Stake Land 2: The Stakelander
Dan Berk & Bobby Olsen (2016 )
The Stakelander tracks Paolo’s Martin as he finds himself alone in the badlands of America after his home is destroyed with only a distant memory of his vampire-hunting mentor, Mister, to guide him. Roaming the wilderness of a steadily decaying country, Martin goes in search of the one man who can help him get revenge.
the perfect sequel, the perfect continuation of the story…
the vampiric sequel we’ve all been dying for.
it feels as if Paolo has been working on expanding upon the Martin we knew
over half a decade ago the entire time since. Writer Nick Damici and Paolo
have crafted a whole, sympathetic, wise and evolving character in Martin.
Damici wrote a really stellar sequel… he also opened up Stake Land into a potential horror franchise which I didn’t know I needed, but now I do.
STAKE LAND 2 is pretty much a pitch perfect horror Western.
… Take away the vampires and you have yourself and old school Western
and that’s the charm that exudes from every pore of this film.
Nick Damici returns as Mister and also wrote the screenplay, which has a nice, hard-boiled, neo-western pulpiness. Connor Paolo, who was fantastic in the first film, is even better here, with a real kick-ass, sexy appeal.
“A worthwhile addition to the story, and brings an even more dour peek into an apocalyptic world riddled with berzerker-like bloodsuckers.”
“All in all, it’s a refreshing treat for horror heads, who will instantly recognize the iconography Stake Land is drawing from, while simultaneously latching onto the mean spirited attention to character detail and sparse world building Mickle and Damici’s screenplay focuses on.”
Michael Gingold 9/26/2016
Exclusive: Larry Fessenden talks THE STAKELANDER, PSYCHOPATHS and more
Produced by Fessenden and Peter Phok for Glass Eye Pix and Dark Sky Films’ Greg Newman, THE STAKELANDER will premiere as a Syfy original movie. Nick Damici returns as writer and star from the original, as does actor Connor Paolo; Jim Mickle was succeeded as director by BODY’s Dan Berk and Robert Olsen. The storyline sees Martin (Paolo) reteaming with ghoul hunter Mister (Damici) to wipe out a revitalized Brotherhood and its new, vampiric leader after they destroy his home of New Eden. The cast also includes Laura Abramsen, AC Peterson, Bonnie Dennison, Kristina Hughes and Steven Williams.
“It takes place seven years later,” Fessenden tells us, “and it’s incredible to pick up with the characters and meet Connor as Martin again; he has settled down with Bonnie, and then eventually reunites with Mister, so we have all the important players come back. Then there are a whole new bunch of characters who are sort of similar to the nun and Belle and all the folks in STAKE LAND. It’s a swath of incredibly likable people. And that’s what’s fun; it really feels like a sequel that delivers the same charm. I mean, some fans my think of STAKE LAND as a great vampire/zombie film, but let’s face it, its true appeal is the texture of the apocalypse that Mickle created, and then the characters you really care about, and they go through hell! There’s always a great sadness to the STAKE LAND movies.
“All of that has translated well with the new filmmakers,” he continues, “and I think people will find it very satisfying. And maybe in this day and age of binge viewing, as soon as the lights come up and the credits roll on this one, they’ll want a third! I’m not saying there are any plans for that—this is not a teaser announcement—it’s just that what a good sequel does is make you say, ‘Oh, cool, this story is worth revisiting.’ ”
Although Mickle chose not to return to the director’s chair, he did remain involved with THE STAKELANDER. “I’ll be candid,” Fessenden says, “this is a very similar budget [to STAKE LAND], and it’s not that he’s gotten snooty, but he has his TV show [HAP & LEONARD, which is going into its second season for Sundance TV], and I think he felt like he’d done that experiment already—made the movie at that budget level. But he was very supportive, and he’s one of the executive producers on the new picture, and he definitely talked to Nick a lot about where the story would go. So he was a godfather to the project, which was nice. The real trick would be to get him back for the third, although there are many ways to go; there’s also Damici himself directing.”
Indeed, it would seem logical for the writer/actor to take the reins himself, and Fessenden laughs, “Well, in a way, he already does; in fact, it’s the director’s job to keep Damici in line! But with the right team, that would be fantastic, and we’ve talked a little bit, Nick and I, about doing that on the next film. I keep talking like there will be another one; that’s an unknown right now, but one always has to fantasize. That’s how you make movies in general—you have to dream and scheme.”
Among the other features on Fessenden’s slate is PSYCHOPATHS, the latest from DARLING and CARNAGE PARK writer/director Mickey Keating, in which the producer also takes an onscreen role. “I just saw a cut of that, and it’s a really stylish and completely trippy film. We’re very excited by it, and it’s fun to watch the way Mickey works. The edit is a very critical part of the shaping of his movies, so this one has undergone quite a few changes since he wrapped. It’s fun finding the movie’s final shape. And then we have a film called LIKE ME that we’re very excited by, which is by a newcomer, Robert Mockler. That’s sort of about the Internet generation, and there’s a little bit of mayhem in that film. It also has really unique visuals.
“In fact,” Fessenden says, “the next crop of Glass Eye movies are kind of pushing the envelope of the visual, and departing from straightforward storytelling. That’s fun, and the whole point of the company: to be experimental and have a little bit more out-of-the-box thinking, when people are starting out and doing their early films on small budgets. You know, if you can’t compete with crane shots, you can compete with conceptual ideas and editing and stuff. Back in the ’60s and ’70s, editing was so much more interesting than it is now. Even though there’s a sense that it’s faster now than in a traditional movie, it doesn’t push your buttons the same way. So I’m very happy to have these two films. And then there’s STRAY BULLETS [a crime thriller marking the directorial debut of Fessenden’s son Jack], which is very traditional, and STAKELANDER is more straightforward; it feels like an ’80s horror film, very nicely composed. So Glass Eye’s got lots of stuff, including a non-genre film [by writer/director Ana Asensio] called MOST BEAUTIFUL ISLAND.”
Among those experimental projects is also THE RANGER, on which Glass Eye producer Jenn Wexler will turn director (see our previous story here), and which Fessenden says “is in a good place.” But what of Fessenden’s own next directorial project? He hasn’t gotten behind the camera himself since 2006’s THE LAST WINTER, and seems long overdue. “Well, I’m working very hard and have been for some years, actually, to get something made,” he says, “and of course, I never talk about those things until they have a green light. I have some cast in place for a movie I’m trying to make this year, but I’m very accustomed to pushing things a couple of months, and it wouldn’t be a bad film for the winter. Usually I’m very season-specific, but this one is supposed to have bare trees, among other things. I really want to get back to directing, because I’m getting older, and I want to do a few more movies that are my own. Of course, I love all my ‘children’—all the other filmmakers and their projects. It’s a particular aspect of my personality that I truly get excited by other people’s movies, but then I also get frustrated, so hopefully I’ll be back in the saddle soon. We’ll see.
“And then I have lots of acting stuff coming up. I’m in PSYCHOPATHS and LIKE ME, and I’m in something by Bob Odenkirk [GIRLFRIEND’S DAY], lots of crazy things. More death scenes! I don’t know what I’ve done wrong, but I keep getting punished for it!”
Review: Stake Land 2 (2016)
What the Hell, Dark Sky Films? Stake Land is one of my favorite vampire movies of all time and probably one of the best titles in the subgenre to be released in the last ten years. It’s developed somewhat of a cult movie status, which is why I’m surprised to see it dumped on SyFy without any sort of big push. I mean, I didn’t even know it was coming out until it randomly showed up in my Twitter feed AND there’s not even a poster for it! Luckily, I did catch it and I DVR’ed it so I could watch it when I got home from work last night. It was such an incredibly feeling to see Connor Paolo and Nick Damici on screen together again, reprising their roles as Martin and Mister. The duo appearing next to a camp fire and looking solemn meant that Stake Land 2 is a direct sequel to the 2010 feature and not one of those quasi-sequels where the only relation was that the two movies exist within the same universe. I was down for this, totally down, but as with the previous film – we start with a tremendous punch to the gut.
