A criminally under-seen 2010 film, Jim Mickle’s “Stake Land” is “The Walking Dead” meets “Dracula.” It tells the story of a rag-tag group of survivors travelling America’s roads after it has been overrun by a vampire epidemic. By “vampires” I don’t mean the sparkling kind that want to marry your daughter and claim to be vegetarians. These are snarling blood thirsty and vicious monsters who lurk in darkness waiting to catch their prey.
The film is narrated by Martin (Connor Paolo), a young man whose parents were killed by vampires. A man only known as Mister (Nick Damici, a co-writer alongside Mickle) rescued him from the creature that bled his parents dry and took him under his wing. The world overrun by vampires has become a new version of the Wild West and Mister is its Man-with-no-name. A killer with all the skills necessary to survive this brutal world, he collects the teeth of the vampires he has killed, which he uses to pay for liquor for women. His apprentice Martin learns how to impale his enemies with a stake and how to show no mercy even when that enemy is a vampire child.
As in most worlds overrun by a plague, there is a myth of a safe haven. In this case it is aptly named New Eden and is located in the far north, meaning Canada. The vampires are apparently warm-blooded creatures, so the cold does not agree with them. Martin and Mister therefore trek to the north by car and later on foot across a cold land mostly devoid of human life. When they stop at night they must set up traps around their campsite in case they get unwelcome visitors. During their journey they are joined by a nun (Kelly McGillis), a pregnant girl (Danielle Harris) and a former marine (Sean Nelson) who each have seen their fare share of horror on the road.
But there are things just as bad as vampires roaming the land. Following the collapse of society, a dangerous religious cult known as The Brotherhood rose from the ashes. Its leader, Jebedia Loven (Michael Cerveris), believes the vampires were sent by god to purge the world of sin. He is so convinced they are the lord’s creation he has helicopters throw vampires in populated areas to help spread the plague. Mister makes a mortal enemy of Jebedia after killing his son. To be fair, the son was about to rape the nun.
“Stake Land” was made with $4 million budget, microscopic by Hollywood standards. There are no sweeping shots of huge cities overrun by vampire hordes, but what the movie lacks in grand spectacle, it makes up for in creepy atmosphere. The smaller scale also gives the story a feeling of dread as the characters trek through the woods of upstate New York while stopping at houses filled with corpses or in an abandoned car lot where the un-dead roam. The effect make-up department definitely accomplished its mission with this film’s vampires. You definitely do not want to come face to face with these creatures in the dead of night.
The vampire genre has been overdone in recent years, but every now and then a film comes along to remind us why they are one of the most enduring movie monsters.
(“Stake Land” is currently streaming on Netflix.)