In the dark spirit of the Halloween season I’ll be taking some time to share with UTF readers a few horror flicks they may have missed and would be great to catch this October. Check out my reviews of The Horde, The Hills Run Red and Dead in the West/Undead Nightmare!
STAKE LAND directed by Jim Mickle is a post-apocalyptic vampire film that combines western and road trip conventions. While this seems like an overburdened concept it is executed superbly by the director and co-writer Nick Damici, who also stars as Mister. The focus of the narrative is the paternal relationship between Martin and his surrogate father Mister.
In the first scene when we learn how Martin met up with Mister and two things are very clear. The character of Mister is a total badass and this is a gritty and violent film, with an emotional core. After Mister rescues Martin the two proceed north to the fabled New Eden, somewhere in Canada. During their travels Mister trains Martin to survive in the world he inhabits. Over the course of the film the size of the group fluctuates as travelers come and go.
Scares in the film come from the vampires, who share many characteristics with zombies, and religious cults dedicated to worshiping the creatures. While the writers’ political views are very clear, it never overwhelms the story and characters. At its core STAKE LAND is a movie about its character’s journey, both physical and mental.
Despite the limitations of its budget, STAKE LAND manages some very impressive set pieces. The film harkens back to the early days of John Carpenter, combining western and horror elements flawlessly while never sacrificing its characters’ development. Throughout the running time there is a constant sense of dread. Each night Mister sets the traps in case the group’s campsite is attacked, yet it is not always. During the day the characters are still not safe, needing to avoid the cultists roaming, searching for sacrifices for the night stalkers.
More than phenomenally executed horror scenes, there are some incredibly poignantly emotional scenes in the film, moving STAKE LAND beyond mere horror conventions. Nick Damici deserves credit for turning a clichéd character into a fully developed one. One highlight is a brief and incredibly poignant scene in the film with Danielle Harris’ character Belle. Other notables in the strong supporting cast include Kelly McGillis and Michael Cerveris.
Small reflective moments move STAKE LAND beyond a good gritty horror film. The haunting score with recognizable themes by Jeff Grace helps move the feel of the film beyond low budget tropes. While this review may seem over shadowed by the strong cast performances, this is still a horror film. Genre fans will not be let down. At no time does the movie go soft, or pander. I highly recommend you discover this little gem for yourself.
M.R. Gott is a horror author and drinker of micro beers