The past 12 months have been good for fans of all things post-apocalyptic. Comic 'The Walking Dead' came to life on TV; the big screen adaptation of 'World War Z' received a start date; last month the Irish movie 'One Hundred Mornings' reached our screens and this month there's 'Stake Land', Jim Mickle's hardboiled and blackblooded horror about the stragglers of the human race trying to make it to the promised land.
After America collapses under a vampire epidemic, small groups of survivors hide out in heavily fortified towns, while the very brave take their chances on the open road and head towards Canada. Among them are fearless vampire killer Mister (Tom Savini lookalike Damici) and teenager Martin ('Gossip Girl' star Paolo).
Mister saved Martin after the boy's family were killed, and the two have formed a highly effective partnership. But it's not just different types of vampires that they have to deal with; there are cults with bloodlusts, too. And when one group decides that Mister's time is up, the duo's chances of making it to Canada look very remote indeed.
Mickle is another director to stick on the watch-list and it's hard to imagine any horror or action fan disliking 'Stake Land'. What Mickle lacks in budget he more than makes up for in grit, with the dialogue ("How many of those things have you killed? Not enough"), production design and impalings holding their own with the genre's best. And in Damici as the badass with a good heart and Paolo as his surrogate son he gives us a fine double act - the juxtaposition of a man who thinks his best days are behind him with a boy who still believes there's something good to come is well done.
Away from the mayhem, Mickle strives here to celebrate the resilience of the human spirit and the importance of family, but the only big disappointment with his and star Damici's script is that the supporting characters aren't developed enough for those themes. Without giving too much away, Mister and Martin are joined by others on their journey, but you don't feel you really get to know them, with the talents of McGillis, especially, going to waste.
It will be interesting to see what extras and deleted scenes make it to the DVD, as this is definitely one movie to have in the collection.