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16. STAKE LAND

Director: Jim Mickle
Stars: Nick Damici, Connor Paolo, Kelly McGillis, Danielle Harris, Sean Nelson, Michael Cerveris
The thought of yet another vampire project has lost its gusto. That’s what happens when popular culture transforms the once-scary bloodsuckers into both sissy pin-ups who glisten and don’t eat meat (see: Twilight) and sex-crazed citizens (see: True Blood). Going against such adversity, writer-director Jim Mickle, along with co-writer and star Nick Damici, charged right into the vamp genre with Stake Land, an independent mish-mash of 28 Days Later…, The Road, and 30 Days Of Night.

But Mickle and Damici figured out how to set their post-Dracula flick apart: by making the vampires unsociable killing machines that are actually secondary to rich character development. Damici, a worthy action hero for the IFC circuit, and fresh-faced Connor Paolo play a pair of grizzled survivors (which includes scream queen Danielle Harris) trudging through a post-apocalyptic wasteland full of supercharged vamps, Satanic cults, and gorgeous cinematography.

Through all of the horror and clever ideas (dropping vampires into a block party from helicopters, specifically), Stake Land remains about its human leads, offering several extended moments of sharp dialogue without any scares. Which, of course, makes the inevitable scares all the more jarringly strong. Unfairly passed over during its brief theatrical run, Stake Land is a godsend for those who’d love to smack Bill Compton and Team Edward members in their respective faces with a Nosferatu DVD pack.

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