SPRINGFIELD — The blood-splattered, 3-D spectacle of Illinois’ most famous son taking his trusty ax to the undead instead of log rails doesn’t spook the museum bearing his name.
Instead, “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,” the film version of Seth Grahame-Smith’s 2010 novel opening this weekend, is being embraced by the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum as an interest-stimulant.
Or: If you pique it, they will come.
Springfield’s esteemed tourist destination already has the proof, courtesy a book signing by Grahame-Smith two years ago, shortly after the novel’s release.
“It was the most people we’ve ever had for that kind of event,” notes David Blanchette, the museum’s communications coordinator. “There were 400 people, and the vast majority of them had never been to the museum before.”
The key consequence: “Since then, we’ve seen a lot of these same people come back to the museum. So it worked: using fantasy to pique the interest of a non-traditional audience, then hooking them with reality.”
Grahame-Smith, like Bram Stoker’s seminal vampire opus “Dracula,” presents his tale through a collection of writings, using entries from the 16th president’s “secret diaries.”
As it turns out, the Lincoln clan’s ties to the undead are direct: A vampire slew Abe’s grandfather, and mother Nancy Hanks Lincoln’s historically recorded 1818 death from “milk sickness” was, in fact, due to an injection of tainted blood.
As for fiancée Anne Rutledge’s eventual demise … let’s just say it follows a trend.
Thus, in between pursuing business and political careers, the man in the stovepipe hat becomes a proactive crusader against America’s infiltration by the undead, using his trusty ax to whack every vampire within range to pieces.
Though the movie, produced (but not directed) by recent “Dark Shadows” purveyor Tim Burton, was filmed largely in New Orleans, the book’s action doesn’t ignore Lincoln’s Illinois heritage.
His New Salem moorings are part of the action. And the Lincoln-Douglas debates are incorporated, but with a twist: Douglas is an ally of the vampires’ Southern sect.
Last February, the Springfield museum hosted a screening of the film’s then-new trailer “not because we think the movie is historically accurate,” says Blanchette. “It is only accurate in the sense that there was once a man named Abraham Lincoln who was president during a thing called the Civil War.”
Still: “We think there are going to be many people going to the movie and leave it wondering what the real Abe Lincoln was like, and we want to be in a position to answer that question,” says Blanchette. “We view this as a teaching opportunity.”
Moreover, he suggests, “Does it bother us because Lincoln is being portrayed as a superhero? If you take a look at his life, it’s not too far removed from that — here was a guy who, among other things, was a famous wrestler, an inventor, a literary and political genius, a man capable of great compassion, and one of the driving forces that kept the country together when it was splitting apart at the seams.”
In short, says Blanchette: “If Lincoln wasn’t a superhero in real life, he was pretty darned close.”
At a glance
What: “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter”
When: Midnight showings tonight, selected theaters; opens everywhere Friday
Where: Galaxy 14 and Palace Cinemas, Bloomington; Stadium 14, Normal; Lincoln Theaters, Lincoln