” Grahame-Smith uses excerpts from the diary to tell the story of how Lincoln became a vampire hunter.
The future 16th president commits himself to slaying the fanged beasts after his mother is killed by one of them.
Lincoln obtains assistance and tutelage from a good vampire named Henry Sturges, but the ongoing battle with vampires — and the vampires’ connection to Southern slavery — ultimately pull Lincoln into the Civil War.
Surprisingly, Grahame-Smith succeeds in making readers believe his story.
The magic of the book is the reader picks it up thinking the author is ludicrous, but puts it down shocked at how well he pulled off the plot.
Grahame-Smith does this by using the history of Lincoln that we all learned in those boring classes back in high school.
You don’t need to be a Lincoln enthusiast to understand the references in the book (though it is more entertaining if you happen to be), but Grahame-Smith’s twists on the well-known basics makes the book a gem of a historical mashup.
For example, we know that John Wilkes Booth shot Lincoln out of his sympathy for the South, but according to Grahame-Smith, Booth was a vampire who sympathized with vampires.
We also know that Lincoln freed slaves in the Emancipation Proclamation. In Grahame-Smith’s book, Lincoln issued the proclamation to starve the vampires since they had been feeding off slaves.
There is even an appearance by author Edgar Allen Poe and the revelation that vampires killed the people who vanished from the Roanoke Colony.
The incorporation of these facts also contributes to the overall mood of the story.
Grahame-Smith’s serious and brooding tone works because Lincoln’s life, for the most part, was just as brooding.
The inherent sadness of Lincoln’s story and the darkness of vampire lore mesh together more than one would expect.
Grahame-Smith works off this to make the plot succeed such as when he makes vampires kill Lincoln’s first love and third son.
The author also writes surprisingly suspenseful scenes that one would not expect from a book with so humorous a title.
This suspense is evident when Lincoln sets out to kill vampire supporter and, to a lesser extent, future Confederate president Jefferson Davis.
The book does lack in descriptive language, and some of its sub-conflicts are solved too easily to give the book more than 3 stars.
There were moments in which Grahame-Smith could have added more complexity to the story by extending some of the drama.
Despite this, “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” proved a memorable and enjoyable read.
Its unique premise and artful combination of fact and fiction may well serve as a model for authors looking to write their own historical mashups or parodies in the future.
In the film, Abraham Lincoln (played by Benjamin Walker) is still a vampire hunter seeking vengeance for his mother’s vampire-induced death, and he still requires help from Henry Sturges (Dominic Cooper).
But that is about all that remains the same.
Grahame-Smith adds a villain to the screenplay: evil vampire Adam (Rufus Sewell), leader of the bloodsuckers.
Now Lincoln can do inhuman things, like chopping down a tree with three swings of an ax or surviving a train ride over a pit of fire, that would put superhero Iron Man to shame.
The movie is entertaining enough and more worth the price of the ticket than anything Adam Sandler has produced within the past five years.
Unlike the book, however, the film does not succeed in convincing audiences to fully eat what they are served.
Most of director Timur Bekmambetov’s action scenes, with the exception of the final battle, look cheesy on-screen and prevent viewers from fully immersing themselves in the experience.
When Lincoln jumps off running horses or when he fights vampires who jump out of paintings (neither of which occur in the book), it reminds one that he or she is watching a movie rather than feeling in the moment with the characters.
The script, while not a bad one, accompanies the action sequences and adds to the Hollywood feeling of the film.
Lincoln transforms from the conflicted, vengeful person he was in the book into Lincoln the action hero who does not need depth of character as long as he chops off heads.
Grahame-Smith substitutes the integral suspense and historical niches for scenes of Lincoln throwing vampire heads into fires or fighting with a busty female vamp.
Such scenes may be fun to watch, but Grahame-Smith does give up much of the detailed, compelling quality that the book possesses by using them.
A big pro for the movie includes the sets and costumes.
When one does feel pulled into the story, it is often not during the Jackie Chan-esque action sequences, but rather those moments when Lincoln strolls around 1850s Springfield.
With regards to the actors, Walker plays a sufficient, believable Lincoln and Cooper holds his own as Henry.
The underrated Sewell gives the standout performance of the movie, basking in every moment he is on-screen.
He seems to have a ball playing dastardly evil roles, and in this case he makes viewers glad that Grahame-Smith added his character to the plot.
I would recommend the “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” film to general moviegoers who like action flicks with plenty of blood and gore.
The movie is entertaining in its own right, and the overall premise is still different from the same ole plots about aliens or actor Vin Diesel’s fast cars.
However, if you would like a more complex and clever version, head to the library for the book and wait for the movie to come to your local Redbox kiosk.