It turns out that Martin and Peggy (Bonnie Dennison) made it to New Eden after talking about it in the previous movie. They settled there with other survivors of the vampire apocalypse, they got married and they even had a daughter named Belle after Danielle Harris’ character. Unfortunately, the vampire worshiping cult, The Brotherwood, and a powerful female vampire (Kristina Hughes) who can reproduce vampire children weren’t far behind them and lay siege to New Eden one night. His family dead, his new home destroyed, Martin travels back into the badlands of America to find his mentor and legendary vampire hunter, Mister, in hopes of being guided in his quest for revenge. After several missteps, several traps and several new friends (A.C. Peterson, Steven Williams and Laura Abramsen), the duo is finally reunited and get ready for a battle of revenge and the battle to save another settled town who are next on the hit list. Now, the stakes are much higher than before.
Now, I think it’s important that I point out Stake Land 2 captures the essence and feel of the previous film. While the directors’ chairs are now filled by Dan Berk and Robert Olsen, Nick Damici wrote and executively produced the script with cinematographer Matt Mitchell. I think Nick Damici understands the characters better than anyone else and it helps that he brought us back to this world with Badie Ali, Hamza Ali, Malik B. Ali, Larry Fessenden, Brent Kunkle, Greg Newman and Peter Phok – producers who were all on board for Stake Land, too. I’m so happy these players returned to the game because Stake Land 2 is the perfect sequel, the perfect continuation of the story – there is no break in continuity. The vampires look, move and sound the same. The wardrobe, props and special effects all look the same. The camera work and picture quality is spot on to the original movie. I was scared for a moment that being a SyFy movie meant a dive in overall quality, but Stake Land 2 is the vampiric sequel we’ve all been dying for. Well done, crew!
While it is a little milder compared to Stake Land, it’s also important to note thatStake Land 2 brings new elements to the story. Obviously that lies with the queen vampire, who’s different than the others because she can produce offspring that she can control. She was a cool villain, but the final battle with her left a lot to be desired. Also, vampires roam during the day now because they’re so hungry. We’re treated to a new established colony, giving us hope that the world isn’t as far gone as we thought. Maybe there’s communities elsewhere. We meet new characters that are just as likable as the ones from the first film. Most importantly, we get insight into Mister’s backstory. We get to see what made him into the man he is today. This happens adjacently to finding out what happened to Martin post-Stake Land. It was nice that the writers tried to spruce up the story with extra plot points.
Stake Land 2 is a capable and solid sequel, but it does suffer the sophomore slump. Again, I think this is due to the fact that we know this world already and there just wasn’t enough bite this go around. Fans of the franchise are going to eat this up for the nostalgic aspects and love of the first film and I would recommend this to other vampire fans, too. My only problem is I don’t know if love of franchise is enough for me to recommend this to people who haven’t seen the first film or aren’t vampire junkies. Honestly, Stake Land 2 might be a one and done viewing for me; as in I’d watch it once, maybe I’d buy it just to own it, but I don’t think I’d ever go out of my way to watch it again. I’d rather watch Stake Land if given the option. For now, though, a walk down memory lane is just what I wanted this Halloween season. Final Score: 6.75 out of 10.
Stake Land 2 stars Connor Paolo (“Gossip Girl,” “Revenge”), Nick Damici (“CSI,”Mulberry Street), Bonnie Dennison (“Guiding Light,” “Third Watch”), A. C. Peterson (“Hemlock Grove,” “Olympus”), Steven Williams (“21 Jump Street,” “Supernatural”), Laura Abramsen, Kristina Hughes, Zane Clifford, Nicole Garies and Jaime Bird.
Amy Seidman 10/20/16
Toronto After Dark 2016: “STAKE LAND 2” (Film Review)
Back in 2010, STAKE LAND was the breakout hit of TIFF’s Midnight Madness program. Fast forward to the present time, 6 years after the cult success of the first film, STAKE LAND 2 (or THE STAKELANDER, depending on the region) has hit Toronto After Dark, right in tandem with its debut on Syfy this past weekend. Though sequels can be a tough sell to an already built-in audience, especially when you throw in a new directorial team (BODY’s Robert Olsen and Dan Berk), STAKE LAND 2 was a real gamble for all involved. However, fans of STAKE LAND will be happy to hear that this gamble payed off tenfold.
STAKE LAND 2 takes the audience 10 years after the first film, with our lead Martin being a little older, wiser and more broken from the brutal murder of his family committed by The Brotherhood and its legion of vamps. The bright eyes and bushy tailed kid with the golden smile has now been replaced by a bearded, worn man with a thousand mile stare. The opening shots of this film, where the camera sits on Martin’s face as we relive the horrors that have landed him here, are gorgeous while relentlessly pulling at your heartstrings. The name of the game now is survival in the badlands while running into a varied cast of characters, which includes those who help and those who hinder along the way.
Connor Paolo reprises his role as Martin, and the actor really holds his own in the film. So fluid is his performance, it feels as if Paolo has been working on expanding upon the Martin we knew over half a decade ago the entire time since. Writer Nick Damici and Paolo have crafted a whole, sympathetic, wise and evolving character in Martin, who, despite being jaded, does have some witty lines peppered within his dialogue.
Damici also returns, reprising his fan favorite role of Mister. Much like Paolo, Damici gives you the feeling that he has also been developing this role since the first film, and not only is his performance great, but his script crafts some really great characters and dialogue among the rest of the cast. Standouts in STAKE LAND 2 include the incredibly emotive yet mute character Lady (Laura Abramsen) and the gruff comic relief with a touch of heart Bat, played by AC Peterson.
Olsen & Berk’s direction is as strong as Matt Mitchell’s cinematography, which is beautiful and, at times, reminiscent of Robert Altman’s westerns. This writer’s only criticism of the visual direction was that there were moments that were too dark to be able to appreciate, losing some of the practical effects and all the bloody beauty of the vamps in the process.
Speaking to the practical effects, kudos is due to both Pete Gerner and Brian Spears for their work on the film. The FX duo put a lot of time into creating the look of STAKE LAND 2’s creatures, and it shows. Each vamp has its own unique and disgusting aesthetic which lends to them each having their own horrible and identifiable personality. Furthermore, the designs feel like a natural evolution from the first film while never feeling outside that film’s visual continuity.
This writer actually had a hard time finding flaws in this film. Again, the darkness did muddy the aesthetic details of the vamps from time to time, but all in all, STAKE LAND 2 was impressively effective. In fact, although it’s been nearly since its initial release since I last saw STAKE LAND, the sequel just might be preferable to this writer.
Whatever name is plays under in your city, I recommend you see STAKE LAND 2. Even if you haven’t seen the first STAKE LAND, not to worry, you will still be able to soak in everything this film has to offer. Just don’t sleep on this one, or it may come back to bite you.
Fox Force Five News
Kevin Skinner 12/1/2016
STAKE LAND 2: A BLOODY DAMN GOOD TIME WITH STUNNING PERFORMANCES BY CONNOR PAOLO & NICK DAMICI [REVIEW]
From Dark Sky Films, directors Dan Berk and Robert Olsen, with a script by star Nick Damici comes the SyFy co-produced sequel The Stakelander, aka Stake Land 2. Starring Damici, Connor Paolo, Laura Abramsen, A.C. Peterson, Steven Williams, Bonnie Dennison and Kristina Hughes, the film is available to watch on SyFy now but is still awaiting a home release.
When his home of New Eden is destroyed by a revitalized Brotherhood and its new Vamp leader, Martin finds himself alone in the badlands of America with only the distant memory of his mentor and legendary vampire hunter, Mister, to guide him. Roaming the wilderness of a steadily decaying country, Martin goes in search of the one man who can help him get revenge. Once reunited, Mister and Martin prepare to battle a now-ravenous Brotherhood and its monstrous overlord. But it’ll take more than the two of them to take down this terrifying new threat, and with more than just their lives now at risk, the stakes are higher than ever before.
