By Merkin Muffley—HorrorHomework Instructor
Vampire films seem more immortal now than ever before. The genre can’t be killed, even with bad films such as Twilight and Dracula 3000 having seen the light of day over the last decade or so.
Luckily, there are some flicks that have come out in recent years which make it easier for film freaks to separate the wheat from the chaff.
One such film is 2010’s Stake Land, directed by sophomore filmmaker Jim Mickle.
Basically the film revolves around Martin (played by Connor Paolo, “Alexander”) an American teenager who is saved by the mysterious veteran vampire hunter Mister (played by film co-writer Nick Damici, “World Trade Center”), in a vampire assault which claims the lives of his whole family before his eyes.
After the attack, we find that a mass vampire epidemic has nearly destroyed North America. Martin and Mister make their ways north to Canada, to a place known as “New Eden”, where vampiric activity is nearly non-existent due to the frigid climate.
In this world, where life is rare yet disposable, our antagonists fight their way to an uncertain sanctuary in the north. Along the way, they collect comrades who share their need to survive.
Why you should watch it
Stake Land is a great movie for many reasons. First of all, it’s free of that teeny bopper vampire pageantry we have all grown to loathe. It was even produced on a relatively small budget of just $4 million, according to imdb.
Just gimme a small shot of vampire to go with my glass of estrogen.
Stake Land is a coming-of-age film set in a post-apocalyptic world where survival is the fabric of society.
There are no sexy and stylish vampires to woo the characters and audience. The film’s ever-present nocturnal blood suckers resemble zombies more than vampires. The premise doesn’t get too technical on these grounds—a breath of fresh air when compared to other vampire flicks.
They really Nailed what a vamp should look like in this one.
To compare, this film resembles a few acclaimed stories; Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead and Mad Max, directed by George Miller.
What themes do these stories have in common with one another, class? And how are they different? What do such stories accomplish when considering the human condition?
As we follow the two characters on their adventure, Mister trains Martin in the arts of killing vampires and staying alive. The two encounter all manner of people who have survived along their way, in small towns in a barren and cold landscape.
Despite the dimly lit setting and the dun-colored patrons therein, the story is rich with religious and economic undertones.
At one point, we find that many survivors have taken to religion as their cornerstone for existence, meaning that all non-believers are just as killable as vampires. The towns which Martin and Mister make their way through come equipped with trade, entertainment, prostitutes, assholes and booze—all the facets of a functional society! It’s like a Western, on those grounds.
What this story does is comment on the human condition in a very unique way.
As Martin learns to assimilate into this new way of life, he grows and matures. The survival skills he learns open the door to an old but very important concept in human history: filial piety—reverence for those who can teach.
This film was not made with the “blockbuster” philosophy of film production, thankfully. It has something to say and show the audience. It doesn’t have to prove anything. It’s just bad ass.
For extra credit, what does the class think of this film?
“How many horrible fucking remakes is Hollywood going to fucking make?”
And if you’re anything like me, you’ve probably even said something like that before. I hate Hollywood remakes, and I think filmmakers should abandon the practice.
In fact, there are MANY regurgitated stories that Hollywood has vomited up and onto the big screen that very few of us are able to stomach. It’s HIGHLY frustrating. Why fix something that was never broke? Why pervert a film classic for the new generation? Are there really no new ideas coming from the writers in Hollywoodland?
But, I would be remiss if I didn’t give credit where credit is due. There are SOME remakes which I believe were wrought with a considerable degree of skill and competence.
The Carpenter constructed Zombie
For the sake of brevity, I am going to argue that the first remake of Halloween is one such example.
Am I saying that the new version compares to its predecessor? No. I am simply saying that it is a decent film, which relates the original story adequately, and it happens to be a remake.
Many diehard horror fanatics (like me) will even assert that the original 1978 production of Halloween was a classic, while dismissing the 2007 version as a sophomoric attempt to retell the story in a more testosterone-driven and profitable way.
Sure, it was directed by Rob Zombie. Not John Carpenter. But it was with the go ahead from John Carpenter on the advisement that he make it “his film”.
However I must submit to the class that in the scope of recent Hollywood remakes, Zombie’s take on the story of Michael Myers is a cut above the rest when considering content, direction and editing.
Let me put it to you this way:
Would you rather the new generation of movie goers be subjected to subpar remakes like 2009’s The Stepfather, which had so many holes in continuity or logic that you could play Wack-A-Mole out of them? That movie fucking sucked, and now most youngsters who think of that story won’t know of the grim original from 1987, which starred Lost’s Terry O’Quinn.
Zombie’s version of the film obviously deviates from the original in many ways, but it could have gotten MUCH worse direction.
There is no mystery. The characters are by no means allergic to vulgarity. More emphasis is placed on Myers’ childhood and his obviously dysfunctional family. There is less of an element of ‘evil’ and more of an element of ‘psychological disorder’, and it’s just simply not what most of us grew up watching.
