Today: February 27, 2024

Stake Land

An immersive Western thriller masked in the disguise of a Vampire movie that transcends its B-Movie origins in every way.

A glance at most multiplex cinema listings these days will guarantee at least one superhero movie or failing that a vampire film. In no small part thanks to the brooding teens of Twilight, not to mention the darker and superior Let The Right One In, vampires have once again taken to the mainstream. They come in various guises, but pouting glittery pale young things were never in mind when Bram Stoker conjured up the image of Dracula. Vampires should either be sexual animals or raging beasts of blood and fury. Stake Land is firmly in the latter category, but beneath its B-Movie gore lays a tantalising coming of age Western that grips from the opening scene to the closing credits.

As a vampire virus sweeps across America, Martin (Paolo), a young teenager, helps his parents pack-up the car to flee from the bloodsuckers. Venturing outside he turns to see his family brutally attacked by a high-jumping super vamp. Before he can charge in to be killed himself, he is tackled to the ground by Mister (Damici), a hardened vamp hunter. Together they dispatch with the creature, but not before it has killed all of Martin’s family, and set out across a desolate wasteland filled with vicious breeds of vampires, paranoid town havens and religious cults adamant that the vampires mark God’s imminent arrival.

Rather than shy away from its serious tone Stake Land embraces it. Indeed it is almost verbatim a dramatic version of 2009’s Zombieland but all the more engrossing and powerful as a result. Martin’s delicate voice-over guides the story, giving us a heart to hang this odyssey on. Mister, the only name he is ever given drawing obvious parallels to Clint Eastwood’s Man With No Name of the Spaghetti Westerns, becomes Martin’s mentor. Always educating him, guiding him and nurturing the young man to become a hardened vampire slayer, the kind that Buffy would happily embrace as one of her own. Crucially though, Mister recognises the differences between himself and Martin. Martin has heart, loyalty and love for his fellow man. Mister, though he tries to hide it, does to an extent but buries his emotions deep, preferring to be seen as a grizzled killer akin to Eastwood, again, with the ultimate hangover.

Like John Hillcoat’s adaptation of The Road, Stake Land gently takes us on a tour of this broken world. On the surface the enemy are the vampires, but the true terror exists in the religious nuts who are adamant these demons are here to cleanse the world of sin. One scene sees extremists dropping vampires from helicopters into a barricaded town. The line “In desperate times, false gods abound. People put their faith in the loudest preacher in the hope they’re right” echoes true. Like Marcia Gay Harden’s character in The Mist it is those with faith in Stake Land who would look to wage war against other humans who give true strength to the monsters that lurk in the dark.

And dark is the operative word of Stake Land. Writers Mickle and Damici revel in the pitch-black look and atmosphere of the piece. Even when the sun shines there is an underlying threat. Mister, played to hard-boiled brilliance by co-writer Damici, never lets his guard down, never stops pushing Martin to be aware of his surroundings and willing to walk away from anyone who puts him at risk. Martin meanwhile desperately seeks solace in the bosom of his adopted family, the rag-tag team of straggles they find along the way to New Eden, a place of refuge believed to be somewhere beyond the Canadian border.

Based on its premise and fairly low budget Stake Land is not a film that has any right to pack such a heartfelt and interesting character study but it does so in spades. Fans of Stephen King’s The Stand or Justin Cronin’s The Passage will watch and revel in the inventive and encompassing world created. Stake Land is the sleeper hit of the year, a horror adventure that dares to be more than the sum of its parts.

 

To Pre-Order Stake Land on DVD Click Here or on Blu-Ray Click Here

Alex Moss Editor

Alex Moss’ obsession with film began the moment he witnessed the Alien burst forth from John Hurt’s stomach. It was perhaps ill-advised to witness this aged 6 but much like the beast within Hurt, he became infected by a parasite called ‘Movies’. Rarely away from his computer or a big screen, as he muses on Cinematic Deities, Alex is “more machine now than man. His mind is twisted and evil”. Email: alex.moss@filmjuice.com

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