The first Stake Land came outta nowhere six years ago and shocked horror fans around the world with its brutal and uncompromising post-apocalyptic take on the vampire genre. Before The Strain was blowing up our TV’s, Stake Land had already made vampires scary again. Now we have a sequel, which was filmed secretly in Saskatchewan, released on SyFy and billed as a SyFy original. Now – what that means unfortunately is that when you watch Stake Land 2 (or The Stakelander as it was originally billed), the F-Bombs are edited out quietly. This isn’t super distracting, but it does harm the experience slightly. Also, at a short run-time of only 80 minutes, it feels like Stake Land is cutting out some transitional sequences, so I’m curious if there will be an unrated edition when it receives a home release. I think that would be the ideal viewing, but for now, we get what we get and it’s still a bloody damn good time.
Connor Paolo, aka The Boy, from Stake Land is back as Martin, he’s got a beard, he’s got a bow and arrow and he’s smacking vampires in the face with a hammer until they die – he’s on fire. Paolo has truly showcased himself as a tremendously worthy leading man in The Stakelander and I would love to see him in more major films. His character has appeared to have started his own life and family in Canada, until a new deadly vampire called ‘The Mother’ and her bloodthirsty minions ruin that shit and he’s now on a mission to find his former mentor ‘Mister’ (Nick Damici) so he can get his vengeance.
The vampires are getting angrier and more desperate for blood in this sequel so they’re venturing out into sunlight to try and get some bites in. It’s kind of odd to see a smoking monster shambling towards someone as it sizzles to death, but it really gives these creatures another frightening angle which we haven’t seen yet on film. They don’t die instantly when the sun hits them, instead their skin blackens as it burns and they aren’t nearly as strong as they are during nights. The make-up effects were quite well done and I’m a sucker for great practical gags, which Stake Land 2 has in droves. Again – would love to see if an unrated cut would amp up the gore, because as nasty as it can get in The Stakelander, the level of violence doesn’t seem to be on the same scale as the original.
What really hooked me into The Stakelander, were the performances. My god Damici and Paolo are so good..so intense. There’s a scene near the end of the film where the two express their affection towards one another and I almost lost it – their onscreen chemistry is spectacular and I don’t know if we will get a third Stake Land at this point but I’m really, really hoping it’s a possibility… I also loved the filming locations in Saskatchewan. Right from the get-go I was mesmerised by the flat, desolate landscapes of the Canadian prairies – the badlands. I live in Southern Alberta, which has a similar feel to it so I’m familiar with these views as I see them every day. There was just something so relate-able and familiar to the forests, fields and roads that Martin travels in The Stakelander and they were all so beautiful that I feel like I’ve also walked the same areas – minus all the death and destruction mind you.
The music is perfect, the acting is top-notch for a low budget film (the acting is actually better than most of the horror films and just movies in general that I’ve seen this year) and the story is simple but genuinely moving. I felt for these characters, I was worried when Mister was kidnapped and strapped to a cross in order to be fed to vampires — I didn’t want these people to die. The Stakelander can feel very hopeless at times, as no one is off the table when it comes to being killed – including children. The content may not be as hard to stomach as it was in the first film, but make no mistake there are very uncomfortable and disturbing moments here including a mother vampire feeding her little monster baby out in the woods.
The Stakelander is The Road meets 28 Days Later, shattering your expectations of how a vampire not only looks but acts. These creatures are almost demonic in appearance, charred and feral beasts who charge head-on into battle for a chance to tear you to pieces. Damici wrote a really stellar sequel to a film that didn’t need expanding upon, but I’m glad he did because in the process he also opened up Stake Land into a potential horror franchise which I didn’t know I needed, but now I do.
Bonus points for featuring Saskatchewan’s own Leo Fafard aka Wolf Cop himself in a brief but memorable role as one of the cult members thinking he can go toe to toe with Mister. I love Fafard and it was wonderful seeing him in The Stakelander, even if it was just for a few moments. I guess that’s a minor spoiler, but you get the picture. Don’t miss this movie, it is really worth watching despite the limitations of the SyFy network and I would assume it is only a matter of time until we get the unrated glorious Stake Land 2 in true form – the full bloody meal deal.
Ain't It Cool News
STAKE LAND 2 (2016)
aka THE STAKELANDER
The original STAKE LAND was a mighty fine piece of hard-hitting, post apocalyptic, vampire horror that hit at the right time as it fed off of the day-to-day survival feel of THE WALKING DEAD and served as an appetizing alternative to the sparkly romanticized vamps made trendy by the TWILIGHT films. It was a simple style of film that basically took the zombie movie template and replaced the zombies with vampires. And dammit if it didn’t work.
Not really wanting to change a formula that was working, STAKE LAND 2 aka THE STAKELANDER (a title which gives me a chuckle) follows the same template as it continues the story of Martin (Connor Paolo) as he seeks to find Mister (Nick Damici) after a vicious female vampire murders his family. Once he tracks down Mister, the two are accompanied by a feral girl named Lady (Laura Abramsen) and some old friends of Mister, Bat (THE CONSPIRACY’s A.C. Peterson) and Doc Earl (JASON GOES TO HELL’s Steven Williamson) who live in a compound. Protected by sunlamps and barbed wire, Martin and Mister feel relatively safe, but the vampires and the holy Brotherhood who worship them are out for blood and will stop at nothing to drain every last human clean of their blood supply.
STAKE LAND 2 is pretty much a pitch perfect horror Western as it has all of the usual tropes often found in an Old West flick. You have the old nameless gunfighter. There’s the town under siege by the bad guys. There’s even a saloon where some hooch is passed about. There’s even a standoff where the hero goes out in a blaze of glory. It’s stupendous. Take away the vampires and you have yourself and old school Western and that’s the charm that exudes from every pore of this film.
One can tell this is a film written by folks really invested in the story of STAKE LAND. Nick Damici (who co-wrote the original with Jim Mickle) gives these characters a natural evolution. It’s one that is reminiscent of the relationship between Martin and Mister in the original, but if it ain’t broke… Martin is older and more jaded now (you can tell because he has longer hair and a beard this time), and looks to be following in the footsteps of Mister as a loner, wandering the wastelands whose only purpose is to kill every vampire he sees. Mister sees more in Martin than that and is trying to encourage Martin to let go of the rage as it has eaten up his own life. At the same time, there is a bit of hope for Mister as well as he seeks redemption by taking care of Lady and finally seeing Martin as a son-like figure as well. Having been unable to save his own family, through Damici’s tough exterior as Mister, you can see these glimmers of humanity between grunts and stoic stares.
As with the original, this film highlights the sheer power of Nick Damici both as a writer and as an actor. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; Damici is a modern day Charles Bronson with his silent but violent demeanor and a look that tells a thousand tales without muttering a word. STAKE LAND 2 and its predecessor shines brightest when focused on Damici and this film gives fans of the original a lot to love. Though not as powerful as the original, STAKE LAND 2 is a worthy successor and definitely worth seeking out as proven with this column—good sequels are often hard to come by these days.
Dennis Dermody 2/3/2017
Stake Land II
The original Stake Land was a terrific 2010 Jim Mickle film set in an apocalyptic future where the land is overrun with vampires, or worse, a violent sect of religious fanatics called The Brotherhood. Nick Damici played Mister, the fearsome vamp killer roaming the land with young orphan Martin (Connor Paolo) under his wing. In this sequel, nicely directed by Dan Berk and Robert Olsen, Connor Paolo returns. He’s older, bearded and haunted by tragedy and seeking revenge, searching for his mentor to help him bring down a fearsome vampire queen named Mother who lords over an army of undead and human acolytes. Nick Damici returns as Mister and also wrote the screenplay, which has a nice, hard-boiled, neo-western pulpiness. Connor Paolo, who was fantastic in the first film, is even better here, with a real kick-ass, sexy appeal.
