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abraham lincoln vampire hunter movie review

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"Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" is without a doubt the best film we are ever likely to see on the subject — unless there is a sequel, which is unlikely, because at the end, the Lincolns are on their way to the theater. It's also a more entertaining movie than I remotely expected. Yes, Reader, I went expecting to sneer.

The story opens with young Abe witnessing the murder of his mother by a vampire. He swears vengeance, and some years later is lucky to be getting drunk while standing at a bar next to Henry Sturgess ( Dominic Cooper ), who coaches him on vampire-killing and explains that it is a high calling, requiring great dedication and avoiding distractions like marriage.

There's an early scene in which Lincoln tries to shoot a vampire, but that won't work because they're already dead. Then whatever can he do? "Well," he tells Henry, "I used to be pretty good at rail-splitting…" This line drew only a few chuckles from the audience, because the movie cautiously avoids any attempt to seem funny. 

Lincoln's weapon of choice becomes an axe with a silver blade, which he learns to spin like a drum major's baton. That he carries this axe with him much of the time may strike some as peculiar. I was reminded uncannily of Buford Pusser, walking tall and carrying a big stick.

Against Henry's advice, Lincoln ( Benjamin Walker ) marries Mary Todd ( Mary Elizabeth Winstead ), and the story moves quickly to his days in the White House, where he discovers that the vampires are fighting on the side of the South. This seems odd, since they should be equal opportunity bloodsuckers, but there you have it. Still with him his childhood friend Will Johnson ( Anthony Mackie ), a free black man whose mistreatment helped form Lincoln's hatred of slavery. Also still at his side is Joshua Speed ( Jimmi Simpson ), who hired him in his Springfield general store; Johnson and Speed join Lincoln in Civil War strategy sessions and are his principal advisers, roles overlooked by history.

The film, directed by Timur Bekmambetov and written by Seth Grahame-Smith , based on his novel, handles all these matters with an admirable seriousness, which may be the only way they could possibly work. The performances are earnest and sincere, and even villains like Adam ( Rufus Sewell ), the American leader of the Vampire Nation, doesn't spit or snarl over much. It regrettably introduces but does not explain Vadoma ( Erin Wasson ), a statuesque woman who is several decades ahead of time in her taste for leather fetish wear. Are vampires kinky? I didn't know.

Although we do not attend "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" in search of a history lesson, there's one glitch I cannot overlook. In the first day of fighting at Gettysburg, the Union sustains a defeat so crushing that Lincoln is tempted to surrender. This is because the Confederate troops, all vampires, are invulnerable to lead bullets, cannon fire and steel blades, and have an alarming way of disappearing and rematerializing. Over breakfast, Lincoln confides his despair to his wife and says conventional weapons are of no more use against them than — why — than this fork! As he stares at it, he realizes it is silver, and vampires can be killed by silver weapons, as he has proved with his axe-twirling.

Now try not to focus too much on the timeline. After his realization, Lincoln mobilizes all resources to gather wagonloads of silver in Washington, melt it, and manufacture silver bayonets, bullets and cannon balls. Then we see him, Johnson and Speed on board a weapons train en route to Gettysburg. It is night again, so apparently all of this took less than a day.

Never mind. What comes now is a genuinely thrilling action sequence in which the vampires battle with Lincoln and his friends on top of the speeding train, which hurtles toward a high wooden bridge that has been set alight by the sinister Vadoma (pronounced "Vadooma," I think). This sequence is preposterous and yet exciting, using skillful editing and special effects. Somehow Benjamin Walker and his co-stars here are even convincing — well, as convincing as such goofiness could possibly be.

"Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" has nothing useful to observe about Abraham Lincoln, slavery, the Civil War or much of anything else. Blink and you may miss the detail that Harriet Tubman's Underground Railway essentially won the war for the North. But the film doesn't promise insights on such subjects. What it achieves is a surprisingly good job of doing justice to its title, and treating Lincoln with as much gravity as we can expect, under the circumstances.

Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert was the film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times from 1967 until his death in 2013. In 1975, he won the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished criticism.

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Film credits.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter movie poster

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2012)

Rated R for violence throughout and brief sexuality

Rufus Sewell as Adam

Benjamin Walker as Lincoln

Jimmi Simpson as Joshua Speed

Dominic Cooper as Sturgess

Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Mary Todd

John Rothman as Jefferson Davis

Anthony Mackie as Will

Erin Wasson as Vadoma

Directed by

  • Timur Bekmambetov
  • Seth Grahame-Smith

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Abraham lincoln: vampire hunter, common sense media reviewers.

abraham lincoln vampire hunter movie review

Ridiculous, bloody blending of history and violence.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter Poster Image

A Lot or a Little?

What you will—and won't—find in this movie.

Amid all the killing and blood, there's a smal

Obviously, the real Abraham Lincoln is a powerful

Very strong fantasy/vampire violence, with fightin

A dead, topless girl is shown for a few seconds. A

"F--k" is used once. Also "son of a

Young Abe drinks heavily at a bar in one scene. (A

Parents need to know that Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is based on a history-twisting novel by Seth Grahame-Smith. Though it plays fast and loose with facts and has a silly premise, the movie has little humor: It's pure action/horror, with lots of revenge, blood, and fighting -- all in 3-D. A boy…

Positive Messages

Amid all the killing and blood, there's a small message about learning to trust others, as well as challenging issues of race during the slavery days.

Positive Role Models

Obviously, the real Abraham Lincoln is a powerful role model, but the movie's version of Abe is a little different than the legend. Many of his good qualities are still there -- including his achievements as president, his desire to free the slaves, and his ability to see all people as equals ... except for vampires, whom he learns to dispatch with bloody violence. His motivation is revenge, and this vocation requires him to lie to his wife (so much for "honest Abe").

Violence & Scariness

Very strong fantasy/vampire violence, with fighting, shooting, slashing, stabbing, and lots of blood. A boy watches his mother die of a terrible vampire disease; years later, Abe and Mary Todd watch their son die of the same thing (viewers see bloody scabs on his arm). People instantaneously turn into vampires, growing several sharp teeth and lunging at the screen; it's a scary shock. A character is shot through the eye, and the camera follows the bullet. Vampires are beheaded. A vampire throws a live horse at Abe, and it crashes into him in a painful way. Vampires kill a woman in front of her boyfriend.

Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Violence & Scariness in your kid's entertainment guide.

Sex, Romance & Nudity

A dead, topless girl is shown for a few seconds. A couple is interrupted while having sex in a tub. In one sequence, a customer tries to force himself upon a prostitute. Her top is a little loose as she safely runs away, but nothing sensitive is shown. Some kissing, with some sexual suggestion.

Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Sex, Romance & Nudity in your kid's entertainment guide.

"F--k" is used once. Also "son of a bitch," "prick," "balls," "hell," "goddamn," and "whore."

Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Language in your kid's entertainment guide.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Young Abe drinks heavily at a bar in one scene. (A character says: "A man only drinks that much when he wants to kiss a girl or kill a man. Which is it?") Another major character drinks whiskey in his home and also takes a puff from a hookah pipe, which appears to be empty.

Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Drinking, Drugs & Smoking in your kid's entertainment guide.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is based on a history-twisting novel by Seth Grahame-Smith. Though it plays fast and loose with facts and has a silly premise, the movie has little humor: It's pure action/horror, with lots of revenge, blood, and fighting -- all in 3-D . A boy watches his mother die, a child dies, and women are killed. Vampires are shot through the eye and beheaded. There's a little sex (including one dead, topless girl on display) and some language, including one "f--k" and a couple uses of "son of a bitch." Young Abe is seen drinking heavily while pondering ways to avenge his mother, and another character drinks and takes a puff from a hookah pipe, which appears to be empty. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails .

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Community Reviews

  • Parents say (10)
  • Kids say (29)

Based on 10 parent reviews

Intriguing.

A very disappointing movie remake of the original book. don't bother., what's the story.

As a boy, Abraham Lincoln helplessly witnesses his mother's death at the hands of a vampire. When he becomes a man ( Benjamin Walker ), Abe contemplates his revenge. Then stranger Henry Sturgess ( Dominic Cooper ) offers to teach him how to fight and kill the evil creatures. In Springfield, Abe does his hunting at night, in between studying the law, working at a general store, and courting Mary Todd ( Mary Elizabeth Winstead ). He becomes interested in politics, which leads to his being elected president years later. But when vampires from the South begin to turn the Civil War into a bloody massacre, Abe must take up his old hunting ways once again.

Is It Any Good?

