Was Abraham Lincoln a vampire hunter – of course he wasn’t. Or was he…? ‘It’s just not historical’, critics were shouting and moaning after the press show. Er, that’s right, it’s escapist fantasy entertainment.

And, if this is the kind of entertainment you like, it’s brilliant – quite dazzling, I’d say, both visually and viscerally. Full of the hugest wow-factor moments, it has you asking ‘how the hell did they do that?’ at regular intervals, while delivering an awesome series of the most edge-of-seat, sweaty-palm action sequences seen on screen to date. Never has the idea of taking up a secret life as a vampire hunter seemed so attractive! Derek Winnert, film critic by day, vampire hunter by night. I’d just never get any sleep in.

So, then, credit where it’s due. Credit to producer Tim Burton, director Timur Bekmambetov (Wanted, Night Watch), writer Seth Grahame-Smith (adapting his bestseller), stage actor Benjamin Walker (who’s perfect as Lincoln), Rufus Sewell (a great villain as vampire chief Adam), visual effects wizard Craig Lyn and Caleb Deschanel (the veteran photographer who produces a stunning-looking art-work movie). A big round of applause for all of them.

The winningly bizarre notion of mixing the 16th US President with vampires came to the author when he was promoting his book Pride and Prejudice and Zombies in America in 2009. The bicentennial of Lincoln’s birth found bookshops stacked with tomes on Lincoln’s life on displays next to vampire novels like Twilight and True Blood. Funny how things turn out.

Having the idea’s one thing but making it work is entirely another. Perhaps the best thing about the story and the movie is that this crazy idea to mix the two subjects is taken totally seriously – and so are the vampires, shown as devastatingly bloodthirsty, devious and frightening. Not at all the girly type of vegetarian vampire we’ve been seeing lately. The little suckers have integrated themselves into the very fibre of life in 19th-century America, as blacksmiths, pharmacists and bankers. But young Lincoln, bent on revenge for the death of his mother, bitten by local businessman Jack Barts (Marton Csokas), is going to prove a worthy foe and nemesis for these evil undead.

Failing in his first attack on Barts, Abe is rescued by a dandified Englishman called Henry Sturgess (Dominic Cooper), a vampire hunter, who teaches Lincoln the art of vampire hunting, which involves learning there’s always a need for a contingency plan (a plan B) and a handy way with a huge axe. The eternal battle between good and evil is on.

The whole idea is basically daft and comic, but the fun comes from taking it totally seriously, making the vampires totally ‘real’, and never once letting on to the audience it’s all a joke. And then going full on with it, with a huge ration of explosive thrills, scares and amazing stunts. Fantasy entertainment doesn’t get much more entertaining or exciting than this.

You’d think it was a big deal turning Lincoln into a classic comic-book hero, but this movie manages it elegantly, stylishly, amusingly and satisfyingly. Even though you know there’s class-A effort in every department, the effort never shows. It’s all quite seamless, thrilling and beautiful.

I forgot to mention the 3D. It works a treat.

Verdict: It’s sensational. Abe’s got the wow factor. Score: 5/5

Copyright of Derek Winnert 2012