Earlier this week I went on a brief jaunt to Sydney for a presentation about the upcoming movie Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, based on the best-selling book by rising novelist and screenwriter Seth Grahame-Smith (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies; Dark Shadows) and coming out in New Zealand cinemas on August 2.
It reveals the untold story of how America's favourite President secretly helped stop a vampire revolution from taking over his country during the American Civil War.
In a blockbuster season comprised almost entirely of sequels, prequels and reboots, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter stands out as somewhat of an original property.
This aspect is a particular point of pride for Grahame-Smith, who was in Sydney to present a selection of footage and do interviews along with Benjamin Walker, the relatively unknown actor playing the title character.
Grahame-Smith adapted his own book for the film, which is directed by Russian Timur Bekmembatov, who made a huge impression with his Night Watch movies before moving into English language films with 2008's Wanted.
What immediately becomes apparent when the first of two sequences unfold is that the period setting has not stopped Bekmembatov from unleashing his trademark super-intense visuals and flashy cutting style.
The sequence involves a young Lincoln being schooled in the way of the vampire hunter by mentor Henry Sturges (Dominic Cooper).
There's nothing jokey about it and the period details appear high class - it just happens to involve a whole heap of kick-ass axe-swinging.
The second thing that becomes apparent is just how much Walker resembles a young Liam Neeson. He played a younger version of Neeson's lead character in the 2004 biopic Kinsey, but time appears to have only strengthened the resemblance. There's an element of probably not coincidental kismet here, as Neeson himself was for many years attached to Steven Spielberg's upcoming Lincoln film.
That project took so long to get off the ground that Neeson felt he was to old for the role and Spielberg ended up casting Daniel Day Lewis.
Anyway, Walker looks the part immensely, and the film seems like it will benefit from a less recognisable actor in the lead, because as Grahame-Smith repeatedly stated: "It's all in the title". Quite.
Grahame-Smith is an intriguing character - an enthusiastic fanboy informed by a heavy dose of literary history. He grew up with a book-dealer stepfather who was constantly foisting upon him everything from the latest Stephen King novel to any number of works from the canon. It was a perfect storm for a creative mind.
He published several, er, interesting non-fiction books before breaking out with the above mentioned Jane Austen mash-up. But Grahame-Smith really caused film fans to sit up and pay attention when he was hired to take a pass at the script for Tim Burton's latest film, Dark Shadows. But it made sense that Burton would be intrigued by Grahame-Smith's peculiar pulpy leanings, and he's one of the producers on Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.
And now Grahame-Smith is actively developing a Beetlejuice sequel with an aim toward Burton directing and Michael Keaton reprising his role. He seems like the right man for the job.
Walker himself proved to be an amiable chap, clearly still a tad bemused by his impending stardom. He holds the screen with a commanding presence which will surely ground the more fantastical elements. It's all too rare these days that a big epic movie casts an unknown in the lead, but it seems especially appropriate here.
His status (or lack thereof) was evident in the first poster for the film, which obscured his face completely. But he's front and centre for the new poster in which you can really get a sense of his Liam Neeson-ness.
The second sequence they screened for us was the film's action climax, involving an epic train crash high up on a wooden bridge. It was pretty choice. That's two big train action sequences in a row for Bekmembatov - and this one is better than the crazy derailment in Wanted.
The sheer insouciance of the concept alone lends Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter a certain charm. Whether or not the film lives up to that is yet to be determined, but the talent involved and everything I've seen bodes well for the finished product.
* Are you amped for Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter? Do you reckon that dude looks heaps like Liam Neeson? Comment below!