Benjamin Walker, who stars 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 wrote the film's 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."
"Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter," which opens in the U.S. 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."