The Horror Honeys: Vampire Month: THE NIGHT-STALKING DEAD

Vampire Month: THE NIGHT-STALKING DEAD


A Sci-Fi Honey Vampire Month Review by Katie

Stake Land (2011)

The end is nigh for #VampireMonth, and by now we’ve seen it all: campy vamps, blood-nymphs, sexy snake charmers, rock stars, and even the dreaded sparkly ones. But what if you wanted a vampire movie that gave you everything you love about vampire movies – as well as your favorite ingredients from countless other horror subgenres – and packaged them conveniently into a gritty post-apocalyptic package? You’d be stoked to come across Stake Land (2011), writer/director Jim Mickle’s vamp/zombie mashup that lifts well-worn tropes from countless other dystopic plague-ridden visions of the future and molds it into a surprisingly effective action-packed thriller.

In a world overrun with a generic but deadly vampire-inducing pandemic, orphaned teen Martin (Connor Paolo) is taken in by “Mister” (Nick Damici), a grizzled, hard-worn antihero roundhouse-kicking his way straight out of a bygone action/horror era. Mister teaches Martin how to shoot, fight, and engage in various forms of badassery against their fanged foes, all while journeying to a fabled North where humankind is alleged to have a shot at existence. Along the way they pick up random survivors, including a nun (Kelly McGillis), a pregnant ingénue (Danielle Harris), and a former Marine (Sean Nelson). As is the case with most post-apocalyptic tales, some of these characters fare better than others in a world teeming with creatures of the night – and the road is strewn with more than just vampire corpses by film’s end.

As a general rule, don’t get this close to them. 
For a movie that purportedly centers on the allegory of vampires, Stake Land is much better suited to fans of the zombie subgenre than classical Dracula aficionados seeking a sharper bite. Bearing more than a passing similarity to AMC’s The Walking Dead, Mister and Martin are the Rick and Carl Grimes of the film’s central narrative, with fringe characters that draw parallels to those featured on the show; Stake Land even has its own Carol in the form of Kelly McGillis’s nun. The film’s vampires themselves chomp and snarl like the Walkers we’ve come to know and love, lurching toward their victims with a swagger commonly employed by the undead zed-words. The film even invents a new rule of vampire lore: that the older ones need to be killed with a stab to the base of the skull, and not a stake to the heart. Anyone who’s read an apocalypse survival guide knows that this is in fact the way to kill a zombie – though I admire their take on the fact that it’s not always so easy to impale a vampire directly in the heart, a task that seems effortless for slayers in other films.

Carol 2.0.
We all know that other living people are the real horrors we have to contend with in a post-apocalyptic scenario, and Stake Land drives that point to an extreme when it pits our heroes against a roving gang of Bible-thumping baddies. A fundamentalist sect led by an aptly named “Jebedia Loven” (Michael Cerveris), Loven uses the vampiric plague as a way to channel his cause for the Lord – with some abhorrently violent results, of course. While I appreciate a film that tries to make a statement on something larger than the immediate plot at hand, the religious symbolism of Stake Land is less than subtle. From the North being dubbed “New Eden,” Loven’s extremist “Brotherhood,” and the excess of churches as well as their congregants and leaders, there are emblems of Christian faith present in nearly every frame of the film. By the time a character is crucified with nails through their palms, I was willing to forgive all of this as sheer coincidence; unfortunately, the minds behind Stake Land preferred to literally nail their point home rather than tell this aspect of the story with more nuance.

We get it, already! 
If you’re looking for elevated style and understated refinement in your vampire film, it is best to avoid Stake Land at all costs. But given what this film does well, it’s worth a watch for horror fans who are partial to zombie fiction and action-driven plots. Director Jim Mickle has had promising horror features both before and after Stake Land (Mulberry St and the remake of We Are What We Are), and he continues to push the envelope here; opening with a scene featuring a vampire feasting on a crying infant, it’s immediately apparent that Stake Land is going to have some “teeth,” so to speak. If Mickle had kept those fangs out and really gone for the jugular, we’d have some transcendent material here – but as it stands, Stake Land is a sufficiently entertaining survivalist tale, mashing up many aspects of our beloved genre to appease a diverse cross section of rabid fans.

Sci-Fi Honey Rating: Three “Zampires” out of five.

Stake Land is available via Netflix, iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube VOD, Vudu, Google Play, & blu-ray/DVD

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