Two fan-favorite vampire movies were released in 1987, just two months apart. One of them is my personal favorite vampire movie ever made. The other one is The Lost Boys.
Directed by Kathryn Bigelow, Near Dark is something of a companion piece to James Cameron’s Aliens, released one year prior. Granted, the films have nothing to do with one another, but what they do share is a few key cast members – Cameron and Bigelow were dating at the time, and when Aliens wrapped, three actors leapt from outer space to the southwest. Lance Henriksen and Jenette Goldstein, who played Bishop and Vasquez in Aliens, star in the horror-western, but the real star of the show was Bill Paxton, who absolutely stole said show as the vampire Severen.
We first meet Severen about 15 minutes into the film, and it takes but one scene for Paxton to give Kiefer Sutherland’s David, then fresh on every horror fan’s mind, a serious run for his “coolest movie vampire” trophy. Severen pins newly-turned vampire Caleb to the ground, the spur of his cowboy boot as hungry to taste blood as he is. “What’s going on?” a confused Caleb asks. To which Severen replies, “It ain’t what’s goin’ on, son. It’s what’s comin’ off. Your face. Clean off.”
The line, one of my all-time favorites, is delivered with such gusto by Paxton that you can’t help but instantly love Severen – a character who’s clearly having so much fun being evil that you’re not scared of him so much as you want to be him. Like Robert Englund in the Nightmare on Elm Street movies that were dominating the box office at the time, Paxton oozed charisma and charm as the bloodthirsty villain, unseating David, in this writer’s mind, as the coolest vampire of them all.
But it’s in the film’s standout scene that Paxton really got to have fun.
In what is easily one of the horror genre’s very best scenes, our band of villainous antiheroes arrive at a local watering hole; Severen leads the charge as they proceed to make the establishment their own and lay waste to anyone who’s not down with that. Cracking wise, walking across the bar top and kicking ass, Paxton is at his scenery-chewing best in the infamous Near Dark bar sequence, displaying every bit of the screen presence that made him such a beloved entertainer.
Revisiting the scene today, I realized that it sums up why Bill Paxton has always been one of my favorite actors. Whether he was playing a good guy or a bad guy, making you laugh, cry, or fear for your life, Paxton was always the most likable and charismatic actor in the room; Severen entering the bar and completely taking over is not unlike Paxton’s own screen dominance in the films he was in. In both Aliens and Near Dark, the ensemble casts are stacked from top to bottom with incredible actors, but it was Paxton who managed to shine the brightest – there’s a reason you remember his lines above all else. His was the best character in nearly every single movie he was in, bringing unmatched confidence, charm and personality to each of those roles.
We didn’t just lose an actor when we lost Bill Paxton this past weekend. We lost one of the great entertainers of our time. For proof of that, you need look no further than his standout performance as the sexy, blood-drinking rockstar known as Severen. Paxton’s infectious charisma didn’t just make movies better, it helped make them some of the greatest of all time. And Near Dark is just one of countless examples of that.
Hollywood is a lesser place without Bill Paxton in it. So too, as James Cameron wrote in his own heartfelt tribute to his good friend, is the world at large.
I leave you with a great behind the scenes shot from the set of Near Dark, shared in the wake of Paxton’s passing by Lance Henriksen. I hope it makes you smile as much as it made me.