When I first heard about Stake Land I was excited because I thought it would be an opportunity to watch something about some good ol’ real nasty vampires once again. Sure, I do like the HBO series True Blood and their sexy, seductive fangers, but I avoid the glistening vampires of Twilight. I figured Stake Land would deliver some of those authentic, more than just-a-sexy-face type vampires that I grew up watching. I was wrong, but it turns out that it wasn’t all bad.
Stake Land’s interpretation of vampires is a zombie/vampire hybrid. They’re gross, deformed and oozing blood from their mouths. They are purely instinctual, and you can lure them with a stuffed teddy bear, string and some blood. They are detached from the reality around them and they move slowly and methodically.
The film is set in a time of financial ruin. The Middle East is all vamp land. Washington is decimated and the president is dead. Vampirism is widespread and now rules much of the country. This isn’t all explained in the film, but we’re all just a few vampire bites and unemployment percentage points away from this post-apocalyptic reality, aren’t we?
The film isn’t too bold in its attempts, a mistake often made by novice, over-zealous directors. First-timer Jim Mickle keeps it under control and the script by Mickle and star Nick Damici (Mister) plays well. Horror films can often cross the line into campy, but the intensity of the opening scene, in which a vampire is staked, will shake any doubt about the way things are going to play out. Even Martin, the teenager who narrates and stars, “didn’t believe in the boogeyman,” until he “woke up to a nightmare.”
Mister takes Martin under his belt and trains him to hunt and stake vamps. The old vamps can’t even be staked in the chest so you have to get them in the base of the skull. It’s “like pullin’ the plug on a computer,” Mister says. Mister and Martin make their way north across the country, toting fangs with them to gain access to secure towns. They strive to reach Canada, which is the new paradise, free of rampant vampirism.
If you are thinking that a country in financial ruin, scarce food and a high vampire-to-human ratio isn’t enough of a problem, then you’re in luck. There are cannibals to deal with too and they bring their own host of issues. But Mister takes it in all in stride and says, “Live free or die tryin’. Fuck the cannibals.”
Mister is a pretty bad-assed dude. He shows little remorse or concern for anyone, with the exception of Sister (Kelly McGillis). In a scene where he catches two “Christians” (men who are a part of a radical religious group known as the Brotherhood) raping her, he punches one in the throat, leaving him choking and bleeding, then throws a stake at the other, which pierces right through him and leaves him immobilized and dying. But the Brotherhood doesn’t stop trying to punish the sinners by helping the vamps. The worst of the lot is Jebedia Loven who is more pure evil than any of the vampires you see in the film. Watch out for him.
The music of the film is also a nice touch. Dreamy xylophones and bells take over during training and preparation. Bass and ominous strings denote impending chaos, and soft piano mirrors the sad reality and the ever-increasing importance of the new family that Mister, Martin, Sister and the others create along the way.
I give it 3 out of 4 stars.
Stake Land plays as the late night movie at the Art Theater on Thursday at 10 p.m.