Matt Boiselle 2/8/2017
Stake Land II (Blu-ray/DVD)
I’d honestly hoped and prayed for any old sequel to 2010’s Stake Land, simply due to the fact that the film firmly planted some titanic cojones upon the vampires that as of that time, had lost a little bit of their edge…getting a bit soft in the tooth, perhaps? Well, have no fear – the sequel is here, titled Stake Land II and although it does have its flaws in some areas, it’s still a worthwhile addition to the story, and brings an even more dour peek into an apocalyptic world riddled with berzerker-like bloodsuckers.
Connor Paolo reprises his role as Martin, who at the film’s onset is still grieving heavily over the tragic slaughtering of his wife and small daughter by The Brotherhood (recently reformed and badder than ever), and a vampiress known as The Mother…and yes, she is one bad-ass mother. The losses have left Martin withdrawn and infinitely vengeful, all the while searching for the man that took him under his wing some time ago, Mister (Damici). He sees a reunion as the only way to exact his revenge against the horde of killers and their “cleansing” of the Canadian refuge known as New Eden. His pursuit takes him directly through the savage land he’d hoped he’d never have to return to, and when the two finally do meet up, it’s indisputable that time and distance have changed them for many a reason, and they’ll have to once again rely on one another to destroy The Brotherhood and their leader for good. As the film begins to make its ascent up that steep hill, one would hope that it would cut the brakes in the second half, and careen recklessly out of control (in a good way, of course) – all in the name of unbridled, end-of-the-world entertainment.
Sad thing is, that the brakes get pumped quite a bit as we make our way back down this hill of nightcrawling terror, instead focusing on our two main characters and their sullen ways – not to say we haven’t been down this road before, but for those infinitely in love with all the butchery of the first film, you might be a bit let down by the overall amount in this sequel. Both Damici and Paolo are at their usual best when portraying these characters, but I for one would have enjoyed a bit more of the relentless, vamp-bashing as opposed to the morose, retrospective take that was employed, but hey, ya get what ya get! There still are quite a few surprising moments in this new division, and far be it from me to shoot a random spoiler off into the sky – forget it, cause it won’t happen. The film’s locales are a shining light here, with even more of the desolate countryside brought to the forefront, surrounding the viewer with a sense of abandonment in an open-air environment – pretty creepy stuff, indeed. Overall, the film acts as a serviceable addition to the story, but the regrettable element is that it could have been so much more – still is worth a watch for fans who sharpened their fangs on the first movie.
Birth. Movies. Death.
Jacob Knight 2/7/2017
The first Stake Land is a minor miracle of low-fi workmanship that plays on very familiar genre tropes (namely the “walking dead” aesthetics first popularized by George Romero and then played out into oblivion by his modern imitators) while retaining the spirit of independent apocalyptic innovators like Don Coscarelli (whose Phantasm films are another series touchstone). Jim Mickle (Cold in July) transformed his Eastern Pennsylvania shooting locations into sparse backdrops for humanity to regroup against the growing “vamp” crisis that had overtaken the United States (and, presumably, the world at large), while Nick Damici (Late Phases) channels ’70s character actors like William Smith. In ninety brief minutes, the creative team cemented a minor horror icon in the enigmatic, single-monikered Mister, one of the last badass vampire hunters still drawing breath.
At its core, Mickle and Damici’s movie (the two co-penned the script as a planned web series) is an episodic coming of age story, as the slayer takes the freshly orphaned Martin (Gossip Girl’s Connor Paolo) under his wing and teaches him how to survive in the barren Hellscape they now call home. All in all, it’s a refreshing treat for horror heads, who will instantly recognize the iconography Stake Land is drawing from, while simultaneously latching onto the mean spirited attention to character detail and sparse world building Mickle and Damici’s screenplay focuses on.
In Stake Land II (or The Stakelander, as it was known when the film first premiered on Syfy back in Octobter ’16), the events of its predecessor are now merely a bedtime story Martin tells his young daughter, Belle (whose name should be familiar to fans of the first), before she lays her head down at night. Martin and Peggy (Bonnie Dennison) have settled together in a quaint cottage, safe in the Canadian territory of New Eden. However, their domestic bliss barely lasts a scene, as the fascistic human Brotherhood cult pound on their door. Seems they’ve joined up with an all-powerful vampire “God” named The Mother (Kristina Hughes). Tragedy ensues, and Martin is back on the road again, grief-stricken and needing to find the surrogate father who walked out on him. It’s unclear just what their reunion will yield, outside of relieving Martin’s sense of loss and the loneliness that comes with it. Thematically, this tidily ties The Stakelander to its prototype, as Damici (writing solo for new directors Dan Berk and Robert Olsen) is undoubtedly fascinated with the human connections that carry these characters through their hard journeys in a collapsed America.
Generally, there are two types sequels – those which expand upon previously established mythologies, and those which mostly offer up a retread of what came before. The Stakelander combines a little bit of both, with the new details helping to elevate the recycled road trip narrative. Cinematographer Matt Mitchell attempts to channel the amber hues of Mickle’s movie, but this new quest (taken on foot as opposed to in Mister’s beautiful beater convertible) leans a little too hard on the burnt brown/green colors Walking Dead aficionados haven tuned in to over the last hundred-plus episodes. Colonies become a big focus, replicating Romero’s captivation with the ways humans begin to gather and rebuild in the wake of catastrophic destruction.
Damici’s plotting remains episodic, as we meet sinister Ma & Pa types, Mad Max inspired arenas of gladiatorial entertainment, and former municipal buildings turned into post-apocalyptic strongholds. A new familial unit is formed with Mister, Martin, and a feral daughter, and the vampires attack with animalistic ferocity, their facilities reduced to lizard brain functions by a plague we still don’t fully understand as an audience. As if looking to fill their Stake Land Bingo Card, producer Larry Fessenden (whose Glass Eye Pix had a hand in bringing both movies to life) even makes a colorful cameo, practically winking at the modest cult of admirers this scrappy pair of pictures has spawned.
A late in the game reveal that hinges around betraying Mister’s ruling refusal to “do history” (meaning he and Martin don’t discuss the past and only look toward the road ahead) ends up coming back to bite the two wanderers, bestowing The Stakelander a sense of linear purpose in the final act. This means filling in some background gaps that explain the reason for Mister’s path of constant destruction, thus ruining the character’s unknowable nature. But it also clears the way for this rather admirable DTV horror team to show down with the series’ first stab at an “ultimate evil”. In the end, The Stakelander is slightly repetitive and may not completely stack up to the first’s modest charms, but is definitely worth spending another eighty quick minutes with.
Stake Land II is available now on various VOD platforms and on Blu-ray/DVD February 14th.
STAKE LAND II: THE STAKELANDER (2016)
Martin and Peggy’s ‘happily ever after’ ending at the conclusion of “Stake Land” lasted long enough to produce a darling daughter named Belle. It did not however, outlast an onslaught from a rebuilt Brotherhood and their band of berserkers led by a powerful she-vampire known as The Mother.
Mother’s coven of fanged freaks and cloaked fanatics mercilessly laid waste to the Canadian safe haven of New Eden. Mother made the attack personal by targeting Martin’s newfound family for painful extermination. Now Martin wants revenge. And he knows exactly the right man to help him.
Martin returns south through the savagery of the ‘stake lands’ in search of Mister. The journey is even more perilous solo than it was when he was Mister’s protégé, and it doesn’t get any easier once he finds who he is looking for. Reunited with the fabled vampire hunter who made him a man, Martin and Mister discover their wasteland world is deadlier than ever. Given the ways they both have changed, the two men must rediscover each other if they are to continue to adapt and survive.
A lot of lightning was caught in “Stake Land’s” bottle in 2010. Virtually every element was some take on a trope, from the premise of vampires mixed into an apocalyptic aftermath to protagonists featuring a gritty nomad mentoring a forced-to-grow-fast teen. Yet the indie filmmaking spirit present in each sincere subtlety of direction, design, acting, and narrative combined for an immersive dystopian fantasy embedding huge hooks in spite of conventions employed.
