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Movies From the Black Lagoon: Stake Land

Movies From the Black Lagoon
Stake Land - 2010, Rated R
By Tom Doty
Weekly Contributing Writer

A rag tag band of survivors seek the Promised Land in this grim apocalyptic drama that is so good you won't care that it is a vampire film.
This horror movie plays more like a drama but at least it's a good one. The story follows an orphaned young man named Martin. He narrates the story that begins with his family being wiped out by vampires who resemble zombies, except for the fangs. A tough survivalist comes to his rescue before the vampires can kill him. This turns out to be "Mister." He doesn't say much but he takes the boy under his wing and teaches him that actions can speak louder anyway. Especially if they are Kung fu styled moves that will give you an edge when battling the undead.
The film follows this pair as they trek north in search of "New Eden." Rumor has it that this place is the new earth's Solla Sollew - a place where everyone lives vampire free. It really doesn't seem like they'll ever find out if it's a myth since everywhere they go finds them fighting for survival.
Villages dot the landscape but most are unfriendly places where you become enslaved to local toughs who provide your protection as long as you serve them. Along the way our heroes disclose bits and pieces about what's happened. The most disheartening news is that our elected officials took off when things got bad and has not been heard from since. Religious extremists have filled the void but don't seem to be serving people so much as their own agendas.
The pair picks up stragglers along the way as well as a true enemy in the form of a cult leader named Loven. He attempts to crush the group but misjudges how far our main characters will go to stay together. They wind up getting the better of Loven but make a huge mistake when they leave him in a "James Bond" styled death trap rather than just killing him. It is one of the film's strengths that the characters make mistakes. This is no action movie posing as a horror film. It actually turns out to be a drama well disguised as a horror movie that also has a few action scenes, which evolve naturally out of the story. This is that serious movie you horror fans are always asking for so seek it out cause they probably won't make anything this meaty for awhile.
You have to love a vampire flick in which the creatures of the night are not portrayed as super beings. Sure they suck blood here but they are new to their abilities and stumble about like those rhythmically challenged dopes on "So you Think you can Dance". Killing them is different every time too as the characters figure out that these things aren't behaving like Bram Stoker's version of the beast.
The best bits here are the characters. They feel like they stepped out of a John Steinbeck novel. This plays more like "The grapes of Wrath" than any vampire film I've seen. The cast is totally committed and includes a lot of talented people you might not recognize under the grime they wear. Kelly McGillis (Top Gun) turns up as a nun who hasn't given up on salvation and she makes the characters sing by quietly taking in all of the horror around her. Michael Ceveris makes for a good villain as Loven but the film belongs to Connor Paolo as Martin. The story is told through his eyes and he is quite good at keeping you more interested in the human dram here than the supernatural trappings of the story.
Credit goes to the writing and directing team of Nick Damici and Jim Mickle. This film proves that their maiden effort (the character driven zombie flick" Mulberry Street') was no fluke. It was a calling card announcing a new formula for horror wherein you care about the characters because they are characters and not caricatures - a novel concept that critics have complained about for years. Here's hoping they recognize that someone has delivered on helping horror movies grow up.
Best Line: "I've seen a lot of mutant vamps but I've never seen a thinker."

Tom Doty occasionally emerges from the Lagoon to check his e-mail. If you'd like to get a message to him, write to:

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