Stake Land Best Horror Movie You Never Saw

By Andrew Hatfield

Who are we to disagree Danielle Harris? When looking for a Best Horror Movie You Never Saw, nothing in our completely mad up rules that say a movie can’t be well received at the time of release. It can win awards including one from the audiences that saw it at TIFF and the kind of go away. There are a ton of movies that are great and original films in a genre that is nearly as obsessed with sequels and movie universes as DC and Marvel are today. Stake Land (watch it HERE) is an original piece of media that is one part Walking Dead, one part The Road, and all together one of the Best Horror Movies you Never Saw.

Stake Land was destined to be a movie that few had seen as its theatrical run produced about 33 thousand in theaters but in an era of physical media and streaming services, even as early as 2010-2011. The movie, which was written by both star Nick Damici and director Jim Mickle was designed as a short web series that they could produce on weekends and release it on their own terms. They presented over 3 dozen 8-minute scripts to indie horror mega producer Larry Fessenden and his Glass Eye Pix who suggested it be turned into a feature. As a mentor to Mickle, he was able to help produce and give them notes as production went along. To that end, they did end up producing 7 prequel webisodes that would be released leading up to and alongside the movie to build both hype and a nice little world that feels very lived in.

Mickle got noticed for Mulberry Street, his entry in the “8 Films to Die for” series that was released in 2007 for the After Dark Horror Fest. These were also released at Blockbuster, and I remember running through them all. His flick, which he wrote with Damici and who stars in it again, is probably the best of that batch that came out. He also directed Cold in July, We Are What We Are, and episodes of Hap and Leonard as well as Sweet Tooth, mostly with Damici writing and or making an appearance on screen. The movie opens with one of our leads, Martin, telling us in flashback form about the end of both the world at large and his world on a micro level. I would love confirmation if this character is named after Romero’s underseen vampire movie of the same name. Somebody hit up Damici or Mickle for me, will ya?

Martin is played by Conor Paolo who first showed up as a young Sean in Clint Eastwood’s Mystic River. He has also showed up heavily in shows like Gossip Girl and Revenge as well as more than a few movies including Stake Land 2 which we will touch on a little later. We see why he is with Damici’s character Mister as both his parents and even baby sibling is murdered by what we learn is the reason for the apocalypse, Vampires. This movie is uncompromising in its violence and who it decides to kill. When a horror movie decides to kill a baby in the first seven minutes, you know they aren’t messing around. This world is also effectively over, and we are told of the busier cities being ravaged, cults taking shape across the country and the U.S. falling hard and fast.

The first 10 minutes of the movie tells you everything you need to know about the story. We see different kinds of vampires, how you need to protect yourself, and a warning about society as a whole, or, ya know, what’s left of it. Damici plays Mister with the attitude and hardened charisma that I have come to expect and love from him. I spoke about him in my most recent video about other underseen movie Late Phases and I am a fan of this guy. He takes Martin under his wing here and teaches him how to survive but also how to take out vampires which greatly outnumber humans. We watch them go through settlements and barter while Mister takes care of some of his base urges and watch them save stragglers. See, Mister doesn’t care if you are a vamp or a crazy cult human, he kills with the same efficiency and lack of remorse.

The first one of these people they save is played by Kelly McGillis. Yeah, that one. From Top GunThe Witness, and a whole heap of other memorable roles. Like many of the apocalyptic movies of the time, including the aforementioned The Road, the movie focuses more heavily on how bad the survivors can be rather than the threat. The nice thing is, it still feels fresh here as it did when the movie came out. This was before EVERY SINGLE MOVIE of this type fell into that specific trope. Even The Walking Dead just had to keep coming back to it. Here, it works because of budgetary constraints where you can have battles with culty Dbags rather than have to show off special effects and make up laden vampires throughout. Again, this gives the movie a nice world building feel.

By the time we get to the damn near required Larry Fessenden cameo, here as the bartender who gives Martin his first drink, we have seen how life is. We have also seen some great scenes of tension like when Martin and Mister are stuck in their own car after escaping the Brotherhood cult. It has good direction and story telling and allows for a near budget less set piece that also gives us a fun action scene. Also, in the bar we get the appearance of the movie’s biggest fan. Danielle Harris plays Belle, a younger pregnant woman who wants to get somewhere safe to have her baby. She’s great here as we have come to expect her in everything that she shows up in. Her and her podcast partner and close friend Scout Taylor Compton are the best parts of the Rob Zombie Halloween remake duology. I also have a personal horror love for her as Halloween 5 was one of the first VHS tapes I bought with my own money from Blockbuster Music of all places. I fully forgive her for getting Corey to cheat on Topanga with her. If you know, you know.

The trio work their way towards the haven of New Eden, and we get introduced to things called scamps which are younger kid vampires because this movie has already set the precedent that age won’t protect you. This is an excellent example of just how they use their budget and keep things interesting while doing many of the things that movies of this type do. They pick up our final main character, a military man named Willie, who was also left as bait for vampires by the brotherhood. He gives us some more exposition and story building about the brotherhood using the vampires as weapons and expediting the process of ending the world. The group works its way to New Eden, and I’m amazed at how this movie was made for just over 600k. It isn’t acted that way, directed that way, shot that way, or even with special effects and make-up that would suggest that budget.

Stake Land Best Horror Movie You Never Saw

At just over an hour and a half, the movie moves at a brisk pace. The score which echoes The Road and is more contemplative than exciting by Jeff Grace is done wonderfully and fits the film to a T. It keeps surprises coming and even though you know not everyone is going to make it out alive, it’s still surprising how and when. While it may not have been a blockbuster like movies from the Saw or Final Destination franchises, it would be popular enough to warrant a sequel in Stake Land 2: The Stakelander, which, yeah, I know, that title, but its fun. While director and cowriter Jim Mickle didn’t want to or wasn’t able to come back, Syfy had the good sense to get Nick Damici back to write and show up again in some capacity. Between the prequel web series and the two movies, this property got life to it that few would have expected from a little indie movie that could.

Danielle said it was a tough shoot in the cold of upstate new york with very few lines but there was something that drew her to it and it was a very rewarding experience. Plus, who could resist zombie like vampire creatures and a title like Stake Land. That’s exactly what this movie does to you upon watching it. It has a very personal feel with all the characters involved and gets your buy in on them in very little time. A movie like this is special because of the people who worked on it fully buying in and believing in what it could be and that translates into how we as the audience view it. Stake Landtakes classic ideas such as vampires or the inherited evil of humanity and packages it into a very consumable 98 minutes.

What I truly love about the movie is that it truly is a Best Horror Movie You Never Saw. It gets to be handed down from those lucky enough to watch it and then those new viewers get to do the same. It’s like I tell my kids as each one finds out that Santa isn’t real. It’s their job now to become the jolly gift giver to their younger siblings. It’s shocking with how much legs the series had that it’s still not as widely talked about and even Damici, who apparently is a walking Best Horror You Never Saw factory, has other things that people recognize him for. If Danielle Harris, who isn’t even the star here and has a litany of other movies to think of and talk about with people, feels this is one of her least discussed but best films she has made, do yourself a favor and seek it out. You can find it often on Tubi or pick yourself up a copy on physical media. We here at JoBlo Horror completely agree that you should cross this off your list of Best Horror that you never saw and then hand it down to the next person.

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