Some of this film's action sequences are big and impressive, but without any emotional involvement, they're as dead as a coffin nail. Director Timur Bekmambetov ( Night Watch , Day Watch , Wanted ) usually makes hyperkinetic movies that have a few explosive scenes but are ultimately empty. ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER is doubly so, since it also squanders a great hero and a potentially pleasingly silly idea. The movie takes the idea of Abraham Lincoln fighting vampires seriously and also doesn't seem to wonder about ridiculous concepts such as Southern vampires supporting slavery.

After simply ignoring everything potentially funny and lively, Abraham Lincoln grinds down on its characters, turning them into empty vessels upon which to hang the action sequences. One shot of bearded, stovepipe-hatted Lincoln marching toward the camera in slow motion like a grindhouse hero shows just what Bekmambetov thinks of him.

Talk to Your Kids About ...

Families can talk about Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter 's violence . Is it scary? Does it create tension? How necessary is it to the story?

What historical liberties does the movie take? How creative do you think the storytellers were in taking real events and fitting them to the story? Which scenes were based on real events?

Is the movie's Lincoln a positive role model ? What worthwhile qualities does he have? What less admirable qualities does the movie give him?

Is the movie silly or serious, or both? If you've read the book, how does the movie compare?

Movie Details

  • In theaters : June 22, 2012
  • On DVD or streaming : October 23, 2012
  • Cast : Benjamin Walker , Dominic Cooper , Mary Elizabeth Winstead
  • Director : Timur Bekmambetov
  • Inclusion Information : Female actors
  • Studio : Twentieth Century Fox
  • Genre : Horror
  • Topics : Book Characters , Monsters, Ghosts, and Vampires
  • Run time : 105 minutes
  • MPAA rating : R
  • MPAA explanation : violence throughout and brief sexuality
  • Last updated : May 16, 2023

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Benjamin Walker and Dominic Cooper in Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter – review

W e are all still hanging on for Daniel Day-Lewis’s performance as America’s greatest president in Steven Spielberg’s forthcoming Lincoln , waiting to see how he’s going to do the walk, how he’s going to play the transition from smooth-cheeked youth to granite-faced adult, and perhaps most of all what incredible voice he’s going to come up with. Yet I’ve a strong feeling that in all these things Day-Lewis and Spielberg might have been upstaged by this cheerfully subversive post-steampunk fantasy starring Benjamin Walker, directed by Timur Bekmambetov and adapted by Seth Grahame-Smith from his own graphic novel. It’s a joke which some will find in sacrilegious bad taste. For me, the self-aware craziness is the whole point.

This is about that side of Abraham Lincoln’s life neglected by the historians: his passionate vocation as a vampire hunter. Lincoln’s haggard look is now explained. His whole life, he was pulling a double shift. By day, a political idealist. By night, a slayer of the undead. And why? Revenge. One of these murky red-eyed creatures, a hateful figure called Jack Barts (Marton Csokas) killed his mother, and now with the help of a mysterious figure called Henry Sturgess (Dominic Cooper) Abe has been trained in the samurai discipline of vampire hunting. And it turns out the entirety of the American South, the confederacy itself, is a colossal parasitic conspiracy of vampires who have come to the land of America from a sinister place called “Europe”; they now feed off the blood of the slaves, and indeed the material resources of the United States. Lincoln’s personal anti-vampire mission will become a civil war for America’s soul.

The whole thing is so bizarre, it’s tempting to imagine a franchise: Warren G Harding: Vampire Hunter, Jimmy Carter: Vampire Hunter, perhaps even a revisionist Richard M Nixon: Vampire Hunter. Lincoln’s own Republican identity is not mentioned here.

When young Lincoln, serving behind the counter in a Capra-esque neighbourhood store, encounters an anti-abolitionist politician, he is contemptuous of the man’s supercilious and evasive remark that the slavery issue is “complicated”. Tellingly, it is the chief vampire Adam (Rufus Sewell) who tries to reinforce this line of thinking with a sneering declaration that we are all slaves in one way or another, and that he has himself seen Africans sell other Africans into slavery. It is extraordinary how often that fatuous and insidious line of argument is deployed in real life, incidentally – and interesting to see it attributed to a vampire here. Finally, with the cares of state upon him, and his small son playing underneath his desk (a cheeky allusion to the famous Kennedy photograph) Lincoln must confront his destiny.

Bekmambetov directs with gusto, and the forthright absurdity of the story, combined with its weirdly heartfelt self-belief is winning. Unfortunately, it loses ground when it comes to the war itself. But only the very solemn could object to this bizarre adventure dreamt up for the 16th president.

  • Action and adventure films
  • Horror films
  • Dominic Cooper

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Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter Review

Possibly the most deadly serious preposterous movie ever made..

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Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter Reviews

abraham lincoln vampire hunter movie review

Instead of laughing at this movie, we could have been laughing with it and enjoying the experience rather than despising it. But Bekmambetov forgoes the obvious absurdity of the subject matter.

Full Review | Original Score: 1/4 | Oct 4, 2022

abraham lincoln vampire hunter movie review

Even though "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" butchers and condenses its pulpy and popular source novel, the movie is simply fun escapist entertainment and pops off of the screen like a 3D movie should.

Full Review | Original Score: 3/5 | Jun 26, 2022

abraham lincoln vampire hunter movie review

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, a film in which Abraham Lincoln hunts vampires, spends far too long believing it is something other than it clearly is.

Full Review | May 5, 2021

abraham lincoln vampire hunter movie review

...so refreshingly weird and inherently watchable.

Full Review | Mar 10, 2021

abraham lincoln vampire hunter movie review

The extent of the ridiculousness here cannot easily be compared or understood.

Full Review | Original Score: 4/10 | Dec 1, 2020

abraham lincoln vampire hunter movie review

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter should have been a really fun film.

Full Review | Original Score: 2.0/4.0 | Sep 1, 2020

abraham lincoln vampire hunter movie review

[The] script ironically lacks imagination and wit.

Full Review | Original Score: 2/5 | Nov 27, 2019

abraham lincoln vampire hunter movie review

Some sh*tty slo-mo action scenes. Some toothless scares.

Full Review | Original Score: 2.8/5 | Nov 11, 2019

The movie sets itself up for a sequel. The good news is that it's bad enough that we'll be spared that fate.

Full Review | Jul 31, 2019

abraham lincoln vampire hunter movie review

It all sounds silly, but for the most part director Timur Bekmambetov stages it like a reenactment you'd see on the History Channel. It's all kind of proper and stuffy and rather slow and methodical.

Full Review | Original Score: C | Apr 11, 2019

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is not entirely without merit, but it comes with much mess.

Full Review | Original Score: C | Feb 1, 2019

abraham lincoln vampire hunter movie review

For all its cult ambition, Bekmambetov's Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter feels like two separate movies bundled into one messy final package.

Full Review | Original Score: 3/5 | Jan 25, 2019

abraham lincoln vampire hunter movie review

It's essentially a cracked-out Wikipedia entry interrupted by bloody, slo-mo combat.

Full Review | Original Score: 5/10 | Nov 4, 2018

abraham lincoln vampire hunter movie review

Lincolns from Walter Huston to Henry Fonda to Brendan Fraser and Lance Henriksen have given us the Great Emancipator as their directors and our dreams would have him. Inaccurately. Why not throw vampires into the mix?

Full Review | Aug 30, 2018

It was the merger of that very real historical account and the fantastical vampire plot that made the book interesting, but the movie sacrificed a lot of that. Too much of that.

Full Review | Oct 23, 2017

If you ever wanted to see a vampire throw a horse at a would-be President, or see a man chop down a tree with one blow, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter will tick those boxes and more besides.

Full Review | Original Score: 3/5 | Sep 19, 2017

abraham lincoln vampire hunter movie review

Rare is a film this silly that's also this quietly clever.

Full Review | Aug 26, 2015

Somehow, you can't help but feel vampires deserve better.

Full Review | Original Score: 1.5/4 | Aug 16, 2013

abraham lincoln vampire hunter movie review

Rather than create an innovative style to complement the horror-history hybrid, he employs superhero clichs and hackneyed action scenes that only help distract from the ineffectiveness of the film's scant 3-D effects.

Full Review | Original Score: 2/5 | Apr 21, 2013

abraham lincoln vampire hunter movie review

If you thought the American Civil War was about ending slavery, you're in for a rude surprise.

Full Review | Original Score: 2.5/5 | Mar 4, 2013

Screen Rant

'abraham lincoln: vampire hunter' review, the film doesn't quite deliver a fully-formed combination of history and supernatural horror, but for anyone who can accept the experience on its own terms, there are plenty of entertaining moments..

