Land of the undead

Pub date April 26, 2011
WriterCheryl Eddy

VAMPIRE APOCALYPSE There are no sparkly torsos in Jim Mickle’s Stake Land, a movie that depicts a vampire snacking on a human infant within its first five minutes. After that bold declaration that this is not a film to be fucked with, Stake Land shifts its focus to a ragtag pair of travelers who’ve taken to rural America’s back roads, trying to annihilate as many vamps as possible: teenage Martin (Gossip Girl‘s Connor Paolo), and his gruff mentor, Mister (Nick Damici, who co-wrote the script with Mickle).

As books, films, and comics have taught us, whenever a big chunk of the human race is wiped out (thanks to zombies, an unknown cataclysm, etc.), the remaining population will either be good (heroic, like Mister and Martin, or helpless, like the stragglers they rescue, played by Kelly McGillis and Danielle Harris, among others), or evil — cannibals, rapists, religious nuts, militant survivalists, etc. Stake Land doesn’t throw many curveballs into its end-times narrative, but it’s beautifully shot and doesn’t hold back on the brutality. The film opens at the Roxie on the heels of its local debut at the San Francisco International Film Festival. I recently chatted with up-and-comer Mickle about horror, the Internet, and … well, what else is there, really?

SFBG Stake Land feels very much like a zombie apocalypse film, except for the choice of monster. Why vampires?

Jim Mickle [Co-writer Damici and I] had just done zombies — we had rat zombies in [2006’s] Mulberry Street — but I think we both felt we didn’t get to do everything that we wanted to do there. Yet, also, we didn’t want to do the Romero thing and just do one zombie movie after another. I think we were looking for another monster, and we both liked vampires. They’re human-based, so I think you can treat them like characters and not just monsters, and be able to have them stand in for a lot of different things socially — but also have a lot of fun with them.

SFBG A lot of vampire stories depict the vampires as living secretly among the human race, but in Stake Land, they’ve basically taken over.

JM Originally, we [planned the film as a Web series], and that was how it started. The first 10 pages were always the same, and from there it went to different webisodes, where, for example [the characters] stopped off in New York City and had to fight a hopping vampire in Chinatown. It was all about, “When are people gonna wake up and realize they are surrounded by vampires?” But we were gonna do it very low-budget, and the question was always, like, “Holy shit. How are we gonna pull this off?” When the idea became to make a feature out of it and to sort of merge all these stories together, it just felt like that — a bunch of stories strung together and very chapterized. We wanted to hang onto that, but also give it a backbone and an overriding theme.

SFBG Do you have plans to follow through on the Web series?

JM We did try to keep it going — we have these prequels that have come out [on the iTunes Movie Trailers page at]. There are seven total — each character has their own short film, basically, sort of right before we meet them in the movie. We wanted to keep the idea of the serial going. We liked the idea that there are these new ways to release movies, and the online presence really matters for movies now. I still have yet to see a really successful Web series, so we tried to find a way to do that and mix that in [with the prequels]. But we still have all those scripts, you know, and when people talk about sequels and stuff — we still have that material there, and it’ll be interesting to see where it goes.

STAKE LAND opens Fri/29 at the Roxie.