Rachel Lewis and Rachel Boyle share the same first name and many courses at Loyola University Chicago. Rarely do they share the same perspective on historical topics. In this installment, the Rachels provide two distinct reviews of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter as a work of cinematic public history.
“History prefers legends to men” – Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
In the interest of full disclosure, I should confess that I have very limited knowledge of vampire mythology. I am still unclear about how to kill a vampire. Do you shoot them in the heart with a silver bullet? Cut off their head? Nervously bite your lip until they succumb to your wiles? Judging from the way Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter treats the historical record, I suspect the film plays fast and loose with the rules of vampire hunting as well. Therefore, I will not be evaluating Abraham Lincoln in terms of adherence to the rules of vampirology or historical accuracy. I am most interested in dissecting the internal logic of this film and the implications for the public’s memory of Abraham Lincoln and nineteenth century United States history.
Abraham Lincoln’s motivation for hunting vampires proves the most baffling and fascinating aspect of the film. Both Lincoln and his mentor Henry Sturgess seek to avenge all the pure white ladies whom vampires kill. In particular, Lincoln tries to hunt down his mother’s murderer and Sturgess holds a grudge from the death of his lover. The film frequently shows vampires attacking white women and draw implicit or explicit associations with rape. Clearly, vampires are awful predators who defile the innocence of white women. This rationale curiously resembles a persistent narrative in United States history that vilifies African American men in order to maintain segregation and undermine African American civil rights. But in an odd plot choice, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter appropriates the narrative to justify Abe’s gory vampire-killing rampage.
Incidentally, Abe’s vampire victims are also generally slave owners and racists. Sturgess explains that vampires accompanied Europeans to the New World and were responsible for killing American Indians and perpetuating the institution of slavery. As a result, Abraham Lincoln’s anti-slavery crusade becomes a secondary motivation for hunting down vampires. And the audience knows that Abe wasn’t racist because he has a black friend, Will Johnson! The audacity with which Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter conflates ahistorical attributes of the sixteenth president of the United States inspires a sort of horrific admiration.
Speaking of token characters, the film fulfills its obligation to heteronormativity with the lone female character and Abe’s romantic interest: Mary Todd Lincoln. (The film also features a sexy lady vampire, but she has a grand total of maybe two lines in the entire movie.) Apart from Mary and Will, the other women and African Americans in Abraham Lincoln exist as voiceless victims, protected and avenged by white men. The movie blatantly heroizes Abraham Lincoln as the incarnation of all that is right with America: white, masculine paternalism. It further places the blame for America’s historical injustices on fictional evil vampires and avoids an honest or provocative exploration of the metaphorical vampires in United States history.