For moviegoers who are still unfamiliar with author (now screenwriter) Seth Grahame-Smith, the idea of an undead-slaying Honest Abe might seem especially ridiculous - but that's only because Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter beat Grahame-Smith's other well known horror mashup novel, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies , to the big screen. While  Pride and Prejudice and Zombies continues to languish in preproduction hell, director Timur Bekmambetov ( Wanted ) managed to bring  Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter to fruition, barely two years after the source material book was first published (in March 2010).

However, despite an intriguing (and purposefully absurd) premise, moviegoers have a plethora of vampire films to choose from, these days. Do Grahame-Smith and Bekmambetov manage to deliver a film adaptation that successfully juggles the campy setup and over-the-top action with intriguing alt-history tie-ins and enjoyable character/Presidential drama?

Fortunately, the answer is yes, assuming that moviegoers can suspend enough disbelief and lock into Grahame-Smith's eccentric retelling of Abraham Lincoln's secret monster-slaying nightlife. Certainly, anyone expecting a straightforward and grounded take on the life of Honest Abe should pass on the film (and look to Steven Spielberg's Lincoln starring Daniel Day-Lewis), as Vampire Hunter is full of one-note characters, sometimes laughable attempts at tying the supernatural plot to real life events, and several over-the-top set pieces. That said, the mashup film is exactly what viewers should have expected from a Bekmambetov film about an axe-wielding President who fights to free America from slavery and undead bloodsuckers, alike.

For anyone unfamiliar with the alternate historical account depicted in  Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter , the film (and source material novel) are centered around Abe's secret diary, which includes the account of both his political - as well as supernatural - encounters, starting with the death of his mother at the hands of Jack Barts (Marton Csokas), a local businessman/vampire. After years of patiently waiting, Lincoln (Benjamin Walker) sets out to avenge his mother and encounters Henry Sturgess (Dominic Cooper) - who trains Abe in the art of vampire hunting and impressively choreographed axe wielding. Despite Henry's instruction to avoid making friends or starting a family, Lincoln befriends a local shopkeep, Joshua Speed (Jimmi Simpson), courts Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), and reconnects with childhood friend/free African-American, William Johnson (Anthony Mackie). Though, when vampire chief Adam (Rufus Sewell) forms an alliance with confederate separatists, Lincoln's loved ones (as well as the country itself) are threatened - forcing the 16th President to take action in and outside of the political arena.

As mentioned, the basic plot of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter can be pretty convoluted - especially in its attempts to marry historical events and real-life personalities with supernatural elements. At times, history and fiction are stitched together in a way that makes both sides of the mashup more interesting, such as Lincoln's time spent running a general store and a flatboat trip to New Orleans; unfortunately, other moments are too on-the-nose - relying on thin (and overly convenient) supernatural explanations for real events.

Similarly, characters are exceptionally one-dimensional - which is, by far, the biggest missed opportunity in the entire film (considering the story utilizes a number of historical figures within a supernatural conspiracy plot). While audiences may be surprised to find that one of history's most iconic leaders (who, in this case, also happens to fight vampires at night) isn't all that interesting, it's hardly the fault of actor Benjamin Walker - who manages to keep what could have otherwise been a goofy portrayal of the 16th President (both old and young) grounded and believable during even the most outrageous monster slaying escapades. Both Mary Elizabeth Winstead's Mary Todd and Anthony Mackie's William Johnson are equally competent but underutilized - mostly reacting to increasingly crazy revelations without room to actually flesh out their characters as anything more than Lincoln's loved ones. However, the biggest character misfire is the flat-out boring implementation of the primary vampires - the aforementioned Adam, and his lady Vadoma (Erin Wasson), who are nothing more than soulless faces in a convoluted attempt by Grahame-Smith to marry a vampire rebellion with anti-abolitionist confederates.

In spite of its shortcomings, the core premise rarely fails to entertain (even if there are a number of eye roll-worthy moments), since the vampire hunting elements successfully up-the-ante with each encounter. Early on, Lincoln forgoes his mentor's preferred means of dispatching vampires, i.e. silver bullets - in favor of some slick axe work. While some audience members may find the axe versus vampire flesh sequences to be a little too flashy (and hard to follow), Bekmambetov utilizes some effective slow motion camerawork to showcase Lincoln's stylish and acrobatic slaying techniques. In a genre that is overwrought with gun battles and throwing knives, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter thankfully presents a number of entertaining close quarters combat sequences that, despite our obvious real-world knowledge of Lincoln, make it easy to believe that the President could go toe-to-toe with similarly gifted monster slayers like Blade and Van Helsing.

Despite some high-octane action moments in the film's trailer, Vampire Hunter is actually pretty intimate - as most of the epic moments are still pretty confined (narratively speaking). Few of the set pieces are given much time to build tension and many of the encounters offer little more than flashy hack and slash choreography. This isn't to say that Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter  can't deliver on excitement - since a number of the vampire hand-to-Honest Axe combats benefit from Bekmambetov's trademark fast and furious action beats.

Additionally, while many theaters will be pushing  Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter in 3D, the film would be just as enjoyable without the premium upgrade. There are a few moments where the slow-motion axe combat looks especially slick (as vampire blood spews into the air) and several larger shots (such as a trip on the Mississippi river as well as Civil War battlefields) are definitely enhanced by the added dimension; but only those few moments are must see in 3D. As a result, the 3D up charge isn't a waste, but it's hardly required viewing.

Moviegoers expecting a gritty "Lincoln kills vampires" character drama will likely be disappointed by  Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter ; although, as a tongue-in-cheek action mashup, Grahame-Smith and Bekmambetov have, for the most part, delivered an entertaining (albeit campy) historical retelling. The film doesn't quite deliver a fully-formed combination of history and supernatural horror (if that's even possible), but for anyone who can accept the experience on its own terms, there are plenty of entertaining moments of vampire hunting to keep your appetite for blood  a fun time at the theater sated.

If you’ve seen the movie and want to discuss details about the film without worrying about spoiling it for those who haven’t seen it, please head over to our  Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter  Spoilers Discussion .

For an in-depth discussion of the film by the Screen Rant team check out our  Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter   episode of the SR Underground podcast .

If you’re still on the fence about  Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter , check out the trailer below:

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Let us know what you thought of the film in the comment section below.

Follow me on Twitter @ benkendrick  for future reviews, as well as movie, TV, and gaming news.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is Rated R for violence throughout and brief sexuality. Now playing in theaters.

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Movie Review: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter Is the Honest Abe Our Generation Deserves

Portrait of Bilge Ebiri

Does any other American president have such an extensive fictional pop-culture mythos? In the thirties, the hero of John Ford and Henry Fonda’s Young Mr. Lincoln fought misguided lynch mobs and fancy city lawyers with false modesty and folksy credulousness. Today, Timur Bekmambetov and Seth Grahame-Smith’s Honest Abe fights vampires with the shock and awe of Hollywood’s full CG firepower. So, maybe each generation gets the Lincoln it deserves. The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our films, but in ourselves — to paraphrase the Earl of Oxford.

If I sound like I’m taking a movie called Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter a bit too seriously, that’s because the movie, directed by Bekmambetov and based on Grahame-Smith’s novel, kind of takes itself seriously. Producer Tim Burton’s name might be prominent in the credits, but his cheekiness is nowhere to be found. Bekmambetov likes his action theatrics to be consequential. In the Night Watch and Day Watch movies, nothing less than the future of the human race was at stake. The assassins in Wanted weren’t just assassins; they were an ancient race of supernatural assassins. And Vampire Hunter isn’t just a riff on the adventures a young Abe Lincoln (Benjamin Walker) might have had — it essentially turns the Civil War into a personal vendetta.

The vampires, led by dandyish, cold-eyed Adam (Rufus Sewell), are slave traders, one of which (Marton Csokas) kills young Abe’s mother after he tries to prevent them from selling his black friend Will. Using his famous ax-wielding skills and with some Morpheus-like help from good vampire Henry Sturgess (Dominic Cooper), the future president becomes a hunter of the undead. But the story actually goes up through the battle of Gettysburg, where the Army of the Potomac (a.k.a. the Union) is on the verge of being laid low by an undead corps of the Confederacy, before Lincoln rushes to the rescue.

