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Canned Laser Face-Off: Is Abraham Lincoln Better At Fighting Vampires Or Zombies?

Canned Laser Face-Off: Is Abraham Lincoln Better At Fighting Vampires Or Zombies?

Four score and seven years ago…butts were kicked. It has long been known that Abraham Lincoln is one of the supreme bad-asses in the history of history. He is as iconic in the Hall of Hardcore as Clint Eastwood or Charles Bronson. Try to find a picture where Lincoln smiles and you will find that his mouth may show a crooked grin but the eyes show quiet rage.




But where most heroes are content to save their own hides within the context of their own personal dilemma, Abraham Lincoln was thrust into the greatest test that the United States ever faced. In the balance of his decisions were the lives of millions of people as well as the principles this country was founded upon: namely freedom and universal equality. His career is improbable, in fact maybe even impossible to believe, for he was largely self-educated and grew up extremely poor, with much of his family dying all around him from various diseases that accompanied a harsh frontier life. Politically his stance on morality and ethics made him a pariah, not because he was immoral, rather he expected the United States to live up to it’s own mantra. Some people disagreed, and the country was plunged into a civil war. This summer, perhaps marking the 150th anniversary of our greatest trial, two movies commemorating the greatness of the man that was our 16th president have been released. The first is based on the novel by Seth Grahame-Smith and is called  Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter while the response is brought to us by film studio prodigies The Asylum entitled Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies. Let’s see which is better at emancipating us from the summer doldrums of blockbuster season.


Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter had a budget of $69 million.  Abraham Lincoln Versus Zombies had a budget of $150,000.  Each movie is fun, action packed, and true to its title.  These two films are almost exactly the same length, with Vampire Hunter running in at 100 minutes and Zombies at an even 90 minutes.

In most ways, the cheaper movie is more enjoyable through its relative simplicity.  The need to dazzle theater audiences leads to several scenes of excessive visual lunacy in Vampire Hunter.  For example, young Abraham Lincoln (Vampire Hunter) has a minutes long battle with a vampire whose primary attack is throwing galloping horses at our hero.  This scene may need to be viewed in 3D to fully capture the imagination (I opted out of the polarized glasses for this movie), but it remains stupid in any dimension.  Some other cases come to mind where Vampire Hunter throws money at the screen, literally on fire.  A climactic battle between Lincoln and confederate vampires takes place on a blazing railroad bridge.  Our hero (now president and in his mid 50s) leaps from locomotive to caboose, slaying the undead using his trusty silver-coated axe.  Each of these scenes is visually unconvincing and needlessly complex.  Fancy special effects, a solid list of well known cast and crew (Dominic Cooper, and director Timur Bekmambetov) help to eat up the $69 million spent to create Vampire Hunter.

Despite its deep pockets, the difference in quality between Vampire Hunter and Zombies appears to be far less than $67.5 million.  Due to its low budget and niche market, Zombies has a secret weapon: when it fails, either through writing, production quality, acting, or visual effects, it is still funny.  I see it this way: if a middle school production of King Lear goes horribly awry and sixth grade Lear misses a few lines, we laugh and brush it off.  We came in expecting crap, and having our prejudices confirmed is very satisfying.  The enjoyment does not dwindle, it merely changes forms; open mockery can be more fun for an audience than anything that was originally envisioned by the writer (see: MST3K, all seasons and episodes).  On the other hand, when you pay Patrick Stewart a pile of money to show up for a worldwide King Lear multimedia laser experience, everyone expects him to bring his A game.  If Stewart, a noted Shakespearian actor and Starfleet captain, stumbles and mixes up the names of Lear’s three daughters, the paying customers will be confused and upset…at least I would be.

This is where Vampire Hunter fails.  The movie takes itself too seriously, despite being a one-joke alternative history of the Civil War.   This movie certainly has an audience, but its audience is equally well-served by the vastly cheaper and more coherent Zombies.  Nowhere is this difference more clearly seen than in the resolution to the movies.  Vampire Hunter respectfully leaves history to take its course, with the vampire influence all but forgotten as Lincoln rides off to Ford’s Theater.  Zombies, on the other hand, goes all-out in tying Lincoln’s assassination, John Wilkes-Boothe, reconstruction, and slavery into a single stroke of brilliance.