“Stake Land II,” previously known as just “The Stakelander” for a nickname Mister earns in the movie, reunites a fair chunk of the first film’s principle people. Peter Phok and Larry Fessenden are back on board as producers. The three actors who survived “Stake Land” also reprise their roles, with lead Nick Damici contributing the screenplay once again.
What’s missing this time around is Jim Mickle’s creative input as co-writer and director, with latter duties now stewarded by the duo of Dan Berk and Robert Olsen. Through elimination, it stands to reason Mickle’s addition to the collective vision is the absent ingredient keeping the sequel from summoning the same scope of magic. Because “Stake Land II” is fine for a follow-up, but it doesn’t have the resounding punch of its predecessor.
“Stake Land” (review here) was no stranger to formulaic scenarios, though the briskness with which it bounded from beat to beat while details helped distract put fresh skin on its fiction. “Stake Land 2” is similarly episodic in structure, except its setups are scraped from a really dry well.
See if you can anticipate how each of these scenarios ends:
- Martin is taken in by a cagey couple eager to serve him soup in a bowl given its own close-up. Martin wonders aloud why he is the only one eating. Do you think his meal might be… drugged?
- A nervous Brotherhood lieutenant is forced to report his mission failure directly to Mother. Will she spare him with mercy or put her fist through his chest for not carrying out her command?
- A small camp’s jailor who brings prisoners food is a sweet, gullible girl. The lone inmate insists what they say about him isn’t true. He pleads with her for freedom, promising he won’t cause trouble at all. Is he playing possum? Will she fall for his ruse?
Predictability isn’t the problem. It’s the way plot points are staged, as though viewers are too dim to remember callbacks on their own. It’s enough that camp leader Bat makes a clear point about his twin generators’ importance while giving Martin a tour. We’ll get it when they are blown up later. We don’t need a 12-second dolly into a close-up of the machinery after characters have already left the shot.
Outside of all this obviousness, it’s enjoyable to take another trip into the “Stake Land” setting. Connor Paolo’s transformation into an older, wiser, vengeful Martin is a compelling arc for his once one-note character. Mister regressing in the other direction as sympathetic tendencies erode his ruthlessness works just as well. Their dynamic was the original’s core. In moments when their character evolution is at the fore, that is when the sequel works best.
It could be my perception because “Stake Land II” debuted on SyFy. But where the first film felt cinematic in style, this one seems small screen in presentation. That doesn’t necessarily equal docked points. There’s just a tempo that is tied into keeping accessible action arriving at on cue intervals, never lingering long on more introspective moments if they aren’t helping maintain the TV tone.
It was always likely that living up to “Stake Land” would be a losing proposition. “Stake Land” had serendipitous stars aligning and the timing of its release hit the right window for horror fans. Add a few years and the landscape is different for this kind of film. Without co-creator Jim Mickle at the wheel, “Stake Land II” was destined to sail in choppy waters no matter what.
All things considered, commitment from cast and crew comes through to make the sequel worth a watch. Everyone is still playing it straight on both sides of the lens, keeping campiness mostly in check. Dead worlds are rarely this vibrant. Characters, even clichéd ones, are still colorful. Too much routine ensures the second spin can’t scratch the same itch as the first. Yet for anyone fascinated to see the difference ten story years makes for Mister, Martin, and the stake lands, “Stake Land II” is a suitable successor good for 90 minutes of melodramatic horror entertainment.
Review Score: 75
ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
Ever since Stake Land was released in 2010, people have been trying to find ways to play in the world that it created. There was a webseries, several spin-off ideas were considered, and it was seriously being developed as a potential television series. “Dark Sky had entertained doing a Stake Land television series with Nick [Damici] for some time, and they really explored that avenue for a while but it never came to pass,” remembers Peter Phok, producer of Stake Land and Stake Land II. Then, last year, Dark Sky started discussing a sequel with the Syfy Channel. “The original movie played really well when it aired on Syfy,” Phok says. “The numbers made sense and proved that Syfy was a place where this franchise could reach its fans.”
“Dark Sky showed tremendous enthusiasm for this project,” Larry Fessenden, producer on Stake Land and Stake Land II says. “This sequel went from this abstract idea of ‘We all like Stake Land’ to a real project very quickly.” The director of Stake Land, Jim Mickle, was tied up directing and producing SundanceTV’s Hap & Leonard series, and Nick Damici, one of the stars of the original Stake Land, was also writing that show. Mickle’s lack of availability made things difficult, but it was possible to conceive of another director taking over the project. However, it was impossible to conceive of a sequel without Nick Damici.
“It’s Nick who has such insight into the character of Mister,” Fessenden says. “He reads a lot of hardboiled pulp fiction and he intuitively gets this kind of character and this world. He brings this endearing blend of being a badass but having a moral center.” Damici agreed to write the sequel, and originally the film was set to be shot in late 2015 near East Texas where Hap & Leonard was shooting. Researching the area, the production also considered shooting in nearby Louisiana, but as winter approached and the start date for Stake Land II was pushed to Spring, 2016, the idea of shooting in Saskatchewan came up.
“The first film was shot on the Eastern Seaboard, from Pennsylvania to New York,” Phok says. “And this movie needed more of a sprawling midwestern landscape. Saskatchewan provided this and an experienced crew as well. One of our partners introduced us to Mark Montague in Regina who is trying to rebuild the Saskatchewan film industry and after looking at the location we realized that this was the right place.”
Finding a director to fill Jim Mickle’s shoes was a challenge. Interviewing at least a dozen directors for the job, the producers were impressed at how much enthusiasm they encountered for the original movie, and how many different takes there were on the material. Then, late in the process, Chad Harbold, who had worked with Fessenden before, suggested they interview Robert Olsen and Dan Berk. Since Fessenden had appeared as an actor in their first feature film, Body, he was familiar with the directing duo and he and Phok were impressed not just by their energy, but by how quickly they developed a look book for Stake Land II and how proactive they were about pursuing the project.
“Filmmaking is collaborative,” Phok says. “And early in their interview process we got a feeling for where they wanted to take the story. But we needed to see if they could work with Nick.” As Fessenden explains, “Every director stepping into this world is articulating some aspect of Nick’s hardboiled vision.” Phok continues, “So we all gathered at Tom and Jerry’s bar, as we typically do, and sat down and by the end of the night Nick was blown away by their energy. And he knew that to pull this movie off, we needed that kind of commitment. They even insisted on cutting the movie themselves.”
“We got a package,” Fessenden says. “Not only did they understand the producing aspect, and hitting deadlines, scheduling, and staying on budget, but they brought on board their own director of photography, Matt Mitchell, with whom they already had their own language and working relationship.”
Heading up to Saskatchewan, the production rapidly found that they could easily augment the lead performers, Nick Damici and Connor Paolo, with talent from America’s neighbor to the North, including A.C. Peterson, as Bat, and Laura Abramson as Lady. Production designer Sara McCudden found numerous pre-existing locations, from junkyards full of school buses, to decrepit homes in the middle of nowhere. These structures provided firm foundations for the art department to quickly and efficiently bring the world of Stake Land to life.
“Prep time was hard,” Phok says, “You’re landing in a place you haven’t shot before and then racing to get everything figured out as fast as possible. But it was easy with the crew we had up there, especially our effects coordinator, Casey Markus. He loves what he does and, like everyone in Saskatchewan, he offered us more of his services than we ever anticipated using.”
The scope of Stake Land II is bigger than the original, and that meant more vamps onscreen. “We’re not going to do digital vamps,” Phok says. “That’s an approach that bigger studio movies take, but going practical adds a lot of value.” The vamps were all cast with local Saskatchewan talent, but there was more to filling the roles than simply showing up and wearing make-up. “Brian Spears and Peter Gerner did the special make-up on the first Stake Land and they joined us in Canada,” Phok says. “Our associate producer, Chad Harbold, who actually led the second unit team, cut together a reel from the first film of all the vamp movement, and he had Bobby and Dan talk to Danny Mefford who did all of that movie’s vampire choreography. Then Brian played a vamp himself in full make-up, and he would interact with the local vamps onscreen. In fact, towards the end of the film, he’s practically leading the onscreen vampires.”