Believe it or not, Bekmambetov’s style is somewhat restrained here. There’s still a lot of slow-motion acrobatic lunacy and bursts of gore, but he keeps some of his worst instincts — a fondness for kineticism rather than clarity, for example, that hobbled Day Watch –— in check, and we can actually follow the action occurring onscreen. He’s also always had an eye for strange moments of cinematic grandeur: small glints glimpsed in an overhead shot of a town being requisitioned for its silver; a train hurtling in the night toward a massive wooden trestle bridge in flames.

Unfortunately, there’s also a certain artificiality to the whole film, both visually and narratively. By sticking a little too much to some of the actual particulars of the Lincoln story (even Stephen Douglas shows up, as he did in Young Mr. Lincoln , acourting the future Mary Todd Lincoln), the film has the strangely programmed feel of a historical pageant, as if Raiders of the Lost Ark had been crossbred with The Longest Day . Matters aren’t helped by Benjamin Walker’s indistinct performance: With his expressionless face and his smooth, half-formed features, he resembles nothing so much as a Liam Neeson action figure. Still, there is something bracing about a film that’s not afraid to link the entire Confederacy, still an inexplicable source of pride in some parts of the country, with a race of humanity-enslaving vampires. I can’t wait to see how this thing plays in South Carolina.

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Abraham lincoln: vampire hunter: film review.

Seth Grahame-Smith adapted his own novel, a genre mashup that rewrites history about the 16th president, played by Benjamin Walker.

By Justin Lowe

Justin Lowe

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Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter: Film Review

Opens: June 22

The Fox release might be the most unusual film on the summer calendar. It definitely isn’t your usual history lesson. Based on the novel by Seth Grahame-Smith , the genre mash-up reimagines a young Abe Lincoln as a vampire hunter. Wanted’ s Timur Bekmambetov directed from a script by Grahame-Smith and Simon Kinberg . Benjamin Walker plays Lincoln, Mary Elizabeth Winstead is Mary Todd Lincoln and Dominic Cooper appears to school the future president in the art of vampire-fighting.  

Starting from a premise — succinctly stated by the movie’s title — that suggests a hybrid of history lesson and horror show, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is a mishmash of styles that might leave viewers’ heads spinning. Genre enthusiasts will lap up the mixture of action and fantasy, while history buffs who don’t mind a bit of rewriting will dig into an alternative spin on the Civil War period. Audience response initially should be robust, even if closer consideration might sap some later momentum.

Beginning with Lincoln’s Indiana childhood in the early 1800s, screenwriter Seth Grahame-Smith (adapting his novel, which supposedly originates with Lincoln’s secret journal) speculates that after young Lincoln and his father dare to interfere with the slave trader Barts ( Marton Csokas ), who also happens to be the nexus in a large network of the undead that has infiltrated the South, the vampire exacts revenge by attacking and killing the 16th president’s mother.

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Lincoln seeks revenge on Barts years later as a young man ( Benjamin Walker ), narrowly escaping getting killed himself following the intervention of Henry Sturges ( Dominic Cooper ), a dedicated vampire assassin. Sturges recruits Lincoln as a hunter as well, training him in the arts of vampire elimination.

After moving to Springfield, Ill., Lincoln begins dispatching ghouls as directed by Sturges, using an ax with a silver-plated blade, while combining vampire hunting with his study of law. He also meets the young Mary Todd ( Mary Elizabeth Winstead ) and begins courting her, despite Sturges’ warning not to become too attached to other people, and is reunited with his childhood friend William Johnson ( Anthony Mackie ), a former slave.

After he finally gets his revenge by killing Barts, he’s marked for elimination by Adam ( Rufus Sewell ), who controls the Southern vampire horde. Lincoln temporarily sets aside his ax to marry Mary and switch his allegiance to politics, as debate intensifies over the abolition of slavery. Following his election, President Lincoln is brought back into direct conflict with the vampires with the onset of the Civil War, when Adam and his minions side with the Confederacy in an attempt to finally take control of the country.

VIDEO: ‘Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter’ Red-Band Trailer: Decapitation is Key

The movie’s virtues and some of its miscues essentially originate with Grahame-Smith’s script. Taking the conceit that the institution of slavery was a vampire-motivated plot to provide the undead with fresh blood, Grahame-Smith adeptly connects Lincoln’s vampire vendetta with his anti-slavery crusade. Marrying this high-concept premise to a coherent narrative proves more challenging, however, as the tales of Lincoln’s vampire-slaying exploits make an awkward fit with the historical facts of his life.

Following up 2008’s Wanted , director Timur Bekmambetov showcases Lincoln as America’s “first superhero” (despite his lack of any supernatural abilities), shaping the first act around the future president’s desire for retribution. The initial scenes of the young lawyer dispatching the wide variety of ghouls that seem to favor Springfield in hand-to-hand combat delivers some initial thrills that more turgid set pieces later in the film seem to lack.

Bekmambetov, no stranger to vampire lore after launching his own Russian franchise with Night Watch and Day Watch, effectively deploys the appropriate camera moves, pacing and special effects to craft an awesome action figure determined to rescue the country from a bloodsucker takeover. Caleb Deschanel ’s cinematography profitably welds horror tropes to special effects, but there are no real surprises in terms of either concept or execution, and the 3D conversion seems to obscure images more than enhance them.

VIDEO: ‘Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter’ Creators Reveal Backstory, ‘Twilight’ Connection

Tall and lanky, Walker seems like he was cast more for his potential resemblance to Lincoln than for his acting or action abilities. While he appears fairly capable — if not especially accomplished — handling Lincoln’s legendary ax, slower scenes opposite Winstead and other actors tend to drag with Walker’s restrained delivery and stiff demeanor. Winstead’s performance as Mary is far more spirited as she flirts with Lincoln in earlier scenes and later argues with him over the fate of their family and country. The supporting cast is efficiently tasked with supporting Lincoln’s twin goals of destroying vampires and winning the war.

At a taut 105 minutes, Abraham Lincoln credibly delivers the thrills and gore it promises, though it’s ultimately too lightweight and conventional to merit either cult or classic status.  

Opens: Friday, June 22 (20th Century Fox) Production company: A Burton/Bekmambetov/Lemley production Cast: Benjamin Walker, Dominic Cooper, Anthony Mackie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Rufus Sewell, Marton Csokas Director: Timur Bekmambetov Screenwriter: Seth Grahame-Smith Producers: Tim Burton, Timur Bekmambetov, Jim Lemley Executive producers: Michele Wolkoff, Simon Kinberg, John J. Kelly, Seth Grahame-Smith Director of photography: Caleb Deschanel Production designer: Francois Audouy Costume designers: Carlo Poggioli, Varya Avdyushko Editor: William Hoy Music: Henry Jackman Rated R, 105 minutes

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ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER Review

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter review. Matt reviews Timur Bekmambetov's Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter starring Benjamin Walker and Dominic Cooper.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter attempts to walk the line between solemn grit and bombastic action.  The film stumbles around the line, falls off of it, gropes in the dark to find the line again, give a big goofy smile at no one in particular, regains a wobbly balance before taking a proud stride forward only to constantly repeat this bizarre range of motions.  The film is an exercise in pushing the limits of going big while keeping a straight face.  In its action scenes, there's not a shred of doubt that director Timur Bekmambetov is trying to find laughs in lunacy to make up for the dearth of humor in the "serious" scenes.  But what appears to be an attempt at balance simply comes off as measured schizophrenia, and what should be a fun twist on half-remembered American history instead becomes a dark twist on historiography.

The film opens with the heaviest-handed narration: "History prefers legends to men.  It prefers nobility to brutality.  Soaring speeches to quiet deeds.  History remembers the battle, but forgets the blood."  These are the words in the secret diary of Abraham Lincoln ( Benjamin Walker ), who is remembered as one of our greatest Presidents, but lived a private life of vampire hunting (the film's title is not misleading).  Spurred by the murder of his mother when he was a child, Abe looks to get revenge on her killer, Jack Barts ( Martin Csokas ), only to discover that Mr. Barts is a vampire and not the only one in the world.  Abraham is trained in the vampire hunting ways by the mysterious Henry Sturgess ( Dominic Cooper ), but the future President is torn between his desire for vengeance, his loyalty to Henry, his love for Mary Todd ( Mary Elizabeth Winstead ), and his destiny to lead the nation.  Even as President, Lincoln's greatest foe isn't Confederate soldiers, but Confederate vampires led by Adam ( Rufus Sewell ), who wants a nation of their own; a nation where they'll have an endless supply of slave blood and be free from the oppression of vampire hunters.