Let’s get one thing on the table.
All of the characters are, quite simply, unlikeable. They are made out to be monsters. Everyone from Myers’ principal, his sister, school mates and even Dr. Loomis. To help get that ball rolling, Zombie has pretty much all of them spitting out profanity while exhibiting some sort of immoral behavior.
Anybody can do that! Woopty fucking doo.. doo.
Doo doo. Haha, anyways.
I can’t stress enough that Zombie makes the audience question ‘how the world can create such monsters?’ rather than, ‘who in the world could be one?’.
Zombie is using the remake to ask a similar question posed by the original: Who among us could be wearing a mask to hide from a brutal world, and was it the world that drove them to that point?
I think that Carpenter revealed the grim origins of Myers in a more profound way. He didn’t spell out a troubled and sadistic past the way Zombie did, and any violence in the remake by no means comes as a surprise to the audience because of this.
But it wasn’t Zombie’s intention to do so, nor was it his intention to replicate the tone or pace of the movie. Zombie is telling the story of a broken child at odds with a broken world, where sanctuary is found only behind a mask.
If you would class, please refer to any moment in the film where a character ISN’T hiding their true nature. Notice how Michael, a person who attempts to conceal his true self, reacts to the rest of the frankly vile world.
He pretty much kills or maims them in true Myers fashion.
Through this viewpoint, one might consider the moral service Myers seems to be doing the audience. The towering shots of Myers even as an adolescent suggest a coup de gras for his victims later on in the film. What irony might you find in that as a viewer?
As early as ten minutes into the film, we can watch Myers bludgeon an easily unlikeable bully with a tree limb after school. After begging for mercy, our antagonist puts his mask back on and finishes his attack. The bully, who just minutes before was dishonoring his sister, is then dispatched viciously.
The product of Zombie’s storytelling is no different from Carpenter’s in this sense. Every kill is not without extreme prejudice.
But Zombie retains some of the indiscriminate evil that Myers has always been known for. Through betrayal.
As Ismael Cruz (played by Danny Trejo), the loveable janitor who gives Myers wise advice about life behind bars, is later killed by an older and hulking Myers. By going against his early depiction of Myers, Zombie paints a picture of a more traditional Michael Myers.
It should be noted class, that when Cruz tells Myers that “learning to live inside” his head would keep him sane, the very Manson-esque rationale was then readily accepted by the mask wearing youth. This can be seen by the subsequent obsession with masks, which I found quite original.
The viewpoint of the film tends to get pretty personal. While we are watching a story about a giant peoplestabber, Zombie also has us peering in over the shoulder of many a character in the middle of every conversation.
When actors are in field, the viewpoint tends to be at a low, down to earth level with the characters. Often a character is directly in the middle of a shot. An up close and personal kind of thing. Again, this is a more human approach to Michael Myers, which helps drive the kinds of questions Zombie poses about our culture.
What is seen and heard in the film:
Zombie’s use of rapid editing during action sequences, albeit a mainstay in modern cinema, was used with tact in many areas of the film. These are coupled with free-roaming or “shaky” cinematography to give the film a human feeling, while side scrolling shots push along exposition.
In short, it’s a simple formula and it works for Zombie’s intent.
Another intent of his is to show off his hot wife, Sherri Moon Zombie.
We are all very aware of Zombie’s propensity to put her in his films, and while that may be very easy to dump on, I would like to note the nice strip tease performed by her in the film. This kind of sexual content, albeit more jacked up, was present in the original Halloween. And such would be evident to any ten year old boy in the seventies.
It’s also eye candy, which I won’t dispute is something most filmmakers are going for nowadays.
We can often hear dialogue among characters which are out of the shot, while abstract objects float around in the foreground. This is often used as a device to inhibit the measure of a character. And we certainly don’t get a good look at Myers when he is being verbally abused by his mom’s boyfriend. The imposing voice of Ronnie White (played by William Forsythe) referring to Myers as a ‘faggot’ seems larger than Myers himself, along with the blurry jack-0-lantern.
What is our antagonist thinking?
Is there anyone among the class who would say Zombie didn’t get it right when Myers gets his revenge by slitting White’s throat? The inverted shots, high pitched tones and suddenness wasn’t without favor for the audience? It encapsulated the spirit of a slasher in scenes such as this, and without replicating Carpenter, who executed similarly, yet with less for the viewer to go on.
Again, it is easy to slam remakes for their incongruity to the originals. And while I can get drunk on nostalgia as much as the next horror fan, I also can see the more polished turds from the least—a sobering thing when faced with such horrible remakes as I am Legend or Friday the 13th.
Just don’t get me started on Zombie’s choice for Malcolm McDowell to play Dr. Loomis.