Release Date(s)2010 (August 2, 2011)
Studio(s)Dark Sky Films
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: A
Vampires are among the most common and enduring creatures in horror fiction. Every year seems to bring at least half a dozen new variations on the legend, most of which are eminently forgettable. But all these twists have one thing in common. More often than not, the monsters are the minority.
Jim Mickle’s Stake Land offers something genuinely new. In this movie, America is in the grip of a full-on vampire apocalypse. A young man named Martin (Connor Paolo) is struggling to survive when he encounters a vampire hunter known only as Mister (Nick Damici).
Mister brings Martin along on his quest to find New Eden, the Canadian sanctuary for what remains of humankind. Their trip brings them into contact with other survivors, including a former nun (Kelly McGillis) and a militia group known as The Brotherhood.
One of the things that makes Stake Land so unusual is that Mickle and Damici, who co-wrote the screenplay, actually have some interesting ideas beyond just making a post-apocalyptic splatterfest. The movie takes on religion, politics and family in smart and unexpected ways. But if you’re not interested in the high-brow stuff, it certainly delivers as an entertaining horror movie. It has a terrific atmosphere and is often genuinely creepy. It does drag a bit toward the end but for the most part, it’s an engaging, intelligent movie that should please even the most jaded vampire lover.
Dark Sky’s Blu-ray presentation of Stake Land looks excellent with a seamless digital transfer. The movie was shot digitally as well and the disc captures its gritty look perfectly. The DTS-HD 5.1 audio is also fantastic, nicely blending music, sound effects and dialogue into a rich, dynamic soundscape. The disc is packed with extras including two full-length audio commentaries, one featuring Mickle, Damici, Paolo, actor/producer Larry Fessenden and producer Brent Kunkle, the other with Mickle, producers Peter Phok and Adam Folk, cinematographer Ryan Samul, sound designer Graham Reznick and composer Jeff Grace. There’s also an hour-long making-of documentary, Going for the Throat, production video diaries including a Q&A from the Toronto International Film Festival, and a trailer. The most intriguing extras are seven short films, referred to as “character prequels”, from filmmakers such as Fessenden, J.T. Petty, and others. These are a lot of fun and it’s interesting to see other filmmakers’ take on the Stake Land universe.
The easiest thing in the world for Jim Mickle to do next would be to forge ahead with Stake Land II. Fortunately, he’s apparently not doing that. Instead, he’s developing an adaptation of one of my favorite novels, Joe R. Lansdale’s Cold in July. I look forward to seeing what Mickle does with it. He’s a real deal talented filmmaker who should have a long future ahead of him. As for Stake Land, I kind of hope it stays as an unsequelized, stand-alone horror movie. While Mickle and Damici have created a world with more to explore, it’s a rare thing to see a well-crafted, completely individual horror movie.
- Dr. Adam Jahnke