I judge Vampire Hunter to be a three can movie, with the assumption that any likely viewer is looking for a movie about vampires and not a Ken Burns style Civil War case study.  Zombies can be recommended on the same basis, but earns a four can rating by virtue of its more entertaining story.  Also, the priceless line “emancipate this” crops up in the cheaper movie, elevating it to a higher level.



Let me just say first that my friends and I came up with all the ideas seen in these movies years ago in various parking lots we frequented as we “rapped” on the times we live in. Very few people in history can live up to the image of Abraham Lincoln. He was a true rebel unlike the so called “rebels” of the Confederacy and the 1990’s “grunge” scene. You can’t be a rebel if you are protecting the status quo or buy pre-ripped jeans at the mall. Even people within his own party were against Lincoln. Yet he exercised his own power over everyone and changed the course of history. Plus the dude could drop a speech like no one else. Often I have wished that someone would come along in our time and clean up the mess we’re in with that kind of emphatic belief. Sadly there is no one. So I settled for the likes of Travis Bickle and Frank Castle to quell my inner rage at the perplexities of the world as they embarked on one-man wars against immorality and injustice respectively. But I always hoped that somehow Lincoln could come back and unify the people one more time, for equality’s sake as we take out the usurpers of the true “American Dream.” So my approach to watching these two movies was rooted deeply in two philosophies: truth through equality and equality through violence. Luckily both movies had plenty of both.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

I’m not surprised that Abraham Lincoln can take out vampires effectively. After all his axe work is legendary. Vampires step out of line all the time because let’s face it they get hungry and people are their food. Lincoln doesn’t stand for that. Plus they killed his mom. But Lincoln also has the larger problem of dealing with the issues of slavery and state’s rights, while pursuing a law career and his romantic involvement with Mary Todd. The vamps almost got off easy too, but they had to side with the secessionists. Lincoln out smarts them and slays them like the Confederate scummery they represent. That’s the strength of the movie. The weaknesses I find in this movie stem from the slightly decreased level of hardcoreness displayed by this version of Lincoln. Of course Lincoln is renowned for his oratory skills and the plethora of opportunities to drop one-liners were largely missed. After all the three minute long Gettysburg Address was in essence a 19th century one-liner. It took longer to do things in those days, like the guy who tried to take a photograph of Lincoln as he gave the address but the speech was so short he didn’t have time to set the camera. That is core.

Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies

Many of my issues with the lack of coreness by the vamp-killing Lincoln were cured by the zombie-slaying Lincoln. I also appreciated the cameos by such historical figures as future-president Teddy Roosevelt and Old West (though not old by this point) law man Pat Garrett. Also I feel that this movie reinforces a universal truth that when zombies attack, everyone is truly equally food. Gen. Stonewall Jackson had no choice but to team-up with Abraham Lincoln. I feel that a golden opportunity was missed though in this one as well. If I had written this movie not only would Jefferson Davis and Abraham Lincoln form a super-team consisting of two of the awesomest beards in history, but they would have then unified the entire country to eradicate zombies.

Reconstruction would then go more smoothly since the blasphemous undead would be put to rest leading the bigoted proponents of slavery to see the error of their ways; that life is paramount to death as freedom triumphs over slavery and we avoid 100 years of Jim Crow and a traumatic civil rights movement that has not healed the chasm of emotional turmoil caused by one half of a country losing a war. Only a mutually hated undead enemy can achieve that. That’s why I’m proposing a sequel: Lincoln and Davis Vs. The Zombie Reich in which Abe and Jeff team up one more time to battle Hitler’s time-traveling zombie army. After Hitler dies he realizes that the only way to win WWII and prevent his death is to send his zombie army back to 1864 when America is at it’s frailest in an attempt to block us from becoming the paragon of freedom that destroys him.

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