M.L. Miller aka the @$$hole formerly known as Ambush Bug here! I posted my very first horror reviews on October 1, 2010 and have been posting every Friday ever since on AICN until just recently. I’ve uprooted the show and taken it to my own site just in time for this year’s Best of the Best in Horror Countdown. It’s going to be running all through October, counting down to the best horror film of the year. Some of these films can be found in theaters, but others have unfortunately only seen the light of day on Video On Demand or simply go straight to DVD, BluRay, or digital download. I’ve tried to indicate in the reviews where you can check these films out.
As far as how I compiled this list? Well, I simply looked through my reviews over the last year since October 1st, 2016 and worked and reworked the list until I had 31. No real method to my special brand of madness. We’ll be counting down every day until Halloween to my favorite horror film of the year. I’ll also provide a second film suggestion at the end of each post that is worth nothing or missed being on the list by a little bit for those who can’t get enough horror.
So let’s get to it! Chime in after the article and let me know what you think of the film, how on the nose or mind-numbingly wrong I am, and most importantly, come up with your own list…let’s go!
#18 IT STAINS THE SANDS RED #18
Why is IT STAINS THE SANDS RED #18? While there are still an abundance of zombie movies, few stand out as original or exceptional. This one does with some fantastic dramatic turns throughout the film as well as an intense setting and solid performance by its lead Brittany Allen. Take a chance on this zombie film. It’s like no other in the genre. You can find it here on iTunes and Amazon here!
Available On Demand from Dark Sky Films!
IT STAINS THE SANDS RED (2016)
Directed by Colin Minihan
Written by Colin Minihan, Stuart Ortiz
Starring Brittany Allen, Juan Riedinger, Merwin Mondesir, Kristopher Higgins, Andrew Supanz, Michael Filipowich, Nico David, Dylan Playfair, Max Christensen, Kyle McCachen, Steve Judkins, Warren E. Thomas
Find out more about this film here, @itstainsthesandsred, and on Facebook here
These days it takes a little something extra to make a zombie movie stand out and be recognized apart from the herd. It takes a strong idea or an interesting take or even some strong performances. There are a lot of zombie films to choose from out there and let’s face it, most of them are shit rehashes of the same story. Well, IT STAINS THE SANDS RED is different from the rest of those films in a lot of ways. Sure it features a world overcome by the walking dead, but what makes it stand out is a powerful story, a unique situation, and a powerful take on character.
The world is ending and zombies walk the earth, but Molly (Brittany Allen) and her boyfriend Nick (Merwin Mondesir) have a plan to hop on a plane and get away from civilization. But on their drive out to an airport in the middle of the desert, their car gets stuck and Nick gets used as a chew toy by a zombie. Looking for more to chomp on, the zombie goes after Molly, who packs up as much water as she can carry and heads off into the desert for a 30 mile hike to the airfield and a hope for a zombie free life. But Molly finds out that the zombie has followed her and continues to follow her relentlessly. And while Molly must stop and rest occasionally, the zombie (who she has dubbed Smalls, played by Juan Riedinger) doesn’t need to. This proves to be problematic once Molly is in the middle of the desert with a famished zombie on her tail and a whole lot of desert ahead of her.
What makes IT STAINS THE SANDS RED is the story structure. For the most part, this is a very slow and arduous chase scene as a woman staggers through the desert with a single zombie in pursuit, also slowly staggering. It’s the type of premise that should be boring as fuck, but filmmaker Colin Minihan, along with his co-writer Stuart Ortiz manage to fill the film with enough action sequences, gloppy moments of gore, and strong character moments to make every second resonate making this slow pursuit through the desert a true nail-biter.
This film really excels in the metaphor department as Molly begins to form an attachment to Smalls during her trek through the desert. Molly seems able to keep a few steps ahead of Smalls, but only if she keeps moving. But when she is given a chance to leave her undead pursuer, it becomes hard as Molly has left behind so much already, including a toddler son. It takes a lot to make one care for a snarling zombie, but this film is able to achieve just that. IT STAINS THE SANDS RED has a beating heart that I wasn’t expecting and really managed to pull on my heartstrings by the end of it. This is mainly due to the powerful acting by Brittany Allen who is a powerhouse in this film—playing a character we shouldn’t like but can’t help but sympathize with due to the predicament she finds herself in. It takes real chops to make one care for a drug addict mother who leaves her child, but Allen is able to achieve just that.
IT STAINS THE SANDS RED is going to surprise a lot of folks who take a chance on it. Sure there are a lot of zombie movies out there, but that doesn’t mean that all of them are bad. This one takes the zombie threat and makes it an intimate ordeal with huge personal stake. It bares away all of the excess matter that occupies most zombie films and just gets to the good stuff. There’s some great gore and a fantastic zombie performance by Riedinger as Smalls. There’s also a badass, yet flawed lead that is worth rooting for. IT STAINS THE SANDS RED has it all. See it. I highly recommend it.
Worth noting: STAKE LAND II!
STAKE LAND II was not a perfect movie. It’s inferior to the original, but I did like the way it continued the story while developing the characters to the next level. Again, Nick Damici is the second coming of Charles Bronson and offers up another badass performance. Plus we get some other genre faves along for the ride. It’s a fangy fun film that fans of the original will appreciate. You can find it here on iTunes and Amazon here!
Available on BluRay and DVD from Dark Sky Films!
STAKE LAND 2 (2016)
aka THE STAKELANDER
Directed by Dan Berk, Robert Olsen
Written by Nick Damici
Starring Connor Paolo, Nick Damici, Laura Abramsen, A.C. Peterson, Steven Williams, Bonnie Dennison, Kristina Hughes, Zane Clifford, Jaime Bird, Nicole Garies, Blaine Hart, Kathryn Bracht, Alex Arsenault, Tim Lynchuk, Larry Fessenden, Trevor Aikman, Josh Strait
Find out more about this film here
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.
THE COUNTDOWN SO FAR…
#31 – THE DEMOLISHER
#30 – PLANK FACE
#29 – LAST GIRL STANDING
#28 – DEVIL IN THE DARK
#27 – HELL HOUSE LLC
#26 – XX
#25 – THE SUBLET aka THE RESIDENT
#24 – PATCHWORK
#23 – Morgan Spurlock’s RATS
#22 – SPLIT
#21 – ANNABELLE 2: CREATION
#20– I AM THE PRETTY THING THAT LIVES IN THE HOUSE
#19 – THE GREASY STRANGLER
#18 – IT STAINS THE SANDS RED
Best of lists from previous years;
2015-16 #1 – THE VVITCH
2014-15 #1 – THE CANAL
2013-14 #1 – PROXY
2012-13 #1 – MANIAC
2012 #1 – THE WOMAN
2011 #1 – THE LAST CIRCUS
Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, original @$$Hole/wordslinger/writer of wrongs/reviewer/interviewer/editor of MLMILLERWRITES.COM. Follow Mark on the Twitters @Mark_L_Miller.
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Hi Mark, great to see you doing your stuff here as I was a bit worried that I didn’t see your reviews on AICN anymore. Anyhow, I agree with most about IT STAINS THE SANDS RED and it was indeed a breath of fresh air in zombie genre. However, STAKELAND 2 was really, really a major disappointment and I can’t believe that same people did this and the first one…after watching it few months ago, I’ve deleted it from my memory so to me only the first one exists. Peace and thanks for awesome work.
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Thanks for following me over here. I agree, STAKE LAND II is far more inferior than the original, still, I think it conveyed the flavor of the original enough for me to like it. I love Damici, so whatever he does, I’m going to watch. But I fear the lower budget seems to have affected the overall film with this one.