Stake Land (2010) – Jim Mickle

Hollywood has been cranking out vampire movies pretty steadily for almost 100 years now. And these days, they generally suck. (No pun intended- really) And nowadays especially, they either tend to fit into one of the two following buckets: violent, fast-paced action horror (30 Days of Night, Underworld) or slow, brooding, internal horror focusing on the plight of the vampire and of the people around them (Let the Right One In, Interview with the Vampire). Jim Mickle’s bleak 2010 vampire flick, Stake Land, is a great cross between the two aforementioned sub-sub genres. I don’t think I’ve come this close to crying while watching a vampire movie since the time I watched Twilight. Granted, that was because I shoved I soldering iron into my temple while watching Twilight so I’d have something to do that was more enjoyable than watching Twilight. *

*Note: The previous statement was meant to be ironic and should be take solely for entertainment purposes. I’ve never seen any of the Twilight movies.

Stake Land is sort of a cross between Zombieland and The Road. It’s dark, it’s grim, and it’s kind of depressing, all while being totally badass, fast, and exciting. It takes place in a post-apocalyptic United States after civilization has collapsed in the wake of a vampire plague outbreak. These vamps are not your typical Count Dracula type vampires. They’re really more like zombies with pointy teeth. In Stake Land the vampires are ferocious, mindless, animals bent on killing and eating anyone with a pulse. They don’t just suck your blood. They kindof eat you too. Or at least they rip you up in the process of drinking your blood.

The story is not all that original but it’s executed well. It starts off with a radio broadcast giving you a little backstory while a nice little family (mom, dad, teenage boy and infant sister) is furiously packing their shit in a car. Enter vampire. Mom and dad and baby get eaten. Enter “Mister” vampire-hunter extraordinaire. Think what would happen if Clint Eastwood, Mickey Rourke, Bruce Willis and Ron Swanson all had a baby together. And he hated vampires. So he saves the kid (Martin) trains him not to be a pussy, and to kill vampires, and basically how to survive in the infested and dried-out husk of America. They travel across the country in search of a mythical safe land, free of Vampires, called New Eden (which may or may not be a new name for the entire country of Canada). Don’t ask me why vampires hate Canada, they just do. Mister and Martin run into a few friendly people – including a pregnant girl, a nun, and an ex-marine and bring them along for the ride.

They frequently clash with a large religious cult called The Brotherhood, who seems to give them more trouble than the vamps. The brother hood is pretty large and powerful and they’re able to capture vampires and set them loose on peaceful towns in order to raid and destroy them. Aside from being a badass vampire killing machine, mister is just an incredibly good guy. He selflessly protects the innocent people of the world from vamps and from the brotherhood. During their trek, the gang runs into a lot of trouble and not everyone makes it. I don’t want to get too far into the details because I’ll ruin a lot of the movie, but I’ll just say, it’s not only a hard-core, bloody action flick but it’s got a good story and some pretty effective character development. You really care about the little rag-tag gang and you feel bad when stuff happens to them.

As good as it is, there are some flaws. There seems to be some inconsistency as to the abilities of the vampires. This is sortof explained in passing by Mister –he as names for certain types of vamps and he makes some comments about some varieties have thick breast plates so you have to sever their spinal cords to kill them, rather than stake them in the heart. It’s not a big problem, but it might have been interesting to know a little more about it. Like in the first scene, there’s a vamp hanging from the ceiling eating a member of Martin’s family and then we don’t see that level of power again for the rest of the film. There’s also mention of the “cannibals” to the north, which are apparently uninfected groups of people who will still kill and eat you, and how they can be worse than the vampires. But then we never see them (Unless The Brotherhood is supposed to be the cannibals- If that’s the case, they should have made it more clear.)

Anyway, these are minor issues with what is otherwise a great movie. Not just a great horror movie but a good movie in general. The vampires are awesome, fast and scary.The character development and acting are great. The movie is cast perfectly and you really believe what’s happening to these people. It’s not just fear but there’s genuine sadness, anger, regret, and other real emotions that make this film so authentic. Early on, Martin gives some montage-style soliloquies that may be a bit heavy-handed but overall I think they work in developing the story and the character

  1. Is it scary: 6- There’s a lot going on, plot and character-wise that maybe detracts from the potential for really big scares, but it still gets the job done.
  2. Originality: 5- Like I said, it feels a lot like some other movies, but it’s executed in a good way so there’s a little something new here.
  3. Blood: 6- It was pretty bloody, but with the fast, nasty vamps, I was hoping for a little more.
  4. Believability: 8 – This might have been the best part of the movie. The characters, the script, and the acting were all done so well. It was really authentic.
  5. Setting/Cinematography: 7- The setting is great. It’s bleak lonely, dark and dangerous. The camerawork didn’t do anything fancy really, but there no quick cuts and you could see all the action on the screen.

 Final Score: 32/50                                                                                              

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Let the Right One In (2008) – Thomas Alfredson

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Meatballs? Check. Neutrality in wartime? Check. One of the most truly badass, creative, and stirring vampire movies ever? Check. Sweden’s got it all. This Swedish vampire flick is a modern classic but it doesn’t even really feel like a horror movie. It’s more like Stand by Me but with more snow, and instead of leeches, it’s a 12-year old girl drinking your blood. That’s a bit misleading. Let me start over.

This movie is about Oscar, a middle school kid who’s tormented by bullies at school. A bizarre girl and her dad move in next door to Oscar and right away people start noticing weird things happening. Bodies start to pile up. Cats start acting weirder than usual. People are are getting suspicious of the new family. I’m not giving too much away to say that soon we find out that the girl is a vampire. Oscar, as a social outcast, and Eli (the vampire), as an obvious outcast to society and the human race at large, strike up a friendship and an adorable (I don’t mean that in a pejorative way either) middle school romance. He’s pretty supportive of her in spite of her need to feast on human blood and she teaches him to stand up to the bullies- pretty standard relationship.

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Now, It’s not a traditional horror movie because the killer is the good guy. It actually turns the genre on its ear. We are humanizing the bloodsucking monster and rooting for the death and dismemberment of a series of rambunctious kids. I’m not going to get too deep into the social commentary, but think about it when you watch the movie (and you really should watch it.)

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Don’t be discouraged, loyal horror fans. As I mentioned before, we still have a pretty good body count by the end of the movie. And no shortage of vampire chow-down sessions. It’s actually got all the elements of a good vampire movie. And while it follows most of the the rules and vampire archetypes, it still makes you think about the genre in a different way. I know the “let’s humanize the vampire” thing has been done. And even the tragic “this girl was turned into a vampire at a young age and now she’s forever stuck in some sort of bizzaro-Peter Pan-esqe hell on earth”. This still feels different. You smile, then you want to cry. It’s basically a Wes Anderson movie but with more blood.

  1. Is it scary: 4. Like I said before, It’s not a really a horror movie in the strictest sense. There are some suspenseful moments, but that’s not really what it’s about.
  2. Originality: 9. While this movie follows the rules, it still feels really fresh and creative. Not like any vampire movie I’ve seen before.
  3. Blood: 7. Not buckets of blood. And I’ve seen more in other vampire movies, but it’s not tame either. And for some reason, you get extra points when the blood is pouring out of a 12 year-old girls face.
  4. Believability: 9. Really authentic and believable. The acting by these two kids really makes the movie.
  5. Setting/Cinematography: 5. Nothing groundbreaking here with the setting. I think the idea is to give you a sense of loneliness and isolation rather than fear. As much as I liked this movie, I have to be fair to the rating system. There is still some interesting camera work but again, it doesn’t do too much to boost the score.

Final Score: 34/50

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