Except Lincoln is the only vampire hunter we ever see.  Also, vampires have the ability to turn invisible, move at high speed, can move in the daylight, have super strength, and their only weakness is silver.  Why they need their own nation rather than just taking over the entire union is never explained.  Of course, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter could care less about making sense.  It uses its silly twist to blow apart history as if that's also a license to blow apart a sensible script.  For example, the movie establishes the rule that vampires can't hurt other vampires, but then tosses the rule out when it become inconvenient in the third act.

The film's motto seems to be "Take us seriously, so we can be stupid."  Lincoln walks around with a constant grimace, mournfully seeking justice for a lost parent, and then there's an action scene where Abe fights with a vampire on top of a stampede.  And here's the thing: the set piece is terrific.  Yes, it's dumb beyond all reason, but it's creatively dumb beyond all reason.  You've never seen a fight like this, and the film's greatest strength comes from originality and imaginative absurdity.  But then the movie settles back into a dim, dull palette (made worse by the 3D, which only serves to throw screaming vampires in our faces).

What's more fascinating about the film is the subtext (intentional or not) about how we view our heroes.  I would like to think that author and screenwriter Seth Grahame-Smith considered why Americans find Abraham Lincoln a hero of history.  The opening lines have the air of truth—remembering the good while ignoring the bad—but the story itself recasts Lincoln as a man of violence instead of a man of peace.  In Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter , our 16th President is not "The Great Emancipator".  He's The Great Eradicator.  It seems to forget that Lincoln wanted to repair the nation, not simply punish the South (that's what Presidents did after Lincoln was assassinated), and make no mistake: the South (with the exception of slaves) is entirely comprised of vampires.  The only non-Southern vampire is Jefferson Davis, who we see making a deal with Adam.  So the South isn't made of people; it's made of blood-sucking monsters who must be destroyed.

For Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter , heroism comes from violence, not from words.  In trying to make Lincoln a more interesting figure, they've made him astoundingly generic (Benjamin Walker's bland performance doesn't help).  But this all comes from the movie trying to have it both ways.  "Don't think too hard about it, because we're being goofy," but then saying, "Recognize this great man was even greater than you think."  The film makes no claims of historical accuracy, but it carries itself as secret history.  The character we already know of Lincoln cannot be removed from the Lincoln presented.  It's a frustrating paradox in a film that admirably wants to blend two tones, but instead feels more like a house divided.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter Review

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

20 Jun 2012

NaN minutes

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

When Kazakh director Timur Bekmambetov broke through in 2004 with the hyper-stylish horror-actioner Night Watch, there was a tingling hope that his talents would not only translate to, but also invigorate, the Hollywood machine. His English-language debut, Wanted, with its ballistic balletics and gloriously eccentric touches (The Loom Of Fate?!) hit the spot. The signs, then, were good for Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, especially as it wove in a fun-sounding mash-up concept (courtesy of Pride And Prejudice And Zombies scribbler Seth Grahame-Smith) and an attention-grabbing producer credit for Tim Burton.

Those signs, it turns out, were as reliable as putting a billboard announcing “Indoor Play Centre” outside Dracula’s Castle. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is a steam-locomotive wreck (which, funnily enough, features an actual steam-locomotive wreck caused by — possible symbolism alert! — a massive burning bridge). Between them, Grahame-Smith (who also scripts) and Bekmambetov have made the crippling decision to play this entirely straight, to the point of being inflexibly po-faced. The result is a B horror invading a stilted History channel reconstruction, which veers from the unwittingly ridiculous (“I would fight not with an axe, but with words and ideals,” Abe intones during the over-ladled voiceover) to the faintly distasteful; Gettysburg was a long time ago, but it somehow doesn’t feel right in a film that takes itself so seriously to portray a national-psyche-shredding tragedy as a luridly slo-mo vampire massacre.

It is visually awful. In grasping for some kind of period-appropriate authenticity, Caleb Deschanel’s digital cinematography is bleached, harsh, uncomfortable to view. The 3D is, as is so often the case, noticeable only in terms of how much extra weight has been uncomfortably placed on the bridge of your nose. The excessive digital FX are ineffective and oddly oily, especially during a daft sequence where Abe chases ever-hamtastic rent-a-baddie Marton Csokas over, and through, a horse stampede. At one point an obviously CG gee-gee is thrown at Abe by his bloodsucky quarry. It would be funny if this movie had a sense of humour.

There are occasional flashes of the old Timur — a mural comes to life to give a potted history of vampires; an aerial cityscape shot glitters as America’s citizens stockpile silver (which, in this story’s muddled lore, is fatal to vamps) — but they are lost amid all the hurried, tension-free demi-set-pieces and gratuitous speed-ramping. Only one person walks away from this unscathed: Abe himself, Ben Walker, a physically impressive and charismatic specimen who could do worse than keep the nose prosthetic and carve a career playing Young Liam Neeson in flashbacks and Taken reboots.

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abraham lincoln vampire hunter movie review

  • DVD & Streaming

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

  • Action/Adventure , Drama , Horror , Sci-Fi/Fantasy , War

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abraham lincoln vampire hunter movie review

In Theaters

  • June 22, 2012
  • Benjamin Walker as Abraham Lincoln; Dominic Cooper as Henry Sturgess; Anthony Mackie as Will Johnson; Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Mary Todd Lincoln; Rufus Sewell as Adam; Marton Csokas as Jack Barts; Jimmi Simpson as Joshua Speed

Home Release Date

  • October 23, 2012
  • Timur Bekmambetov

Distributor

  • 20th Century Fox

Movie Review

You’d think Abe Lincoln would’ve been busy enough.

You’d think that, in the midst of planning war strategies and writing policies and giving speeches and doting on his kids and reprimanding his generals and brushing that awesome beard of his, he’d have little energy or inclination to battle the fanged undead too.

Not so, according to Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter , which suggests that our 16th president shared more in common with Van Helsing (the guy who killed Dracula) than Van Buren (the president with the bushy sideburns). For this ax-swinging Lincoln, the highest office in the land was little more than an afterthought.

Not that he initially thought about being a vampire hunter. Lincoln just wanted a little eye-for-an-eye retribution—to kill the slave trader who murdered his mother. But when Lincoln plants a bullet in the man’s head and out sprouts a forest of fangs … well, Abe gets an inkling that revenge is a dish best served to the cold. If it can be served at all.

So under the tutelage of the mysterious Henry Sturgess, Abraham puts down the gun and picks up an ax—a silver-coated hatchet that he learns to wield like a lumberjack ninja and whirl like a top-hatted majorette. Before long, he finds himself in Springfield, Ill.—a city with a serious vampire-infestation problem.

But just like many English majors today, Abe discovers that his training doesn’t pay the rent. And so he has to get a job as a store clerk, relegating his hunting to the nighttime. It’s just as well, for he must keep his penchant for vampire hunting a secret. Most folks don’t believe in vampires—not in the enlightened 19th century—and they might ask some problematic questions when they inevitably notice some of Springfield’s leading citizens getting, shall we say, the ax.

But a storm’s a-brewing south of Springfield—a storm by the name of Slavery. Seems the country’s vamps love the institution because the slaves keep them (quite literally) fed, fat and happy. And Lincoln begins to wonder … could he do more to push back the country’s vampire plague through more legal means? Is it possible that the pen really is mightier than the ax?

This filmmakers allow that it’s possible … but mostly stick with the ax since you can’t snag the fanboys with the Gettysburg Address.

Positive Elements

Seth Grahame-Smith, who wrote both the screenplay for Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and the preceding book, uses vampirism as a metaphor for the evils of slavery—a practice that (in the film’s case, almost literally) is sucking the life out of the United States. Thus, Lincoln is shown as a true hero, thwacking the heads off evil vampires and choking the life out of the slave trade with every nocturnal hunt.

It’s in the use of this metaphor that the film is at its most successful. Through this surreal reimagining we see glimpses of some of the genuine moral struggles in play leading to and during the war between the states. Before the Civil War (and the war on vampires) begins, we hear people excuse slavery as an unfortunate necessity: Isn’t the slave trade sating these undead monsters below our borders? Isn’t the peace we enjoy because of slavery worth the cost? And then, when the war begins and claims the lives of many a Union soldier, cries go out from across the country, begging for the bloodshed to stop.

But Lincoln and his allies can’t bear a retreat—physically or morally. “I wouldn’t back away from what’s right because it’s hard,” Mary Todd Lincoln tells her husband. And when we hear that the coming fight is “a war for the soul of the country,” we know that’s true—even without the vampires hanging around to drive home the point.

