Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter

I have a theory that Hitler's pop culture opposite wouldn't be Roosevelt or Churchill, it would be Abraham Lincoln. Pop culture isn't that respectful of history, but it does care about symbolism, and Hitler and Lincoln are both symbolic figures in a way that most leaders aren't. The Nazis are instantly recognizable as capital-B Bad Guys, so Hitler can easily be used as a symbol for barbarity. At the same time, Charlie Chaplin made a full length movie parodying Adolf Hitler in 1940, and Hitler was also lampooned in both the old and the new version of the Producers, so he can just as easily be turned into a buffoon. Abraham Lincoln is the same way, just on the opposite end of the moral spectrum. He's been played as a noble leader, of course, but when a version of him appears in a goofy romp like Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure it also makes sense. Depending on how the filmmakers want to use him, Lincoln can either be the stirring orator who pulled America through it's darkest hour, or he can be a weird looking lanky guy with bad taste in beards and hats.

The Hitler / Lincoln comparison goes a long way towards explaining why Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter isn't nearly as clever as it thinks it is. People still make movies that cast Nazis as the villains, and occasionally they will even be kind of good, but for the most part that territory has been picked pretty clean. Now that they've been the engine that propelled tragedies and comedies and horror movies dozens and dozens of times, where else is there to go with them? Because 'Lincoln' is used less often in pop culture than Hitler is he might not appear to be as tapped out, but in fact he has also been pushed towards caricature. Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter only makes sense as a concept if there's some sort of tension between the Abraham Lincoln part and the Vampire Hunter part - but I've already seen Lincoln time travel in a phone booth, so why would I be surprised when he builds an axe that shoots silver bullets?

I suppose the movie would still have been interesting or fun if it had something to offer other than the central gimmick of Honest Abe swinging an axe at the undead, but the movie doesn't really have many other tricks up it's sleeve. It has a few decent action scenes - I kind of like the scene where Lincoln has to fight a bloodsucker in the middle of a stampede - but those scenes suffer from a tonal whiplash where the movie can't quite decide how goofy or bad ass it wants to be. In particular, the big cheesy final fight on the top of a speeding train lacks the clarity of a true b-movie, where it's generally pretty clear whether you are supposed to be laughing at the movie or not. No, Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter really does hinge on the idea that it would be kooky to see our most pious president punching a man sized parasite, but that's the sort of idea that's a better fit for a four minute sketch on Conan O'Brien than it is for  the plot for a feature length movie. (Especially since half of the joke of the Conan sketch would probably be about what a half-assed idea Lincoln fighting vampires is; Conan favors that type of meta-joke, which is why I can see him being more interested in this sort of thing than other sketch shows might be.)

When I say that they would have been better off going in a more James K. Polk-ish direction, I'm not just being a total homer for one of our better mostly forgotten presidents. No, I'm saying that because picking a less well known President would have done two important things: 1. it would have forced them to create a more interesting world around the central figure because there is no way anyone would go to a James K. Polk movie unless he was just one part of a larger, more exciting machine and 2. it would have allowed them a lot more story telling liberty, since they wouldn't have had to play into an established mythology.  James K. Polk: Vampire Hunter probably wouldn't have had more competent actions scenes, but it would have automatically been a little more interesting because it wouldn't be trying to tap into an oil well that's already been pumped dry. Of course, picking someone other than Lincoln would also have stripped the movie of it's easiest joke, but if there's one thing I learned from Spielberg's Lincoln it's that sometimes you have to make compromises when you're trying to achieve something great.

Winner: The Cat

Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter on IMDB