Meanwhile, after overcoming numerous scheduling obstacles (“There were a lot of moving parts to get them to set,” Phok says), Paolo Connor and Nick Damici made their way to Saskatchewan, one of them coming from New York and the other from Los Angeles, both driving alone. That solitary journey helped them get into the headspace they needed for the film, which takes place in a world with far fewer survivors than in the original.
“The thing that makes the first Stake Land so magical is that Martin and Mister had a real father-son, student-teacher bond,” Fessenden says. “They hung out a lot. Nick lived in a tent during shooting, and he actually taught Connor the stake-fu he uses. When they come back almost seven years later, there’s a real bond there and a real melancholy to seeing Connor all grown up with a beard.”
On the original film, Damici built his own weapons and helped assemble his costumes, and when he arrived on the set of Stake Land II he had some of the original props and costume pieces with him, and Connor had been doing bow and arrow training to get into his part, and the two of them rapidly re-established their old rhythm. Providing more continuity with the original, despite only being onscreen briefly, both Fessenden and Phok feel that Bonnie Dennison returning as Peggy, Martin’s wife, was of great value.
“To be able to have Bonnie in the film made everyone feel so connected,” Fessenden says. “What’s nice is that there’s a history to these characters and in a way we’ve watched them age and grow between these two movies.”
With more vamps and more locations, Stake Land II also required more action. Berk and Olsen felt that Paolo and Damici should do as much of their own action as the stunt coordinators would allow since it would let them use more close-ups and get better shots. And, as Phok says, “Nick was pretty adamant about doing every single stunt he could.” Fessenden adds, “Even at his age, in his late 50s, Nick is very physical and he really loves to get in there and do the stunts. I’m very fond of a series of emails from Peter that read, ‘Nick wants to throw himself through a table. What do we do?’ Nick is very immersive and on the one hand it’s great, and on the other hand, as a producer, you know that if it even goes slightly wrong you’re out an actor. There are sort of two agendas: get a visceral performance, and protect the overall production.”
On the original Stake Land, Nick Damici choreographed the stake-fu, and a lot of the hand-to-hand combat, drawing on his experience as a boxer. “The first film had a DIY approach,” Phok says. “And we pushed to bring that to this shoot, as well.” The film builds to an enormous confrontation between vamps and humans in the convent, climaxing with a two-on-one fight between The Mother, Martin, and Mister. “We were constantly building up to that battle,” Phok says. “Action takes time, and good action takes more time. That one hand-to-hand fight between the three of them is one we dedicated an entire shooting day to, and it was exhausting.”
As Berk and Olsen edited the film, Redding Hunter was brought in to compose the score. “He had large shoes to fill because the original score is so majestic and memorable,” Fessenden says. “We wanted to make sure this movie’s score was as ambitious as that one.” Phok adds, “Redding brought a Southern folk feel to the music, which separates it from the first movie and really makes this movie’s world feel like its own place.”
Shot in May and June, then edited over the summer, numerous film festivals were clamoring for Stake Land II but it’s set to premiere on the Syfy Channel on Saturday, October 15 at 9pm EST. After that it will appear at the Sitges International Fantastic Film Festival, Toronto After Dark, and several other festivals, yet to be announced. “The reason we went with such an early airing on Syfy is that we wanted to get this movie out as soon as possible to as many fans as possible,” Fessenden says. “We didn’t even announce the movie was in production until after we wrapped, and now it’s going to be seen less than three months later. That kind of accelerated schedule was hard for us, but it’s worth it.”
Phok adds, “We had originally considered doing a theatrical premiere but this is a crowded Fall and there was no way to release it theatrically unless we waited until 2017. Which didn’t seem like a lot of fun.”
“It’s just so cool to be back in the world of Stake Land again,” Fessenden says. “The whole production has made me really think about the power of the movie sequel, the pleasure and poignancy of returning to the world and the characters that we’ve loved from the original, and then expanding, riffing, celebrating that world while offering something new. It’s a magical kind of reunion.”
For six years, Martin (Connor Paolo), Peggy (Bonnie Dennison), and their daughter, Belle (Jaime Bird), have lived in New Eden. Life is hard there, but they have a community, they have fellowship, they have enough to eat and, most importantly, they have each other. But within minutes of a vamp attack, Martin loses everything. A new vampire, known as The Mother, able to give birth to bloodsucking children, leading an army of starving berserker vamps, appears, and allied with her are the Brotherhood, the End Times religious cult from Stake Land, grown even more sadistic and barbaric in the intervening years.
The Mother and the Brotherhood murder Martin’s wife and daughter before his eyes then disappear into the wilderness. Martin survives the brutal attack in body, but his soul is destroyed, leaving him a hollow shell living only to avenge their deaths. Deciding that he needs help from the only man he trusts, Mister (Nick Damici), Martin walks away from the charred ashes of New Eden and returns south to what’s left of the United States of America, a world of junked school buses and shredded RVs, where there is no hope, no food, and no kindness.
The United States is exhausted, rotten, and in ruins. Seven years after the vampire apocalypse, humanity has given up the idea of rebuilding and everyone exists in a state of shock. The Brotherhood is the largest organized faction, and their influence is felt in every lock-down town. In the wilderness between the towns, nature has taken over once again and people are few and far between. The survivors are spread out so thinly that vamps are starving and they have started coming out in the daylight searching for food, their skin smoking as they stumble after any warm blooded creature they can find, hoping to kill and eat it before the sun’s ultraviolet rays cook them alive.
After encountering a kindly old couple, Karl (Blaine Hart) and Jean (Kathryn Bracht), and learning that kindness is for fools, Martin is sent searching for Mister in the lock-down town of Donnersville by Luke (Alex Arsenault), and walks right into an ambush. Waking up in chains, Martin sees that the worst instincts of humanity have run riot in Donnersville and it is a town of cannibals and bloodsports where he’s to be thrown into a pit to fight a man known as The Stakelander, who will probably beat him to death with his bare hands as entertainment for these sadistic survivors.
But when he confronts The Stakelander in the pit, Martin realizes, to his surprise, that his quest has come to an end: The Stakelander is Mister. But before he can get Mister to recognize him, Martin is almost killed by his former friend. Finally realzing who Martin is, Mister engineers their escape from the ring with the assistance of Lady (Laura Abramson), a feral child who follows Mister with a doglike devotion. The three of them escape to Mister’s cabin, but are quickly tracked down by the Brotherhood who have long been looking for Mister to punish him for killing their former leader.
The Brotherhood crucify Mister, but he’s rescued by Martin and Lady, although he’s grievously injured in the process. Carrying Mister, they strike out into the wilderness looking for help, with the heavily armed Brotherhood and The Mother, who has a history with Mister, hot on their heels. After an encounter with the Brotherhood, they fall into the hands of a band of survivors holed up in a former convent, two of whom, Bat (A.C. Peterson), and Doc Earl (Steven Williams), formerly fought vamps with Mister in Mexico.
Now The Mother and The Brotherhood draw near, and her army of berserker vamps outnumber the convent-dwellers by a wide margin. Mister is too wounded to put up a fight, Martin is obsessed with revenge, and the stage is set for a final showdown in which the only victory is sheer survival. At any price.
CONNOR PAOLO, (Martin) – Connor will next be seen starring in “The Stakelander,” which is the follow up to Jim Mickle’s “Stakeland.” He also has a great role in the upcoming “Friend Request,” where he stars opposite Alycia Debnam-Carey and William Mosely. Connor made his motion picture debut in Clint Eastwood’s Academy Award nominated feature “Mystic River” playing the role of Young Sean. He followed that performance with roles in the Oliver Stone films “Alexander” and “World Trade Center” playing the roles of Young Alexander and Steven McLoughlin, a role which garnered a Young Artist Award nomination for Best Performance in A Feature Film. Connor recurred on the CW series “Gossip Girl” in the role of Eric van der Woodsen, and was a series regular on the popular ABC primetime series “Revenge” portraying the role of Declan Porter. Additional onscreen credits include “Snow Angels,” “Favorite Son,” “The Winning Season,” “Mercy,” “Law & Order: SVU,” “Camp Hell,” “Outlaw,” and “Like Lambs.” Connor has the offer to share the screen with James Earl Jones in ATLAS OF THE SOUL which will shoot later this year.
