M.L. Miller here! As I go into the tenth year of reviewing horror films, I wanted to go back to the beginning and repost some of the films I loved starting with the year I began reviewing the genre officially October 1, 2010 through October 1, 2011. I have posted my best of lists in the past, but a lot of those old reviews haven’t seen the light of day since they were first posted many moons ago. Being the OCD person that I am, I have also reworked the list, looking back at my own choices and shifting them around a bit. I’ve even added a few that I might have missed or looked over from the year in question. So if you think you know how these lists are going to turn out, you don’t!

How did I compile this list? I simply looked through films released between October 1st 2010 and September 30, 2011 and worked and reworked the list until I had the magic number, 31. Again, I never call myself any kind of expert in horror. I simply watch a lot of horror films and love writing about them. Don’t forget to like and share my picks with your pals across the web on your own personal social media. Chime in after the review and let me know what you think of the film, how on the nose or mind-numbingly wrong I am, or most importantly, come up with your own darn list…let’s go!

Released on April 27, 2011. Available On Demand, digital download, DVD/BluRay!

#24 – STAKE LAND (2010)

Directed by Jim Mickle
Written by Nick Damici & Jim Mickle
Starring Connor Paolo, Nick Damici, Danielle Harris, Kelly McGillis, Sean Nelson, and Michael Cerveris

Though one would be tempted to lump STAKE LAND in with ZOMBIELAND, the tone couldn’t be more different. ZOMBIELAND expertly plays for laughs and gets a headshot most of the time. STAKE LAND plays things stoic, which makes for a completely different film. Sure STAKE LAND has its own innocent Jesse Eisenberg teaming up with its own wizened monster killer Woody Harrelson, then running into its own version of Emma Stone, in this case a pregnant woman, and its own version of Abigail Breslin, ok, well in this case it’s an ex-military black guy and a nun…oh and instead of Bill Murray showing up, here we get the bald dude from FRINGE. Instead of laughs, STAKE LAND attempts to pull at the heartstrings and show a survivor’s side of a world overrun by vampires. STAKE LAND is an ambitious film that hits all the marks when it comes to your typical bloodsucker fest, guilty of stumbling into melodrama and taking itself a bit too seriously only occasionally.

The main protagonist Connor Paolo’s rules aren’t illustrated across the screen, but he does spend a lot of time narrating and going over rules of survival in the United States of Stakeland. Society has fallen. Most of the humans have been killed and turned into vampires. The survivors hole up at night and only walk the streets during the day. STAKE LAND is more like THE ROAD (another excellent survival pic) in that the humans are usually as dangerous as the vamps.

What I liked most about STAKE LAND was the acknowledgment that in times of crisis, folks often lean towards religion for solace and how that reliance can easily pervert itself into zealotry. STAKE LAND is full of religious iconography. Lead by FRINGE’s bald observer, Michael Cerveris, these bands of bible thumpers roam the countryside, crucifying non-believers and making sacrifices to the vampires. There’s an extremely effective sequence later in the film where the band of survivors make their way into a gated community in the middle of a festival only to have the festivities interrupted by religious freak helicopters dropping vampires into the crowd. This is a pretty horrifying sequence, one of many in STAKE LAND.

Where STAKE LAND falters is that occasionally it seems like one cool sequence after another loosely threaded together by plot. Sure these action/horror scenes are more often than not uber-cool in both originality and technique, but they occasionally fit a bit neatly into place and by the end of the film, you pretty much can call the sequence scene by scene as one character you know would die dies and so on. That said, I won’t reveal it here, but the film ends strongly in a manner that addresses everything that needs to be addressed without being overly preachy or sentimental. For that, director Jim Mickle deserves a lot of credit.

The performances here are all pretty good. Danielle Harris continues to prove that she’s much more than a scream queen and turns in a very raw performance as the pregnant folk singer who hitches a ride with our stars. It wasn’t until I saw the credits that I realized that the old nun was Kelly McGillis and even then I had to do a triple-double take and hit rewind to make sure. The two leads are convincing enough. Connor Paolo is ok as the innocent pupil learning how to survive in this new world order populated by bloodsuckers, though the range is the young actor is breached on occasion when things get emotionally heavy. Turning in a nicely gruff performance, writer/actor Nick Damici occasionally skates the edge of self-parody by taking things a little too seriously. Damici looks and acts like the unholy offspring of Liam Neeson and Charles Bronson, which distracted me more than once when he crossed the screen.

The vamps themselves are the type of bloodsucker flick I’d love to see more of. Hissing monstrosities with nary a tween twinkle or angsty furrowed brow. They’re more like fast zombies with a taste for blood not brains; feral infectious rats in human form. The addition of berserker vamps who have evolved breastbones to protect themselves from stakes is a nice new touch as well.

Those wanting a toothy version of last year’s hit zomedy are going to be sorely disappointed, but if you’re looking for ballsy horror that isn’t afraid to get its claws dirty (and bloody), STAKE LAND has got a lot of stuff real horror lovers are going to scream for.

THE 2010-2011 COUNTDOWN!

#27 – HUSK
#30 – LA HORDE

M. L. Miller is a wordslinger/writer of wrongs/reviewer/interviewer/editor of MLMILLERWRITES.COM. Follow @Mark_L_Miller.

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