'Stake Land' Movie Review

Stake Land
by Jason Lees, MoreHorror.com

First off, Jim Mickle’s “Stake Land” really pissed me off. Not that it’s poorly made (cuz it’s not) and not because it’s in a tired sub-genre (the damn thing reinvents the vampire flick) and not because it’s getting so much notice (which it deserves). No, “Stake Land” pisses me off because it’s the movie I wanted to make. Only better.

You bastards.

I love vampire flicks. I love the idea of something that can’t die coming after you. I love the forced palpable intimacy of a creature that bites you and destroys you and can’t be stopped. I love how they make your skin crawl and I love how they can be used as a metaphor for so many things. I do not, however, like that many vampire flicks in the last ten years or so. Lately, they either have been heavily made up romances or overly stylized action flicks.

I have nothing against those tween books and films (I believe that both Team Edward and Team Jacob have their place as recruiting young viewers into our genres, even if the films themselves suck donkey nuts), but they’re not real vampire movies. And it’s not their fault for the state of the bloodsucker movie. As much as I love it, “The Lost Boys” probably did more damage than good by being so successful. It bloated the vamp tale and left us open to “The Littlest Vampire” and the like.

And that’s another reason that “Stake Land” pisses me off. It doesn’t even try to explain why it’s better than those other films. It doesn’t make jokes, it doesn’t even mention the others, and it never uses the word ‘sparkle’ for a punch line. It just starts in at full steam and never lets down. It never apologizes. It never explains itself. It just grabs us by the short hairs and forces us into a world where the vampire is behind every shadow, hungry. Thirsty. Unthinking. Feral. They aren’t Count Dracula. They’re not Nosferatu. They’re not at all human. Hell, they barely stand upright. They’re monsters. Real monsters. We’re talking pre-Dracula vampires, the kind from myth and superstition before Hollywood laid claim to them.

And that’s just how I like my vampires, a more ferocious version of film zombies, and that’s what Mickle and team do so well. This is a supercharged road picture, without any fake scares or cheap jumps. We have enough atmosphere to make any die hard Hammer fan happy, and enough stomach churners to keep the gorehounds just as happy. This is the movie that I’ve always wanted to see and never thought I would. This is the one I figured I’d have to make, but now I can just sit back with the dvd and see that dream realized better than I ever could.

And it’s not just the monsters who rule this flick. Danielle Harris and Kelly McGillis (yes, THAT Kelly McGillis) come on strong with performances that remind us that there’s more to being a film star than just looking good. These two ladies reinvent the Scream Queen here by completely changing its job description.

From here on out, a Scream Queen is going to be a female actor who carries the film while making you forget you’re watching a film. Think about it for a second. It takes a pretty damn solid foundation to make a story about a world where vampires are as common as squirrels seem plausible, even real. It’s their shoulders that brace the whole reality the rest play in. As good as the whole cast is (and they’re damn good) it’s these two that do the majority of the heavy lifting. When the world gets ugly, it’s through their eyes and reactions that the super violence becomes more than just action pieces, and becomes something uncomfortably tactile. You can feel the unease these characters are living, the grit on the bar, the sweat in their eyes. In an ugly world, their performances are beautiful.

Stick with the 2 Disc Edition if you can. It has enough special features (if the film hit you right) to keep you busy for days. Fun stuff, and easily worth the effort to find. This is another of those films that I kick myself for not being able to catch in the theater.

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