NICK DAMICI, (Mister) – is a native New Yorker, born in Hell’s Kitchen. He has appeared in various off Broadway stage productions and studied with Michael Moriarty, Bill Hickey, and is a member of the Actor’s Studio. He has appeared in LAW AND ORDER, CSI NY and THE BLACK DONNELLY’S. In 1998 he acted in his first feature film, FAST HORSES, from a script he wrote, opposite Victor Argo. In 2003 he co-starred in Jane Campion’s , IN THE CUT, as serial killer cop, Detective Richard Rodrigues opposite Meg Ryan and Mark Rufalo. In 2006 he played Lieutenant Kazmatis in Oliver Stone’s WORLD TRADE CENTER and opposite Harvey Keitel in Howard Himmilestien’s MY SEXIEST YEAR. In 2007 he played Clutch in MULBERRY STREET, a horror film he co-wrote and starred in for director Jim Mickle. After a screening at the Fantasia Film Festival in Montreal, Canada, the film was picked up by Lions Gate as part of it’s After Dark series. In 2008 Damici appeared off off Broadway as Sherlock Holmes in a play he wrote called SHERLOCK AND JOHN. He also played opposite Harvey Keitel again in the TV series LIFE ON MARS.
STEVEN WILLIAMS, (Doc Earl) – Steven Williams was born in Memphis Tennesse and raised in Chicago. Steven is a consummate actor who is well known as Capt. Adam Fuller on the Series ’21 Jump Street’, as well as his brilliant and mysterious portrayal of Mr. X on “The X Files and Rufus on the CW series “Supernatural”. Steven had a strong recurring role on Season 2 of the HBO series “The Leftovers” opposite Regina King and Justin Theroux. Some of his feature film credits include the stoic role of “Trooper Mount” in the classic comedy “The Blues Brothers” for Director John Landis opposite John Candy and Corrina Corrina with Whoopie Goldberg. Other feature credits “Missing in Action 2”, “Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday“. Steven played Lord Stanley in a film version of Richard III with David Carradine, ‘Mr. Gamba’ in the Depression era “Kings of the Evenings”, ‘Special ops: Delta Force, and the classic film “Cooley High”. More recently his feature credits include the New Line remake of the Stephen King film “IT”, “The Stakelander” the vampire hunter sequel to the award winning film ‘Stakeland”, “The Call” with Halle Berry and “The Last Curtain Call” with David Proval.
A.C. PETERSON, (Bat) – is an internationally renowned character actor who has appeared in hundreds of film and television projects, including the films SHOOTER, STONEWALL, SUCKERPUNCH, THE ART OF THE STEAL, THE CONSPIRACY, and THE SAMARITAN, and television series and mini-series including OLYMPUS, CRA$H AND BURN, ZONE OF SEPARATION, TRAFFIC, ACROSS THE RIVER TO MOTOR CITY, CAPRICA, STARGATE, STARGATE: ATLANTIS. Soon to be released, the series FRONTIER on the History Channel, and the films STAKELANDER and DARK HARVEST. He also voices the villain Zhong in the soon to be released animated feature film SPARK. Presently he is filming the role of the Warden of Newgate in the series AMERICAN GODS. A.C. would like to congratulate and thank all involved in the film STAKELANDER.
LAURA ABRAMSEN, (Lady) – is a Canadian actor who plays Lady in The Stakelander. She has a history of film acting with a degree in theatre acting. Laura has had leading roles in three feature films including The Sabbatical and Basic Human Needs, as well as five stage productions. She has also supported in films like Wolfcop and A.R.C.H.I.E. with Michael J. Fox at the helm. Laura was nominated for best actress at the 2015 Whistler film festival. Following that, she has moved from her home in Regina Saskatchewan and is now living and working in Toronto.
KRISTINA HUGHES, (Mother) – holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts in theatre from the University of Saskatchewan, and is a graduate of the Globe Theatre Conservatory program in Regina, Saskatchewan. Primarily a performer on the stage and screen, Kristina is also a theatre school instructor, playwright, and avid supporter of the arts both in Canada and in her home province of Saskatchewan.
DAN BERK & ROBERT OLSEN, directors – Berk and Olsen are a writing and directing duo out of Brooklyn, NY. In 2014, they raised a shoestring budget to produce their debut feature, a thriller called Body. The film follows three girls who inadvertently kill the groundskeeper of a mansion that they break into. Featuring horror icon, Larry Fessenden, the film premiered at the 2015 Slamdance Film Festival. It sold to Archstone Distribution for international distribution, and to Oscilloscope Laboratories in the U.S. It had a theatrical release at the end of 2015, and is currently available on Showtime and other VOD outlets. The duo’s next film, Villains, is currently casting. Production is slated to begin in Winter 2016.
NICK DAMICI, writer – is a native New Yorker, born in Hell’s Kitchen. He has appeared in various off Broadway stage productions and studied with Michael Moriarty, Bill Hickey, and is a member of the Actor’s Studio. He has appeared in LAW AND ORDER, CSI NY and THE BLACK DONNELLY’S. In 1998 he acted in his first feature film, FAST HORSES, from a script he wrote, opposite Victor Argo. In 2003 he co-starred in Jane Campion’s , IN THE CUT, as serial killer cop, Detective Richard Rodrigues opposite Meg Ryan and Mark Rufalo. In 2006 he played Lieutenant Kazmatis in Oliver Stone’s WORLD TRADE CENTER and opposite Harvey Keitel in Howard Himmilestien’s MY SEXIEST YEAR. In 2007 he played Clutch in MULBERRY STREET, a horror film he co-wrote and starred in for director Jim Mickle. After a screening at the Fantasia Film Festival in Montreal, Canada, the film was picked up by Lions Gate as part of it’s After Dark series. In 2008 Damici appeared off off Broadway as Sherlock Holmes in a play he wrote called SHERLOCK AND JOHN. He also played opposite Harvey Keitel again in the TV series LIFE ON MARS.
MATT MITCHELL, director of photography – Matt Mitchell is an award winning Director of Photography based out of Brooklyn NY. In 2006, Matt was invited to study at the prestigious FAMU international film school in Prague, Czech Republic before graduating from the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University. As cinematographer
PETER PHOK, producer – is an award winning independent film producer. He has produced several films directed by indie genre icon Ti West, including “In A Valley Of Violence,” “The Sacrament,” “The Innkeepers,” and “The House of the Devil.” With Larry Fessenden’s Glass Eye Pix, Peter has produced over a dozen films that have earned accolades and recognition at multiple international film festivals around the globe. Among them, Glenn McQuaid’s “I Sell The Dead,” Graham Reznick’s “I Can See You,” and Jim Mickle’s “Stake Land,” winner of TIFF Midnight Madness People’s Choice Award in 2011. With Supermassive Games, Peter produced on the Sony PS4 exclusive cinematic video game “Until Dawn,” winner of the 2016 BAFTA for Best Original Property. Peter is a New York native and attended School of Visual Arts in NYC, where he earned his Bachelor of Fine Arts in Film. He is also a member of the Producer’s Guild of America, Film Independent and has served as an IFP Narrative Lab Mentor since 2008. His more recent film is “The Stakelander” a sequel to the post apocalyptic vampire film is world premiering at this year’s Sitges International Film Festival in Spain.
Q&A WITH DIRECTORS DAN BERK & ROBERT OLSEN
Were you guys familiar with the original Stake Land?
Robert Olsen: Chad Harbold, who worked on this film, turned us on to it and showed us Stake Land early on. Then he wound up being our connection to this sequel. He knew Peter Phok, one of the producers.
