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‘Near Dark’ Highlighted Everything That Was So Special About Bill Paxton

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.


22 Comments
  • Munchie

    I really should watch this again. I’ve only seen it once and absolutely hated it when I watched it. Weird, I know.

  • Matt

    This may be an unpopular opinion, but I think Near Dark is a better vampire flick than The Lost Boys was. Much better. A big thanks to the great Lance Henriksen for giving me a new desktop background.

    • Mike

      I agree. It definitely aged better.

    • Creepshow

      I’m with you on this. Near Dark was just more gritty, and less bubblegum & Aquanet.

      • Matt

        Thank you. I kind of expected to take a beating for this comment, given the love for The Lost Boys. While I liked TLB, I found it more of a “Goosebumps for teens” type of movie. (Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing.)

        • Creepshow

          You shouldn’t expect to get trounced for this. I put Near Dark…above The Lost Boys AND Fright Night.

          • Otterlee

            Lost Boys was noted by me for the scenery. As a teenage girl mullets > gritty.

      • Scott Chambers

        I think they’re both equally well made films but I prefer The Lost Boys, when I watched Near Dark I was kind of disappointed. It wasn’t bad but after years of film magazines or word of mouth hyping it to me I was left feeling that I had missed something. Maybe I did who knows? I think The Lost Boys is the superior film because it still has this crazy mixture of tones that strangely work.

        Its acknowledges that Vampires are kind of camp and not that scary so they approach it through a different angle of puberty plus the cinematography at times is beautiful, sound track, great. Sharp script. The homoerotic subtext (which is is so obvious as an adult too. It’s not at all subtle Sutherland’s face smiling in pleasure laying on his front after being ‘impaled.’ By Jason Patric who he’s played bedroom eyes with and whispered to the whole fucking film. Swapping bodily functions like blood. Its pretty funny and went over my head as kid.

        Once you lose the ability to be scared by a horror film like the lost boys it’s good to have something else going on to keep you watching. Where Near Dark has not been memorable for me whatsoever. I know it’s fashionable to rate the under dog Near Dark as the better film but they shouldn’t really be compared. There similarities are on the surface but It’s like Comparing DePalmas Scarface to Goodfellas. They’re different approaches to the genre.

    • dan houle

      I agree, The Lost Boys was made to appeal to 12 yrs old, Near Dark was made to appeal to adults. Fright Night was kinda in between. That’s my take anyway.

  • Otterlee

    I’m smiling too. No, that’s not a tear, I just have something in my eye…

  • Abandoned_Being

    I’m still in tears. We all will miss you Bill.

  • PsychoMantis18

    They are not fucking companion pieces. They are, however, good to compare I guess – Near Dark is how you make a good horror film, and Aliens is how you fuck a horror film in the arse until it looses its brains, soul and integrity.

    • Creepshow

      You need to move on from your disdain for Aliens. We’ve heard it, man. We’ve heard it.

      • PsychoMantis18

        Didn’t expect a stupid comment like this from you Creepshow – people stop mentioning it, i’ll stop bagging it, simple. Until then, abuse-away!

        • Creepshow

          “I’m stupid like this, I’m stupid like that, I’m stupid with a wiffleball bat.”

    • Anthony DeRouen

      Wrong. Aliens stands as one of the greatest sequels ever made. It’s right there with Terminator 2.

      • PsychoMantis18

        Wrong, Aliens stands as one if the greatest sequels ever made by people short on braincells and age.

        • wabalicious

          Sounds like you might be short a few yourself.

          • PsychoMantis18

            How’s that?

  • Jada Maes

    Pretty much every swaggering vampire from Spike to Cassidy to Deacon Frost can be traced back to Severen.

  • dan houle

    I hate it when they ain’t been shaved.

  • gabriel

    Near Dark was the best thing to ever come out of Oklahoma.

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