Can Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter make the undead funny again?

Twilight can't be the last word on vampires.

Is anything ever finished any more? Do big-money producer types ever say to each other “You know what, I think the time travel/robot/alien* (*delete as applicable) thing is just about over now. Shall we go and find our next cash-cow to milk dry?”

All the evidence suggests that this isn’t the case. Just this week, the studio behind the Twilight films was forced to deny that a “reboot” was planned once the fifth and final film is released this autumn.

(If you read my colleague Alex Hern’s post about the seriously creepy “werewolf loves baby” storyline in the latest installment, you will understand why I now pause to allow for readers to shudder extensively.)

There’s nothing wrong with prequels, sequels and spin-offs per se. But the kind of conservatism that even considers pouring money into tired rehashes of already-lucrative series rather than fresh, original ideas, is worrying. Of course investors want guaranteed returns, but eventually cinemagoers stop forking out to see the same thing presented a very slightly different way. This is exactly why a “rebooted” Twilight franchise is such a terrible idea.

This is also why, when I first heard about it, I was cautiously optimistic about the film Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, which opened in the UK this weekend. Scripted by the same guy who brought us Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, this is supposed to be a big screen mash-up that incorporates the current fascination with all things sexy and undead, but also has a bit of a plot and even something of a moral dimension (America’s 16th president wants to destroy slavery AND stake succubi).

The trailer is oh-so-promising:

Mark Kermode wasn’t overly impressed, but I still have high hopes for it.

Maybe this is the film that can put the humour back into our vampires. Long before there were undead sexy teens gazing longingly at each other, we had things like Mel Brooks’ Dracula: Dead and Loving It and some of the finer moments of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. As well as being terrifying, vampires are funny. We can’t let Twilight take that away from us.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

Caroline Crampton is assistant editor of the New Statesman. She writes a weekly podcast column.

Photo: Tashphotography / Stockimo / Alamy
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The Negroni fools no one – it’s easy to make and contains nothing but booze

It is the colour of danger, a red rag to anyone jaded by cocktail-world bull.

The cocktail is designed to lie about its origins; no wonder it reached its apogee during Prohibition, which forced everyone with an unrepentant thirst to lie about their cravings. Even today, when only extreme youth, religious belief or personal inclination prevents a person from draining the bar dry, the cocktail continues its career of dishonesty. It hides ingredients or methods. It provides a front for poor-quality booze. And it often dissolves, within its inscrutable depths, mountains of sugar, enabling drinkers to pose as sophisticates while downing something that tastes like a soft drink – to get drunk without leaving the playpen.

This is why I love the Negroni, which fools no one. It is easy to make and contains nothing but pure booze. Despite being a third sweet vermouth, it isn’t saccharine: the other two thirds, equal measures of gin and Campari, may have something to do with this. And it is the colour of danger, a red rag to anyone jaded by cocktail-world bull.

They say it was invented in Florence at the request of a Count Negroni, who wanted a drink unsullied by club soda – a drink stiff enough to get a man back on a bucking horse, perhaps, since this Count may have been a rodeo rider. I prefer to believe that the Count, if Count he was, came in, tossed down enough strong liquor to start telling stories about his American adventures, and, when he finally staggered out into the night, the exasperated bartender poured three straight shots into a single glass and baptised this wondrous reviver in grateful homage to the fabulist who had inspired it.

In a former glue factory a very long way from Florence or America, the East London Liquor Company now makes very good gin – Batches One and Two, the former tannic with Darjeeling as well as cassia bark, pink grapefruit peel, and coriander seeds; the latter redolent of savoury, bay, thyme and lavender. Transforming these plants into excellent alcohol seems an improvement on boiling down horses for adhesive, and the company also makes superb Negronis from Batch Two.

We sit outside, in a carpark made marginally more glamorous by border boxes of Batch Two botanicals, and marvel at the transformation of this grimy part of East London, next door to a park intended to give Victorian working men brief respite from lives all too lacking in myth or fantasy. It is a reincarnation at least as miraculous as the transformation of three strong and entirely unalike spirits into the delectable harmony of the Negroni. The sun shines; a fountain plashes. Nuts and charcuterie arrive. All is right with the world.

I leave my herbaceous bower and dangerously pleasing drink for a peek at the large copper distillery behind the bar, walking in past the fountain, a whimsical stone construction that pours vermilion liquid into two, tiered basins topped by a chubby putto clutching a rather reluctant fish.

And then I stop. And double back. Vermilion liquid? It is, indeed, a Negroni fountain. There are even slices of orange floating in the basin. I dip a finger: the taste is slightly metallic but still undeniably that potent mixture of booze, botanicals, bitterness, and just a hint of sweetness. A streak of citrus from the orange slices. It turns out that the world’s most straightforward cocktail lends itself to a decadent neo-Renaissance fantasy. There’s a message here, one forthright as a temperance tract: without imagination, we would have no lies – but no Negronis, either.

Nina Caplan is the 2014 Fortnum & Mason Drink Writer of the Year and 2014 Louis Roederer International Wine Columnist of the Year for her columns on drink in the New Statesman. She tweets as @NinaCaplan.

This article first appeared in the 20 July 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The new world disorder