In the film industry, all it takes is one hit. Zombieland — a film that I really did not enjoy whatsoever — not only opened the door for movies like Stake Land to be made, but removed it from the hinges completely, allowing for movies like, well, Stake Land to be made. Following my initial disappointment over the fact that I hadn’t been given Skate Land like I had hoped, I settled down to check out Stake Land. The story here involves a teenage boy (Connor Paolo) named Martin (a nod to a certain George A. Romero film, perhaps?) teaming up with a guy he calls “Mister” (Nick Damici, who has a strange Harvey Keitel/Kim Coates/Fred Ward look goin’ on) after the world is besieged by a plague of vampires — bloodsuckers who no doubt had enough of the whole Twilight franchise.
With his own family dead, Martin learns a new method of male bonding as “Mister,” a seasoned vampire killer who endorses the word “fuck” with almost every sentence, teaches him the ropes of dispatching the nefarious critters who roam the land whenever night falls. Throughout their onscreen adventure, the boys meet up with a nun (Kelly McGillis — yes, she’s still acting, kids), a pregnant girl (Danielle Harris, who will no doubt be crowned Horror Queen someday), an ex-soldier (Sean Nelson), an entire legion of nosferatu, and even some deadly religious nuts (let’s face it: you can’t get away from them no matter what happens). Roaming across the land, our varied combination of heroes and heroines drift from one small town to the next — interacting with what’s left of the human race in fortified settlements (wherein they trade vampire fangs for goods).
Basically, that’s about it: a couple of dudes wander about, killing vampires and discovering that the living can be just as dangerous. Thankfully, the tone of this apocalyptic vampire thriller is nowhere near as light-hearted as its flesh-eating undead counterpart — the movie does its best, despite its obvious budgetary restraints, and Stake Land really goes for the throat (damn, sorry) by keeping things deadly serious (doh, sorry again) as well as very dramatic. And it’s because of that fact that the film emerges as being somewhat enjoyable. It’s still far from perfect, though, and if you try to look at this as a highly original work of art for some reason, you’ll find a line at the beginning of the film to be particularly profound — especially if you jokingly hear it as a word of advice to wannabe filmmakers: “One day you’ll learn not to dream at all.” Still, it could have been much worse: they might have tried to make it into a comedy, right?
Dark Sky Films releases this halfway decent horror flick on Blu-ray in an above-average 1080p transfer, which presents the movie in a widescreen 2.40:1 ratio. While a good portion of the movie takes place in the dark (it is a vampire film, after all), the image here is commendable, with lively colors (other than blood red), some excellent detail, and pretty darn good black levels (which really matter in this instance). The accompanying DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless English soundtrack brings out the best in the movie’s decidedly-somber musical score, as well as its plentiful amount of sound effects (including a Wilhelm Scream!) and dialogue (a great deal of which is mumbled by its actors). A PCM 2.0 English soundtrack and English (SDH) subtitles are also included. As a side note, I’d like to point out to whoever typed the subtitles in here that you should have used the word “patience” in the beginning, and not “patients.” Big difference, people.
In terms of special features, Stake Land starts out with two audio commentaries. The first is a fun-loving group effort with writer/director Jim Mickle, writer/actor Nick Damici, actor Connor Paolo, producer/actor Larry Fessenden, and producer Brent Kunkle. The second is more of a crew-oriented affair, once again led by Mickle, but this time joined by producers Peter Phok and Adam Folk, director of photography Ryan Samul, composer Jeff Grace, and sound designer Graham Reznick. If you’re more of the “Gee, how’d they do that?” type, the second audio commentary is for you. A behind-the-scenes documentary entitled “Going For The Throat: The Making Of Stake Land” (oh, God, did I really use the same tacky joke they did?) goes on for well over an hour, while a number of Production Video Diaries and Character Prequels are probably best left for the movie’s devoted fan base. A Trailer for the movie and a couple of previews for other Dark Sky releases are also housed on the disc.
In short: with a near-infinite number of shitty vampire movies being made every year, Stake Land has the good fortune of being one you’ll at least remember — although whether it be for better or for worse is up to you and your own personal standards.