How did you get involved with Stake Land II?
Dan Berk: Larry Fessenden had been in our first movie, Body, as an actor, and so we knew that he and Peter Phok were looking for a director for Stake Land II and we knew it was getting late and they hadn’t found anybody. We took a look at the script that Nick [Damici] had written and pitched them our take, to be honest we loved the world and couldn’t believe we had this opportunity.
Robert Olsen: In our pitch, we made a couple of suggestions for where it could go.
Dan Berk: I think they were excited by our enthusiasm.
Robert Olsen: We came on board and worked really closely with Nick as he started to craft the next draft. Then we had to take this ideal version of the movie and make it work with budgetary and scheduling realities.
Dan Berk: Our original pitch contained some elements that wound up in the final movie, so this finished version is a really nice meld between Nick’s script and our pitch.
What was it like coming on board a sequel that featured a lot of cast and crew involved with the original?
Dan Berk: We were filling really big shoes. We are huge fans of Jim Mickle and we wanted to do right by this project, and the world he and Nick and everyone else built. It helps that Bobby and I are eager collaborators and that Peter Phok and Larry [Fessenden] were extremely supportive producers. We met with Jim [Mickle] before shooting and learned a lot about his thoughts on the background of this world and how it got to where it is now.
Robert Olsen: It was a tightrope walk to stay true to the style of the original, which had a very Mickle way of doing things, without delivering a Jim Mickle impersonation. We wanted Stake Land II to look of a piece with Stake Land but still be its own movie.
What does Nick Damici bring to the table?
Robert Olsen: He brings everything. He’s Nick Damici. He can quickly and easily slip in and out of his role as a writer and as a producer and as an actor on the film. We’d get to set some days and all of a sudden he’d have ideas about what we should do, and we’ve been sitting there budgeting and scheduling everything because this was only a 20 day shoot, and so our first instinct was to freak out. But then, by the end of the day, you realize that whatever scene you wound up concocting with Nick was the right scene. He has such a great sense for his character and for bringing this world to life. There was a balance we had to find, because sometimes we had to push against Nick’s ideas from a purely logistical standpoint, but other times we were able to embrace his energy and just go crazy. That’s the thrill — working on the fly with Nick.
Dan Berk: To some extent, the Stake Land world is Nick’s baby.
Nick and Connor were already on board, but what about casting the other roles?
Robert Olsen: We shot in Saskatchewan, so if we had a relationship with an actor in New York we couldn’t always justify the spend of bringing them way out there. So we wound up casting a lot of local talent, which was scary for us at first, coming from New York. We had this picture of Saskatchewan in our heads where it was home to maybe a dozen people and so the talent pool for actors wasn’t going to be very deep. But Brenda McCormick, our casting director in Canada, pulled a huge amount of local talent from Regina, and Saskatoon, and Toronto and we got amazing players. Also, working with Connor and Nick was really interesting because it’s a unique opportunity where you have an independent film like this that gets a sequel almost seven years later, and the actor you had playing a young kid has grown into a man. We thought we were lucky because Connor has kept growing as an actor, and he brought a lot of depth to the film.
What was it like shooting in Saskatchewan?
Dan Berk: The biggest hero in this production was the Province of Saskatchewan. It has a huge pool of great locations that were very versatile.
Robert Olsen: This movie would have had no chance in hell to get made and to look this good if not for Saskatchewan. Everything in Saskatchewan is an hour away, on a straight road, in some given direction. So when we went up location scouting we’d just pick a direction and drive and say, “Pull over here,” and we’d take pictures. If we liked something, almost invariably, our location manager would say, “Oh, yeah, my cousin owns that place.” Everyone in the province were like a family, and many of them had worked on other features together, so they all knew everyone. Without those relationships we couldn’t have pulled this off. And with locations, we were like kids in a candy store. Saskatchewan has a lot of areas with structures that are already sort of post-apocalyptic looking, these really rural areas where the farms have dilapidated barns and abandoned houses on them. We could hop right into those and shoot a scene.
Dan Berk: The location team took us to the house we used for Martin’s encounter with Karl (Blaine Hart) and Jean (Kathryn Bracht), and they actually thought someone was living there, but it turned out that the owners had just taken off and abandoned it. We made sure it was safe to shoot in, and then we staged the scenes after the art department did their thing.
Robert Olsen: It helps the actors and everyone behind the camera when you’re in a space like that. You can smell the decay, you have to watch your footing, and it helps establish the tone. You don’t have to convince anyone too hard that it’s ten years after the vampire apocalypse.
Did you have to make any changes to the script due to the location?
Dan Berk: In Saskatchewan, in May and June, you get 19 hours of sunlight a day, and so we were shooting a vampire movie in a part of Canada that only had five hours of real night. We decided to use the idea that the vampires are starving, so they’re coming out at sunrise and sunset, even when the sun’s out, because they’re so hungry that they’re willing to take the risk. We made the change because we only had five hours of shootable night, but we really think it makes the world feel even more desperate.
Did you mostly use practical effects, or digital effects?
Robert Olsen: Our first feature was a low budget movie with no special effects considerations, and Stake Land II was full of explosions and booby traps, so we initially thought we’d have to do a lot of the visual effects work in post, and then we got to Saskatchewan and met our practical effects guy, Casey Markus. He came up with explosions and fire gags that weren’t even in the script. Every day he’d be asking us, “You sure you don’t want that over there to blow up, too?” or “You’re sure you don’t want to light that guy on fire?” He was so good that we wound up with so many more practical effects shots than we’d ever dreamed. Anything we thought we’d have to do digitally, Casey would just say, “Nope, no problem.” It’s one of the other huge benefits of shooting in Saskatchewan. I can’t imagine setting off a 40 foot fireball in Long Island City, but Saskatchewan is pretty remote so we could go a little crazy. And I have to say, there is nothing like the electricity on a set when you know an explosion is going to happen, you’re going to the safety meeting, the whole cast and crew is full of this anticipation, and then the effect goes off and everybody is so jazzed.
Dan Berk: The only thing we really relied on doing with digital effects were the arrows. In the Stake Land universe, the crossbow and the bow and arrow are popular weapons, but we knew we couldn’t be shooting practical arrows into dummy heads we’d built. Even so, when we tested digital arrow shots during preproduction, they really exceeded our expectations for how good they looked.
The two of you edited this film, did anything change in the editing room?
Dan Berk: One of the joys of authorship with a film is editing it, and we found a lot in the edit with this movie. Originally, the inciting incident, the attack on New Eden, was told in a more linear way at the beginning of the movie and we spent more time in New Eden at the start. Our first cut was only about 93 or 94 minutes long but we felt like the first ten minutes were a little slow and didn’t live up to the rest of the movie. We put our heads together with the produers and came up with a more abstract way to present the attack on New Eden, with Martin sitting by a campfire talking to Mister in his head, and it really works. But that was a huge difference between the script and the final version of the film that we only discovered in the editing room.
What’s the relationship between this movie and the original Stake Land?
Robert Olsen: They’re very different films. The first Stake Land picks up shortly after the vampire pandemic sweeps across the world, whereas Stake Land II has more world building. We had a blast thinking about what happened in the first movie, then trying to figure out what it would be like almost a decade later. What would people still be doing? What would still exist? The first movie had more cars, but in our film it’s harder to find gasoline. That scarcity mentality seeped into everything, the wardrobe, the weapons. For us, the world has hit bottom and is finally starting to rebuild. Hopefully, if there’s a third movie, it will go even further with that.
Dan Berk: One common thread between the two movies that’s really important to Nick is that the Stake Land world is always an intimate world where the stakes are personal. If the stakes are global or gigantic, that wouldn’t be a Stake Land movie.
Robert Olsen: You could never make a Stake Land movie about looking for a cure, or about an army of humans taking on a giant army of vampires.
Dan Berk: Stake Land is about a boy growing up and losing his innocence. Stake Land II is a vampire movie in which that boy is now a man, and he’s learning what it is to be human, and how to separate himself from the monsters he fights every day.