By Anthony Breznican
February 07, 2012 at 02:00 PM EST

It’s bizarre enough to imagine a world where our nation’s 16th president walks among vampires; thankfully, we don’t have to see him harboring a secret crush on one of them, too.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (out June 22) arrives at time when the scariest thing about bloodsuckers is how tame they’ve become. For decades they were merciless, seductive, and bloodthirsty villains, but now they’re more commonly seen as the sparkling, waifish, and weepy heroes of YA romantic chick-lit.

Look at this picture of ol’ Honest Abe: He’s mad as hell! And he’s not going to take it anymore, Stephenie Meyer! YAAARRGHH!

In this historical fantasy, produced by Tim Burton, vampires strike the same twitchy nerve among the citizenry that terrorists do in our real world.

“It’s not a sermon in any way, but it is interesting to look at vampires as the all-encompassing, unspeakable, unknowable evil,” says Benjamin Walker, who stars as the bearded slayer-in-chief. “This evil moves among us, and maybe lives next door. It’s an ideology that we don’t fully understand, but they live by it.”

The movie is based on the best-selling historical/horror mash-up by Seth Grahame-Smith (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) and directed by Timur Bekmambetov, who made Angelina Jolie’s Wanted and the Russian vampire sagas Nightwatch and Daywatch.

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At first, it might just seem like the premise to a Saturday Night Live sketch. “The joke is in the title, and then we fully commit to it,” says Walker, best known for another offbeat alt-history story, the Broadway musical Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson.

AL: VH certainly has a sense of humor, but uses real events as a jumping off place for the imagination. The vampire story is interwoven as backstory for many of the twists and turns in Lincoln’s life leading up to the Civil War.

In this image, we see Lincoln in his younger days, already aware of the vampire menace, but just beginning to learn that he and his trusty felling axe could do something about it.

“It’s told through the structure of Lincoln’s actual life. You not only see these huge fight scenes and great moments of drama, but you get sort of the greatest hits of Lincoln’s life, from the mysterious death of his mother through the Gettysburg address,

says Walker. “You get a portrait of this man, as well as a thriller.”

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In this early scene from the film, Walker’s Lincoln has journeyed to Louisiana to rescue a friend — a freed black man named William Johnson (The Hurt Locker‘s Anthony Mackie), who has been captured by a cabal of Southern vampires.

Vampires like the idea of slavery because, for them, it turns plantations into livestock farms. If certain groups of human beings are considered property, then the Confederacy is like an all-you-can-eat buffet for bloodsuckers looking to feed without consequence.

Grahame-Smith built this part of the story around true-life accounts of Lincoln’s visits to Louisiana as a young man, where he was disgusted by the sight of blacks being chained together and whipped, and his early abolitionist feelings began to form.

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“In the movie, it’s a similar experience, seeing it all for the first time, and choosing how he’s going to deal with it from that point on — whether it be entering into politics, or whether it be sharpening his axe,” Walker says.

As you can see, his first big fight doesn’t go well at first. Young Lincoln is soon overtaken by two powerful vampires, played by Rufus Sewell (kneeling) and supermodel Erin Wasson (seated on top of him).

“It’s the first time in the movie he has had to exercise his skills on his own. He’s choosing his new targets, and choosing how to use these newfound skills. Who knows if he will be successful?” Walker says, adding with a laugh: “I mean, we do …”

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Why is it okay to play around with Lincoln? Is it the beard? The hat? The fact that he posed for all those pennies …?

This is the man who not only freed an entire group of horribly enslaved human beings, but he kept our country united through bloody adversity. Doesn’t he deserve some respect?

Walker says Lincoln is ripe for spoof precisely because he is so universally beloved. “His legacy is safe. It’s something we all agree on and we’re all proud of as Americans,” the actor says. “Once you know that, nobody’s going to actually get hurt. We all do idolize him. We do look for qualities he exemplified and try to emulate that in our lives. Nobody gets their feelings hurt because we know who he was. If you throw vampires into the mix, it’s just another way to see someone we already think of as a hero be heroic.”

Plus, Lincoln was known to have a great sense of humor himself. “When he was a lawyer, going on the road, staying up late nights with legislators and businessmen in taverns, he was the life of the party; a very exciting and entertaining man in his own right,” Walker says. “I think he’d love our movie.”

Perhaps. But if Lincoln really did come back, he’d probably be saying “thanks, but no thanks” to theater tickets in general.

For more movie news, follow @Breznican on Twitter.

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