When you heard one of this summer's popcorn films has our 16th president hunting vampires, you probably did a double take. You're not alone.
Benjamin Walker, who stars as Lincoln in the horror thriller "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter," says he realizes that it's a pretty weird idea: "We get it. It's a ridiculous premise."
Seth Grahame-Smith, who penned the screenplay and the original novel, is not arguing: "Of course it's crazy."
But it's the kind of "crazy" that drew in Tim Burton, who signed on to produce the film before Grahame-Smith even wrote the book.
"I just heard the idea and the proposal and right away - and I never do this - I wanted to see this movie," Burton said at a recent promotional event for the film. "Something in my brain went crazy."
He says it reminds him of movies he loved watching as a kid in LA. "There was this theater in Burbank that would show triple features of films like 'Dr. Jekyll & Sister Hyde' and 'Blacula.'"
"Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter," which opens wide on Friday, tells the story of the president's life with a revisionist twist: that Lincoln's discovery of a vampire plan to take over the United States fueled his White House ambitions and the U.S. Civil War. It was directed by Kazakhstan-born Timur Bekmambetov ("Wanted") and co-stars Anthony Mackie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Dominic Cooper.
To the eccentric Burton, who has directed such quirky movies as "Edward Scissorhands" and "Beetlejuice," turning a revered historical figure into a vampire slayer isn't that much of a stretch. He says Lincoln just had that "haunted" look of someone who's been up at night "hunting vampires while doing his day job as president."
Walker, who's an American history buff, says Lincoln's real-life story parallels that of a superhero character such as Batman - someone who had "something traumatic happen to him as a young man and then he realizes that he has to focus his life to the good of humanity."
But the "Vampire Hunter" team agrees the joke stops after the title. "We're not having a laugh at Lincoln or making the Mel Brooks version of this," says Grahame-Smith, who also wrote the screenplay for Burton's campy "Dark Shadows" vampire movie released in May.
He says they wanted to create a serious and dark summer movie. The question became how to create a realistic thriller of the time that happens to have some vampires in it.
For Walker, the importance was in the details: "You do the research. You try and make a time that seems foreign to you, applicable to something that you can understand."
The filmmakers also stressed it was essential their vampires fit with the time period and the tone of that day.
Besides pairing a beloved president with vampires, Grahame-Smith couldn't resist noting another oddity about his summer movie: "This is not a reboot, a remake, a prequel; is not based on a toy, a video game, and it doesn't have any robots in it."