Stake Land (2011)
Director: Jim Mickle
Dark Sky Films
Synopsis: A vampire hunter and his teen apprentice seek a free life in the wake of a vampiric apocalypse.
Overview: The Walking Dead premiered in 2010 amidst a slew of post-apocalyptic scenarios. As an obvious artistic response to culture, audiences were both enthralled with watching the fall of mankind and inspired by the will to survive they saw onscreen. This isn’t a new phenomenon; since humanity was able to comprehend life and death we’ve been fascinated or afraid of our own end. Unfortunately this theme of apocalyptic horror has become well-worn by now but there is one slice of delightfully bloody pie you may have missed in the buffet of cinema, and that is Stake Land.
Stake Land has achieved cult status for good reason, becoming a fan-favourite for its heart and effort alone. Not only do we get a brutal wasteland to traverse, but one filled with vampires instead of zombies. This movie is like that good trail mix with the chocolate in it. You’ve seen all the parts before. You might not like them all individually, but somehow they work together to create something that’s acceptable to your palate. Even exciting, at times. Stake Land brings you the apocalypse with a scattered remnant of human beings hunted by vampires, a coming-of-age tale with a teenager and a bitter but soft-hearted loner. And what would the apocalypse be without scary religious cults? This one calls themselves the Christian Army of Aryans and they pose an even more powerful threat to our heroes as they venture north to New Eden (Canada, obviously) looking for a better life. These fringe fanatics begin to take control of the country while everyone else just hopes they’ll wake up from the nightmare so they can live their lives normally again. Surprise! It’s all relevant again in 2016!
While Stake Land started out as a hobby for director Jim Mickle and star Nick Damici, something they’d just do on the weekends together when they had spare time, once producer Larry Fessenden caught whiff of the project he saw its potential and encouraged them to make a feature. This resulted in a well-loved low-budget horror film whose cult status only grows. Sometimes it can feel like the world is in a drought of respectable vampires. For those of us who were just too young for Buffy and then too old for Twilight, we had no hand to guide us through our teens and toward quality vampire content immediately relevant to all our fears. Stake Land plays like a graphic novel about vampire hunters without the stylized fights and action, the perfect alternative for people who weren’t fond of the overly-sexy teen vampires who were popular at the time. These vampires are scary, blood soaked and full of rage.
This movie is not without its flaws, but it’s easier to overlook them because the characters are likable even in their canned stock form. Mister (Damici) seems like just another hardass loner who doesn’t talk much and Martin (Connor Paolo) is a super-sensitive teen struggling with, you know, normal teen stuff like how his entire family was killed by vampires. Still for some reason, by the end you really care what happens to them… even though you probably know what’s going to happen to them. For those who find even more enjoyment in it than I did, there are also seven prequel webisodes that give further background information on characters and expands the universe (which feels small at times). If you just can’t get enough, a sequel originally titled The Stakelander (now Stake Land 2) was released on SyFy in October of this year as a direct continuation of the events in Stake Land. If you’d like to revisit the sub-genre and catch something that maybe flew under your radar, give this one a shot on Netflix.
Featured Image: Dark Sky Films