Many of the film’s lines ring with 19th-century idealism, be they from the mind of Grahame-Smith or quotes pulled from Lincoln’s own speeches and writings. And we see Henry force revenge-minded Abe to focus on the bigger picture, telling him, “Real power comes not from hate but truth.” Throughout, we see people stand together and fight for something well worth fighting for: “A nation of men, not monsters.”

Spiritual Elements

Vampires have historically been considered spiritual abominations, and you often get a sense of that here. Silver is about the only thing that’ll harm them in this film, and the metal’s power (we’re told) stems from the 30 pieces of silver Judas accepted to betray Christ. We’re also told that vampires can’t kill or hurt each other (a trope fulfilled inconsistently onscreen), which one vampire suggests is God’s little joke on the undead.

One age-old vampire is referred to as Adam, and he lives on a plantation called Eden. He’s an atheist, though, telling Lincoln that men have been selling one another into slavery ever since they “invented gods to forgive them for doing it.”

The movie begins by quoting Genesis 17:5 (“Your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations”). We hear the beatitude, “Blessed are the pure at heart, for they will see God.” One of the vampires suggests that pure at heart humans can’t be turned into vampires. But pastors can be, we’re told. And we see ministers marrying and burying people. Churches are shown as places of refuge. God’s name is sometimes reverently invoked.

When Mary Todd is asked why she dates someone as dowdy as Abe, she says, “Common-looking people are the best in the world; that’s why God made so many of them.” (It’s a phrase said in real life by Lincoln himself.)

Sexual Content

Henry is shown having noisy sex in a bathtub. (We see the woman from the back.) Abe discovers a dead, bare-breasted woman.

Violent Content

Honest Abe is less a statesman and more a 300 -style warrior here, hacking his way through legions of undead as if the battle were a ballet. His first encounter with a vampire as a full-fledged hunter is perhaps the most horrific. The monster opens a trap door underneath Lincoln, who falls through and winds up hanging upside down in a secret cellar, lassoed by his ankles. Corpses hang all around him, most drained of blood (streaks of it staining skin. The vicious vamp then sets a pan beneath Abe—in preparation to drain the future president too. Lincoln works his way free, naturally, slicing the guy twice across the throat, sending jets of black blood spurting across the room.

Most of Abe’s other battles conclude much the same way: slice, hack, decapitate (repeat). Variations on the theme include Abe dunking a vamp’s head into what appears to be molten metal, punching through a guy’s midsection with a silver watch and using a train car door to do the hard beheading work instead of his ax. He and other cohorts shoot vampires as well, with lead balls lodging in, say, a creature’s eye socket. Sometimes we see Abe bury the grotesquely mutilated bodies of his fallen foes.

A vampire dies after being shot in the forehead with a silver necklace. (The necklace charm hangs outside the wound.) Another has his brains gorily blown out. Abe is bruised and bloodied after his first big confrontation. A training session leaves blood streaming down his face. Others are bitten by vampires. (Sometimes the beasties bite down in the “traditional” way, with blood covering the victim’s neck and coating the killer’s mouth, cheeks and clothes. Other times, vampires merely prick the wrist of victims, a nibble that’s designed to kill slowly as veins discolor and odd sores appear.) One victim, after a particularly vicious attack, still stands, sun shining through a gaping hole in his chest. A fashionable vampire ball ends in a bloody massacre of the slaves and Southerners who’ve been invited to attend.

Two young boys are whipped; one begins to bleed. People are threatened with guns and knives. Folks fall off cliffs. Trains crash and burn. Civil War battles show people getting mowed down by gunfire or sent careening through the air by cannonballs. Someone’s thrown up against the side of the wall, doing more damage to the building than the person.

Crude or Profane Language

One f-word. Milder exclamations include “b‑‑ch,” “h‑‑‑” and “pr‑‑k.” God’s name is twice paired with “d‑‑n.”

Drug and Alcohol Content

A vampire smokes a long, elegant pipe. Another drinks a red liquid from a decanter. Lincoln gets drunk at a bar, trying to steel himself to kill someone. Much later, another man does exactly the same thing. Other folks are shown frequently downing whiskey or wine.

Other Negative Elements

Abe never honestly tells his wife about his nocturnal exploits; she has to find out about them by reading his secret diary. A shopkeeper threatens a former worker, telling him he’ll use his scrotum as a coin purse.

“History prefers legends to men,” we hear Lincoln say near the beginning of the movie. “It prefers nobility to brutality, soaring speeches to quiet deeds. History remembers the battle, but forgets the blood.”

This sums up the paradox of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter .

I wasn’t expecting to have much good to say about the movie. I thought it’d be a silly, sloppy, one-joke, thought-free movie easily dismissed. So imagine my surprise when this ax-wielding Abe actually says some pretty cool things and—even in this very surreal world he’s set in—still stands for many of the same principles the real Lincoln stood for. We hear a great deal of talk about freedom and justice and truth … which makes this something of a rare movie in the midst of its R-rated undead-devoted peers. Few others are this sincere about subjects this significant.

But if what we hear is often fairly positive, what we see —well, that’s another matter.

We see a bit of nudity, a coffin full of brutality, and lots and lots of blood—of the red and black varieties. We see a film that doesn’t so much run through its 105 minutes as it hacks and slices and dismembers its way through.

I appreciated Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter’ s soaring speeches. I wish to forget its brutality.

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Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.

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abraham lincoln vampire hunter movie review

‘Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter’ Movie Review (2012)

By Brad Brevet

Perhaps what’s most astonishing about Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is its tone. This is one hell of a silly movie and yet the performances are entirely straight-faced and sincere to the point I didn’t find myself laughing at the movie, but actually more involved than I ever expected. It wasn’t as tongue-in-cheek as I expected and it does a decent job weaving real history in with screenwriter Seth Grahame-Smith’s silliness, adapting the script from his novel of the same name. In short, it’s actually pretty good.

Beginning in 1818, we are introduced to a nine-year-old Abraham Lincoln whose mother treats him a valuable lesson in how to treat people when she protects Abe’s best friend, a young black boy, from being beaten with a whip. But it’s a lesson that comes with consequences. That night, Abe witnesses his mother bitten by a vampire. She would die the next day, thus igniting his hatred for the undead, a hatred that would only continue to grow until he was able to exact vengeance.

Years later Abe (Benjamin Walker) meets Henry Sturgess (Dominic Cooper), a man that will eventually coach him on how to destroy vampires, but only once he agrees to put aside his search for revenge. His mouth agrees, his conscience does not and training begins.

Initially offered his choice in firearms, Abe declares a preference for an ax, one he dips in silver and is soon wielding like a professional baton twirler. Unfortunately, to kill the vampires in this movie it’s going to take more than just some fancy ax-spinning to put them down as Abe soon learns once his training is over and he heads to Springfield, IL to blend in and begin his mission.

As soon as he sets foot in town, he befriends James Speed (Jimmi Simpson), a man that would later serve as Attorney General under Lincoln, but here he owns a small shop and offers Abe a job and a place to stay. Work by day, vampire hunting by night.

Here he also meets his future wife Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and reunites with the young man from his past, Will Johnson (Anthony Mackie), now a freed slave in need of Abe’s help in maintaining his status as a free man.

To this point, things have seemed relatively simple for Abe, but Adam (Rufus Sewell), the leader of the vampire nation has caught wind of Abe’s exploits and devises his own plan, not necessarily to kill Abe, but to concoct a scheme that will help vampires take over the country.

To avoid spoiling too much, the story works its way through history to the point Lincoln takes office and into the Civil War where the vampires play a pivotal role.

Directed by Timur Bekmambetov ( Wanted ), the story isn’t short on absurd action sequences including a horseback battle between Abe and his one true nemesis and a massive railroad set piece that involves fire, explosions a collapsing bridge and CG blood splattered all over the screen. Ridiculous is the best word to describe it all, but again, it manages to maintain a level of silly meets serious that works in a way that keeps you enthralled and, for the most part, enjoying the ride.

The key to much of it is the performance of Benjamin Walker as Lincoln. Walker’s first ever feature film role was as a 19-year-old version of Liam Neeson in the 2004 film Kinsey and you’ll be hard-pressed not to see a lot of Neeson in Walker’s performance. The comparison is apt not only for their comparable looks and acting styles, but in their ability to turn ridiculous action pieces into legitimately entertaining films. Walker succeeds here in the way Neeson succeeded in The A-Team even though I feel I am in the minority in enjoying that movie, which was certainly far more camp than what you have here.

