Thursday, August 25, 2011

The High Stakes and Mistakes of 'Stake Land'

Every once and awhile a vampire movie comes along and dashes our seemingly tired expectations of the blood-sucker genre. In the past several years, with all the glittery, sparkly, vegetarian vampire crap conected to the Stephanie Meyer's Twilight series, little to no hope prevails for true blood-letting vampire aficionados. A friend of mine recently asked on Facebook, "Anyone else sick to death of vampire movies?" Hell, with Twilight's introduction in our culture we now suffer from other teen vampire dramas, like The Vampire Diaries and True Blood (not to mention MTV's spin on werewolves in Teenwolf--but that's another story), how can anyone not be tired of the undead? However, like the vampire's curse, our hope remains eternal for a truly frightening and provocative new twist for our fanged fiends. This was exactly what I expected with Nick Damici and Jim Mickle's recent vampire film Stake Land.

Released in 2010, Stake Land is the tale of survivors in a post-apocalyptic world overrun by "vamps" (as they are generally referred to in the film). A vampire hunter known as Mister (Nick Damici) and his young apprentice/semi-adopted son, Martin (Connor Paolo), travel rough, desolate terrain in search of vampires and relief shelters, avoiding deadly religious fanatics, to ultimately find a safe zone called New Eden. If you think the plot of this film sounds a little true to that of Zombieland well... you are abso-freaking-lutely right. Which brings me to my first problem. 

I hoped to find something new in Stake Land. That's all. Quite simple, really. But the film was hardly anything new. With a wee tad bit of inspection, the film is really a cross genre of two separate titles. For starters we have Zombieland, where two stranded souls (Woody Harrelson and Jesse Eisenberg) launch cross country to anywhere and everywhere safe from zombies. Hmm. Kind of sounds like Stake Land. Then there is Cormac McCarthy's The Road, where a father and son stranded in a nuclear winter travel cross country to find food and supplies. Although there are no zombies, vampires, or religious fanatics in The Road, there are certainly cannibal rapists worthy of a couple scares. My point mentioning these two titles, although definitely different in their own ways, is to understand why the makers of Stake Land decided now was the best time to create the film. It's like in 1975 when Spielberg's Jaws hit theaters. Copycat after copycat decided to take on a film about a watery beast (if you don't believe me just check out this website called The Jaws Rip-Off Library). My point being that Stake Land is following a cliche line-up of films which does not allow it to make headway into new territory. Only something new and alluring like decent characters or monster design could lift this film up. Which brings us to problem two.

I was honestly surprised by the lack of creativity in Stake Land's vampire department. I mean, for Christs sake! Give us, the viewer, the paying audience, something new. These vampires are hardly anything cutting-edge. If anything they look like your average zombie with blood like black ichor frothing from their lips and a couple protruding fangs. The whole concept baffled me. Why not strive for something different and create a new creature design?  And then about half way through the film it dawns upon you how much this film is not about vampires--which is very strange for a vampire movie (the same way Monsters was not about monsters). Instead Stake Land manages to create a new villain--the eerie Klu-Klux-Klan-like religious fanatics as seen behind Mister (Damici) here.

These guys are the real reason to watch the film and they honestly stand out a helluva lot more than the vampires do. The acts of violence committed by these guys are just insane, completely horrifying and believable. Judging by the amount of detail that went into the insignia and wardrobe of these characters, I'm sure the director felt these were the true children of the night. I've got to give credit where credit is due and say these guys did a job well done on this small aspect of the film. However, the characters we are introduced to in the rest of the film have little to no back story. In my opinion this hinders the film completely. It is in characters that horror films strive the most. Without definitive and flushed out characters audiences sadly look upon a world without any dimension. It's a shame that's what these fictional apocalyptic worlds turn out to be and it's a shame that Stake Land is one of them.

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