HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: STAKE LAND II (2016)

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STAKE LAND II (2016)

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Sequel to the Jim Mickle’s 2010 vampire epic, Stake Land, takes place ten years later with Martin (a returning Connor Paolo) living in New Eden with Peggy (again Bonnie Dennison) and raising a young daughter. One night, The Brotherhood lays siege to this sanctuary lead by The Mother (Kristina Hughes), a vampire who commands an army of Berzerkers. The village is massacred with Peggy and their daughter brutally killed. Now the surviving Martin returns to the desolate wasteland of the United States to find Mister (Nick Damici reprising his role) to exact revenge…and that’s exactly what Mother is counting on.

Jim Mickle sits this sequel out for the most part, appearing only as a producer. His star and co-writer on the original, Nick Damici, returns to script and the directorial reigns are turned over to Dan Berk and Robert Olsen…sadly with mixed results. Damici’s story works fairly well in reuniting Mister and Martin with some interesting developments having transpired between films. With the human population devastated, the vampires have grown desperate for food and will now risk coming out in the sunlight to pursue a meal, even if it means burning up. Some of the humans have turned to barbarity and resort to cannibalism and staging gladiatorial battles between strangers…which is where Martin finds Mister. The character of Mother is also interesting, though a bit underused as Damici’s story focuses on Martin and Mister and the groups of humanity they encounter. We do find out a little about Mister’s background, a past he shares with Mother. On the downside, Berk and Olsen are a bit pedestrian in their direction and thus it lacks the first film’s intensity and atmosphere. The action and drama are all a bit by-the-numbers and this doesn’t help as the film needs a fresh touch, being the second time around for what was a different take on the traditional vampire tale in the original. It comes across as more of a TV movie which, having premiered on SYFY, it kinda is…and it shows.

At least the cast all do well, especially the returnees. Paolo gives us a far more mature and able Martin, now more of a grizzled warrior than the naive boy we met in the first installment. Damici is solid once again as Mister. He gives the vampire hunter a bit more inner pain accumulated over the last decade and the fact the character is sidelined with injury for part of the flick is disappointing, as it’s great to see him back. Damici reminds one of Charles Bronson, at times, with the grizzled tough guy roles he often plays. Hughes is creepy as Mother. She has a presence and it’s unfortunate she’s a bit underdeveloped. Rounding out is Laura Abramsen, who is fine as Mister’s mute, feral woman companion and A.C. Peterson and veteran actor Steven Williams are entertaining as two leaders of an armed outpost who join Mister in standing against Mother. Sadly Bonnie Dennison’s part is far too short to really count as more than a cameo.

Overall this is an OK sequel to, in my opinion, one of the best horror films of 2010. The returning characters were fun to see again and were well played by the returning stars. Actor/writer Nick Damici had a worthy enough story and some interesting developments, but the film lacked Jim Mickle’s touch behind the camera. The direction was by-the-numbers and while entertaining, the film lacked the intensity and atmosphere of it’s predecessor and appeared to be working with a smaller scale and budget. Worth a watch if you are a fan of the original film, but if you haven’t seen Stake Land, seek that out first.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1/2 stakes.

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: FRIEND REQUEST (2016)

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FRIEND REQUEST (2016)

(Remember, clicking the highlighted links brings you to other reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

German horror filmed in English has pretty college student Laura Woodson (Alycia Debnam-Carey, The Devil’s Hand and Fear The Walking Dead) feeling sorry for lonely, withdrawn Marina (Liesl Ahlers) at school and befriending her on her social media account (which we assume is Facebook although the name is never given). Laura soon finds out Marina is emotionally unbalanced as the young woman begins to become obsessed with her. She “unfriends” the strange girl which pushes Marina over the edge and thus, she commits suicide. This only makes things worse, as Marina now stalks Laura as some kind of malevolence presence and worse still, is one by one killing her friends and posting videos of their gruesome deaths to Laura’s social media page. As everyone she knows begins to grow fearful of her, Laura begins a quest to find out who this mysterious girl really was and why she has such dark power from beyond the grave…but will she find out in time?

Script by Matthew Ballen, Philip Koch and director Simon Verhoeven (no relation to Robocop’s Paul) offers nothing new especially in this age of cyber-themed horror and thrillers. Film’s story has elements of similar movies such as the recent Unfriended, Ratter and Dark Summer, but effective direction from Verhoeven actually makes it work better than you might expect. He does create atmosphere and there are some spooky moments, as well as, some disturbing ones, too. The deaths of Laura’s friends have impact and the jump scares are well done and not overused. There are also a few clever bits like maintaining a countdown of the friends Laura loses on social media as the spirit continues to manipulate her account and kill those close to her. The director also gets some decent work out of his cast with Alycia Debnam-Carey making a suitable and likable heroine and Ahlers making for a creepy goth girl in her brief scenes early on. The film can be a bit formula as haunting flicks go and the ending is exactly where you expect it to end up, but the ride getting there is entertaining enough to past the time without feeling like a waste of it.

Not a great movie, or even an original one, but it is well made enough to get by. It is routine as both cyber-horror and haunting flicks go, especially more recent ones, but has enough atmosphere and effective moments to make it worth a look if you find yourself sitting on the couch with nothing to watch. The attractive cash also includes Brit Morgan, Brooke Markham, Connor Paolo, Sean Marquette and William Moseley as Laura’s friends and love interest respectively.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1/2 lap tops.

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: STAKE LAND (2010)

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STAKE LAND (2010)

Another interesting horror from Jim Mickle, director of the cool indie chiller Mulberry St. Stake Land is a bloody horror tale set in a world that has been overrun by vicious and bloodthirsty vampires, not the glittering, poetry reading fops that populate contemporary stories to woo teenage girls, but murderous, savage, blood drinking monsters. The film follows a hardened vampire fighter simply know as “Mister” (co-writer Nick Damici) and a boy coming of age, Martin (Connor Paolo) as they travel across the desolate vampire infested wasteland. Sometimes the pockets of survivors they meet during the day, like the religious “Brotherhood” who feel the vampires are doing God’s work, are worse than the monsters that stalk the night. Along the way they pick up some stragglers like the pretty pregnant, Belle (Danielle Harris), ex-Marine, Willie (Sean Nelson) and nun, “Sister” (Kelly McGillis). They are all headed to New Eden, an area of Canada rumored be vampire free. But the odds and fangs are stacked against them and they may not survive the trip to a place that may not even exist.

Stake Land is very bleak and sometimes very vicious and gory, but there is some innovative stuff along with the familiar vampire/apocalyptic trappings and some powerful scenes. Like with Mulberry St., Mickle knows how to add fresh twists to old favorites and create likable characters to populate his horror stories. He also creates some tense atmosphere, some nice scares and gets good performances from his cast. And despite the dark tone, Mickle still manages to give his tale a glimmer of hope that keeps us emotionally invested. The film also an effective visual style, it’s simple, but Mickle creates a lot of atmosphere with what he has to work with on a low budget.

A really good horror from an underrated filmmaker who I hope someday gets the attention he deserves. One of my top horrors from 2011 (It had a limited release in 2010 but, I was not able to catch it until 2011 on DVD).

A solid 3 and 1/2 stakes

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