If I walked away with any wishes, one would have been to include a few more colorful characters, something to break up the tone and give it a jolt. Nothing so outlandish as a character meant solely for “comic relief” but outside of vampires taking the battlefield at Gettysburg all wearing sunglasses and Lincoln booting a severed head off a speeding train, the serious tone does tend to wear. I guess a moment of self-awareness would have been appreciated. Something to let the audience know that while the filmmakers have nailed the tone, an acknowledgment that what we’re watching is truly ridiculous.

Even Rufus Sewell fits right in as a level-headed undead politician of sorts without a hint of eccentricity, though he does get the film’s best line and, if you dig deep enough, is the film’s most fascinating character. Adam is the first of his kind, a vampire that’s been around forever. His name is not in the least bit ironic. Given his age, name and the fact he’s a vampire, I absolutely loved when he said, “Man has enslaved each other since they invented gods to forgive them for doing it.” All things considered, it adds a whole new layer to the fictional history this film weaves.

While not entirely a home run as I can only take so much CG blood before it becomes more of the same, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is worth the watch. I’m not sure it’s a film you absolutely need to see in theaters (and certainly not in 3-D), but I could think of plenty of other less agreeable ways to spend your time.

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Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2012)

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Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter review

Great title. shame about the movie….

abraham lincoln vampire hunter movie review

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You don’t have to be as honest as Abe to concede there’s something deliciously bonkers about America’s 16th president having a clandestine sideline in bloodsucker elimination.

Once its genre mash-up premise is established, alas, there isn’t much left to make Timur Bekmambetov’s latest worth the four score and seven minutes it still has to run. Beginning, à la John Carter , with its hero spilling the beans about his hidden history via a voice-overed diary, Lincoln introduces Bill and Ted’s future travelling companion as a headstrong tyke understandably peeved when his mother is munched by Marton Czokas’ rapacious vampire.

It’s only when he’s grown up though that he does something about it, instigating a ham-fisted revenge mission he only survives thanks to the intervention of an undead Dominic Cooper. Turns out vampires can’t kill their own and need humans like Benjamin Walker’s sturdy Abraham to do it for them. Thus begins the Karate Kid part of the story, Abe receiving instruction in the finer arts of silver-tipped axe-wielding from Cooper’s Yoda in the run-up to a showdown with Rufus Sewell’s slave-owning vamp overlord. It’s not long before Walker is slaying toothsome agents of darkness left, right and centre, something he manages to juggle with toiling in a shop, wooing Mary Elizabeth Winstead and successfully running for office.

But that’s not enough for the Wanted director, who keeps preposterously upping the ante in the apparent misapprehension we might actually be taking this nonsense seriously. When he’s not having Walker pursue Czokas across the backs of a thousand stampeding horses or rescue chum Anthony Mackie from a vampire cotillion, the Bekmambetov has him gallivanting atop an out-of-control steam train as it tries to cross a collapsing wooden bridge.

What he doesn’t do is offer us any respite from his 3D CGI barrage, an assault on the senses that makes the bullet John Wilkes Booth fired into the real Abe’s noggin seem calming by comparison.

Neil Smith is a freelance film critic who has written for several publications, including Total Film. His bylines can be found at the BBC, Film 4 Independent, Uncut Magazine, SFX Magazine, Heat Magazine, Popcorn, and more. 

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Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

Review by brian eggert june 23, 2012.

abraham lincoln vampire hunter poster

In 2009, author Seth Grahame-Smith popularized a mashup subgenre where he blended classical literature with horror in his successful book Pride and Prejudice and Zombies , a satiric and wryly amusing post-modern effort followed the next year by the equally wry history-horror mashup Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter . Imitators like Ben H. Winters’ Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters and Android Karenina would follow. For a casual read, why not? And with titles like these, how could they not have a sense of humor or not prove to be escapist fun? But there’s nothing funny or enjoyable about the movie based on Grahame-Smith’s second book, produced by Tim Burton and directed by Wanted helmer Timur Bekmambetov. This utterly humorless interplay between vampire carnage and our 16th president’s life story takes itself very seriously, and the outcome, marked by Bekmambetov’s over-stylized approach, doesn’t share the cleverness of its title.

No one expects a history lesson from a movie like this; thus, the story plays like a highlight reel of Lincoln’s legend, revealing how our greatest president’s most important decisions were actually fuelled by his desire to kill vampires. As a boy, young Abe’s mother was murdered by a nasty bloodsucker, and later, as a vengeful young man (now played by Benjamin Walker), he haplessly sets out for revenge. Botching his initial encounter with a vamp, Lincoln is saved by vampire hunter extraordinaire Henry Sturgess (Dominic Cooper). Sturgess teaches Lincoln how to channel his thirst for revenge into superhuman physical powers against those who thirst for blood. Lincoln soon moves to Springfield, falls for Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), gathers a couple of sidekicks (Anthony Mackie and Jimmi Simpson), becomes interested in politics, and before you know it, the movie is smack-dab in the middle of the Civil War. But the Civil War is not so much about abolishing slavery as it is an epic battle between humans (the Union) and vampires (the Confederates), the latter group led by an ancient neck-biter named Adam (Rufus Sewell), who is bent on claiming America for the vampires.

The cult popularity of Grahame-Smith’s books all but packed his bags for Hollywood, although his adaptations of his own novel here and his earlier script for Burton’s Dark Shadows do not bode well for his future. Both are misguided, unfunny horror mashups that seem unsure of themselves tonally. Are we supposed to be laughing? Are we supposed to be thrilled? Who knows. And only the directors of these projects seem even more unsure than Grahame-Smith. Bekmambetov tries to balance elements of historical biopic, Blade -esque vampire yarn, bits of romance, wartime drama, and superhero story archetypes into one movie. Not one of these elements is successful. It’s all punctuated by Bekmambetov’s in-your-face overreliance on derivatively styled action sequences, most borrowed from Zach Snyder’s slow-down-then-speed-up handbook, and all edited into mincemeat. How many times can one movie show its hero twirling an ax like a baton to decapitate countless vamps? Or performing elaborate acrobatics in slow-mo? How many vampire movies must it take before Hollywood realizes no one wants to see those CGI-widened vampire mouths, extended vertically like a stretched balloon (see the Fright Night remake for another example)?

Bekmambetov is praised in some circles for his highly visual approach to film-making. His style is certainly distinct, but its characteristics aren’t necessarily admirable. His other vampire films, Night Watch (2004) and Day Watch (2006), suffer from the same excess of energy as this film, and some mistake wild camera angles and visual trickery for great directing. Where’s the story, I ask? Even on a purely visual level, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter looks awful. Although I avoided the (much disgraced) post-converted 3-D version and saw the film in 2-D, the intentional fog and dust-laded action sequences make for an unintelligible viewing experience even without darkening 3-D glasses. Consider a sequence where Lincoln chases his mother’s murderer Barts (Marton Csokas) through a stampede of horses. Not only is this sequence hard to make out because Bekmambetov has veiled every shot with CGI dust kicked up by the horses, but the action proves doubly absurd as Lincoln leaps on the animals’ backs to dish out his revenge. The climactic train sequence is just as impossible to see because of an excess of fog, fire, and the muddied lensing by Caleb Deschanel.

Aside from a story novelty that may draw some (unfortunate) curious viewers in, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter feels like a missed opportunity for a cult classic. Walker gives the only standout performance amid the cast, and he bears a striking resemblance to a young Liam Neeson, who, interestingly enough, was once cast to play Lincoln in Steven Spielberg’s forthcoming historical biopic titled Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis replaced Neeson). Regardless, no performance will make up for the tonal disaster that ended up onscreen. Instead of laughing at this movie, we could have been laughing with it and enjoying the experience rather than despising it. But Bekmambetov forgoes the obvious absurdity of the subject matter and resolves to make an actionized horror movie that wants to wow us. Instead, we just sit back thinking how silly the story is, how dreadful the presentation looks, and how uninvolved we are.

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Movie Review: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

NBC Developing TV Series Set in the World of 'Abraham Lincoln: Vampire  Hunter' - Bloody Disgusting

credit: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Slayer

I’ve mentioned that vampire movies are difficult to make at times since there have been so many of them that trying to make each movie original and worthy of what the fans want is more than a little difficult. One can either go big and take on a lot of popular actors and tell a great story, or they can go over the top and create something that’s definitely way out of bounds but is still kind of entertaining at the same time. That’s where it feels as though this movie came from, a fever dream that was born from the mind of someone who wanted to do something different but wasn’t going to stay within the boundaries that had been mapped out for so long. Why else would one of the most memorable presidents in the history of the United States be used in this manner? Abraham Lincoln had a very storied career and life from the time he was young until he was killed in a rather cowardly fashion, but imagining him as a vampire hunter who’s out to save the nation from becoming a land filled with bloodsuckers is, well, different. 

