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August 1, 2011

Movie Review: Stake Land (2010, Blu-ray)

Of all the sub-genres of horror, my least favorite has to be the "vampire" genre. Vampires just don't scare me. The sparkly bloodsuckers of the Twilight series haven’t helped things either. Near Dark is probably the last vampire film that I could actually call a horror film, but sadly, Near Dark is 24 years old. 24 years later, I'm balder, fatter and hungrier for a vampire film that isn't like the neutered shite I've been fed for so long. Might I have found the answer in Jim Mickle’s Stake Land?

Buy Stake Land Blu-ray, DVD or the 2-Disc Special Edition DVD

Stake Land starts off perfectly - fast and bloody. Our main antagonist, Martin (Connor Paolo), is introduced, settling up in a barn with his family. All are obviously hiding from something outdoors in the pitch-black night. Their safe haven doesn't protect them too long as the family is soon slaughtered by a group of vampires. Martin get's out safely thanks to "Mister" (played by Stake Land co-writer, Nick Damici). Mister isn't your average hero. He's not a hulking individual or youthful but he's very wise as to how to dispatch these nasty bloodsuckers. Damici doesn't have too many lines; his heroics tend to do the talking. I've seen a lot of writers struggle mightily when they're casted in their own project. This isn't the case, Damici owns Mister. Both he and Mickle juggle tasks in Stake Land and come out smelling like roses. The acting is also quite good across the board by the majority of the cast, despite a couple of scenes involving religious zealots that I found to be a tad goofy.

The highpoint of Stake Land though comes in its story. It's a little unconventional for a vampire film but that's what makes it great. The narrative ventures into what I felt was a cross between John Hillcoat's The Road and The Walking Dead. Instead of a zombie apocalypse we're staring at an equally formidable and bleaker looking vampire apocalypse. Throw in some maniacal religious freaks, and the situation gets a bit more complicated.

I also was very impressed with the look and production value. The strong grays and blues that created the daunting atmosphere in The Road are very present here, and trust me, it's a great thing. Stake Land is so beautiful in its grim detail. That's a big testament to Mickle and cinematographer Ryan Samul who are able capture that “end of the world” feel so convincingly.

Dark Sky has provided a plentiful array of bonus features that are not of the throwaway variety. All are worth checking out. You get a couple of audio commentaries by cast and crew that are informative but the best is a documentary on the film by director Eric Stanze (Scrapbook) called Going for the Throat. This includes a good amount of interesting behind-the-scenes footage as well as interviews. Other fine extras are the "character prequels" for each of the main characters. These are nearly as good as any of the footage used in the film and give a nice little introduction to the characters before they cross paths with Mister and Martin.

If you like your vampire films to be sparkled up and full of sex appeal, Stake Land isn't your movie. If you’re in for something new that's representative of what this genre should be, Stake Land is a must see.

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