Stake Land is a seriously low-budget vampire/zombie (or as I’ve termed it Zompire or Vambie, do you think it’ll catch on?) flick. Costing less than $1mil to make, it grossed around $33k at the box office, but has since found a following on home media. Glowing critic reviews have helped, it’s reasonable success, but Hollywood style marketing was a little out of the price range for the director.
Stake Land has all the ‘signatures’ of zombie/vampire films, weathered hunters, psychotic anti-humanity groups, desolation and ultimately degradation of the human race. But Stake Land has a mixture of horror and gore with melodrama, it’s quite bleak and stark in its outlook on the Vambipocalypse, complimented perfectly by the washed out drained colouration of the film itself. The main focus of the film is really on the people, the bonding, the extremism of their situations and how it’s handled. Religious references are prominent in Stake Land, seemingly to emphasise negativity of religion in society. It’s well made, and wonderfully acted, considering many of the actors can usually be found in indie movies or are simply unknown, although having said that, perhaps the most recognisable of the cast, Kelly McGillis (Top Gun, The Accused) is mesmerising as Sister, the nun.
Whilst the film is a little light on action and outright horror sequences, I don’t think this damages it. With the resurgence of popularity of Vampire and Zombie fiction is recent years, it’s a well-worn genre, which on many occasions has become boring and cliché heavy. Stake Land offers a different, albeit not totally original, perspective on the genre. Like I said before, Stake Land is bleak, it doesn’t really offer any definitive hope, or any conclusions, which makes it feel like we’re invited to see a small glimpse into the typical daily lives of these post apocalyptic mercenaries, rather than spectating on a particular notable event. It’s understated and subtle and is intellectually charged.
One of the most impressive elements of Stake Land is that given it’s incredibly low-budget, (I think the figure I’ve seen is around $600k, not much for a film!) it doesn’t look low-budget, it doesn’t feel low-budget. It’s got mass appeal without dumbing itself down, it’s got artistic appeal without being too abstract. The obvious commitment of the filmmaking team behind it has led to Stake Land looking just as polished and refined as it’s Hollywood counterparts. It’s such a shame that it hasn’t had the widespread success it deserves. There are too many big, dumb, loud and quite frankly, crap horror films out at the moment, all reduced to the lowest common denominator; jump scares. Stake Land is an homage to its genre defining predecessors, like Night of the Living Dead, without ripping them off. It’s tapped into exactly what good horror is about, the human condition and extreme situations.
Stake Land is definitely worth a watch, don’t go in with exceptionally high expectations, as it will ultimately fall down. But if you want a change from the same old horror tropes which have been worn to death, then Stake Land will offer a refreshing humanist take on the vampire/zombie sub-genre. It’s intelligent and stylish, and engaging. It definitely deserves more exposure than it got and its success will lie with genre fans.