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter' - The New York Times

Giving Lincoln a personal history with the vampires was probably a good idea. 

It does manage to pull the story together a little more since creating a very personal reason for Lincoln to begin a vendetta that would have gotten him killed if not for the appearance of Henry, a vampire that hates his own kind and is bent on training humans how to kill vampires . That’s not necessarily original, but it is a nice touch since it adds a bit of fuel to the fire, and it evens things up a little when it comes to the idea of fighting this type of war. Thinking that it would be kept out of the history books, though, yeah, that’s where it deviates in a big way, but this ceases to matter since the movie simply goes for it and leans heavily into the idea that Adam, played by Rufus Sewell, is bound and determined to give his people a place to live where the food is plentiful, and they can become their own nation. Given that America was still an extremely young nation that was still piecing itself together, thinking that vampires could have come in and done as they pleased wasn’t too hard. 

Despite being kind of a goofy movie, this was fairly well put together. 

Yes, watching Lincoln learn how to whirl an ax around his body and attack with it from multiple angles and even embed a pistol in the haft was kind of goofy, but it played out just fine for what this movie was, and on top of that it became something that didn’t try to dial it down and step back from its own premise. There was a minimum of gore, though there was plenty of violence, which actually came together to create a story that was easy to follow and wasn’t bound to disturb as many people. There were even moments that touched upon Lincoln’s actual presidency, such as the moment when it was noted that people were starting to disagree with his methods when it came to the Civil War . One has to remember that Lincoln wasn’t that popular with a lot of people who didn’t believe in the war or its purpose, but showing that he had a hidden agenda that went beyond the war between the North and the South was fun, especially since Adam was playing the other side as he lent the use of his people to the South’s cause. 

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter' is honestly a horrible film – Orange  County Register

Rufus Sewell can sell himself as a villain no matter what. 

It’s amusing in a way, but Rufus Sewell can play a good guy or a bad guy just as well, but when he plays the villain, he still sounds likable at times since he’s such a calm and collected individual who doesn’t normally fly off the hook. To be realistic, he’s the gentlemanly type of villain who can talk to the protagonist without shouting most times and sound absolutely sinister at the same time. Listening to him talk in this movie made it easy to believe in the bad guy, and the fact that he snapped Abraham’s customary weapon in half like it was nothing and kept striding forward only made him a better character since he didn’t need to show off, he was already deadly as hell, and he knew it. 

It wasn’t such a terrible movie that it couldn’t be watched, but it was rather silly. 

I’ll keep saying it’s silly and ridiculous no matter who asks, but it was fun all the same since there was plenty of action, and the actors did sell their roles well enough to make it worth watching at least once. Yeah, the movie is kind of goofy, but oh well. 

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abraham lincoln vampire hunter movie review

A lover of great stories and epic tales, Tom is a fan of old and new-school ideas. As a novelist and a screenwriter, he enjoys promoting one story or another. With 18k+ articles and 40 novels written, Tom knows a little something about storytelling.

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COMMENTS

  1. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter movie review (2012)

    Written by. Seth Grahame-Smith. "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" is without a doubt the best film we are ever likely to see on the subject — unless there is a sequel, which is unlikely, because at the end, the Lincolns are on their way to the theater. It's also a more entertaining movie than I remotely expected.

  2. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

    While still a boy, Abraham Lincoln loses his mother to a vampire's bite. He vows revenge, but fails in the attempt, narrowly escaping with his life. He is rescued by Henry (Dominic Cooper), a ...

  3. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter Movie Review

    Parents need to know that Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is based on a history-twisting novel by Seth Grahame-Smith. Though it plays fast and loose with facts and has a silly premise, the movie has little humor: It's pure action/horror, with lots of revenge, blood, and fighting -- all in 3-D.A boy watches his mother die, a child dies, and women are killed.

  4. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

    What if Abraham Lincoln was not only a president, but also a vampire hunter? That's the premise of Timur Bekmambetov's action-horror film, based on a novel by Seth Grahame-Smith. The Guardian's ...

  5. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter Review

    The movie's a hybrid horror movie and straightforward biopic with the final result being neither fish nor fowl. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter isn't scary or exciting enough to truly work as a ...

  6. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2012)

    Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter: Directed by Timur Bekmambetov. With Benjamin Walker, Dominic Cooper, Anthony Mackie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead. Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States, discovers vampires are planning to take over the United States. He makes it his mission to eliminate them.

  7. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

    Full Review | Original Score: 3/5 | Jun 26, 2022. Owen Nicholls NME (New Musical Express) Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, a film in which Abraham Lincoln hunts vampires, spends far too long ...

  8. 'Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter' Review

    Follow me on Twitter @ benkendrick for future reviews, as well as movie, TV, and gaming news. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is Rated R for violence throughout and brief sexuality. Now playing in theaters. The film doesn't quite deliver a fully-formed combination of history and supernatural horror, but for anyone who can accept the experience ...

  9. Movie Review: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter Is the Honest ...

    Today, Timur Bekmambetov and Seth Grahame-Smith's Honest Abe fights vampires with the shock and awe of Hollywood's full CG firepower. So, maybe each generation gets the Lincoln it deserves ...

  10. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter: Film Review

    Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter: Film Review. Seth Grahame-Smith adapted his own novel, a genre mashup that rewrites history about the 16th president, played by Benjamin Walker.

  11. ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER Review

    Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter attempts to walk the line between solemn grit and bombastic action. The film stumbles around the line, falls off of it, gropes in the dark to find the line again ...

  12. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

    Horror. Directed By: Timur Bekmambetov. Written By: Seth Grahame-Smith. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Metascore Mixed or Average Based on 35 Critic Reviews. 42. User Score Mixed or Average Based on 314 User Ratings. 5.9.

  13. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter Review

    Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is a steam-locomotive wreck (which, funnily enough, features an actual steam-locomotive wreck caused by — possible symbolism alert! — a massive burning bridge).

  14. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

    Positive Elements. Seth Grahame-Smith, who wrote both the screenplay for Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and the preceding book, uses vampirism as a metaphor for the evils of slavery—a practice that (in the film's case, almost literally) is sucking the life out of the United States. Thus, Lincoln is shown as a true hero, thwacking the heads off evil vampires and choking the life out of the ...

  15. 'Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter' Movie Review (2012)

    Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2012) movie review from director Timur Bekmambetov and starring Benjamin Walker and Anthony Mackie.

  16. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2012)

    Well, well, well, what a surprise. From the name "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" you might expect (as I did) some B grade movie where the name Abraham Lincoln was used to attract attention. And there are the reviews that speak absolute horror of this movie.

  17. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter review

    It's only when he's grown up though that he does something about it, instigating a ham-fisted revenge mission he only survives thanks to the intervention of an undead Dominic Cooper. Turns out ...

  18. 'Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter' review: Succulent

    Just on the strength and novelty of the gimmick - combining the real details of Lincoln's...

  19. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

    Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is a 2012 American action horror film directed by Timur Bekmambetov and based on the novel of the same name by Seth Grahame-Smith, ... The movie premiered in New York City on June 18. Abraham ... 2014, Rotten Tomatoes reports a "rotten" approval score of 33%, based on 195 reviews, with an average score of 4.9/10 ...

  20. Movie Review: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

    The director's signature speedy, frenetic zooms punctuate a film that's smoothly paced and winkingly earnest. The characters perform impossible deeds in stylized slow motion so that we're too enamored of how cool it looks to care that it's impossible.

  21. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2012)

    In 2009, author Seth Grahame-Smith popularized a mashup subgenre where he blended classical literature with horror in his successful book Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, a satiric and wryly amusing post-modern effort followed the next year by the equally wry history-horror mashup Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.Imitators like Ben H. Winters' Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters and ...

  22. Movie Review: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

    Yes, watching Lincoln learn how to whirl an ax around his body and attack with it from multiple angles and even embed a pistol in the haft was kind of goofy, but it played out just fine for what ...

  23. MOVIE REVIEW: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

    Even though Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter butchers and condenses its pulpy and popular source novel from Seth Grahame-Smith (who also wrote the screenplay, which means fans have no one to blame but the man himself), the movie is simply fun escapist entertainment and pops off of the screen like a 3D movie should. It may feel like camp in ...

  24. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

    Mortal Kombat. Arranged Love. Leprechaun. Watch Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter on NBC.com and the NBC App. The nation's 16th president handles affairs of state by day and hunts the undead by night.