Welcome to The Last Horror Blog, a biweekly column on all things horror.
Sundance short When the Zombies Come highlights a zombie apocalypse survival plan – Jon Hurst’s short film When the Zombies Come is currently playing at Sundance, and it shows how a group of inventive Ace Hardware employees in Georgia have already made their plans for when the dead rise up and walk the Earth. Check it out below.
We Are What We Are lands distribution – One of the most buzzed about genre flicks to emerge from this year’s Sundance is Jim Mickle’s remake of Jorge Grau’s cannibal film We Are What We Are. The film came into Sundance without distribution in place, but thanks to the folks at eOne, those of us who didn’t make it out West for the festival will get a chance to see the film in the near future. The company has reportedly spent “low seven figures” to distribute the film domestically. Watch the trailer for the original foreign version below.
Hideo Nakata unveils first teaser for Japanese chiller The Complex – Japanese filmmaker Hideo Nakata became something of a cult icon after Ringu became an international sensation and kicked off an entire wave of angry-girl ghost films emanating from Asia, but he’s not had a lot of success in the intervening years. He’s hoping to change that with his latest, a new ghostly feature entitled The Complex.
Basically, a young woman and her family move into a new apartment and she encounters lots of spooky shenanigans we assume, if it sticks to the Nakata formula, will culminate in some kind of twisted revelation in the final act. The teaser looks decent , even though it’s in Japanese and has no subtitles.
The Complex debuts later this year in Japan – no word yet on an American release.
Green-Band Evil Dead trailer tones down the gore – The second red-band trailer for Fede Alvarez’s remake of Evil Dead debuted recently – and man, is it awesomely gory. This movie appears set to earn every bit of its R rating, which makes this gorehound very interested in checking it out when it hits theaters this April.
However, if you couldn’t stomach all the blood and dismemberment, we’ve got a more sedate (although still freaky) green-band trailer for your perusal today. This one’s less bloody, but still pretty unsettling. Check it out below.
Recommended Rent: Stake Land
Tired of sparkling vampires who are more romantic than terrifying? Think Stephenie Meyer and Anne Rice ruined what Bram Stoker started? Find yourself longing for the days when vampires were terrifying and not a bunch of whiny emo fops? Then Jim Mickle’s Stake Land is the film you should see--it's been on DVD and BD since 2011 but only recently has been made available streaming on Netflix.
A blending of World War Z, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, and The Walking Dead – only featuring savage vampires instead of hordes of zombies -- Mickle’s film takes one of horror’s greatest archetypes and returns it to its rightful place at the top of the food chain. These aren’t your teenage daughter’s (or your ex-wife’s…) vampires, these are brutal monsters who’d just as soon rip your throat out as look at you. Thank God for that.
Stake Land is a bit like a horror travelogue. Young boy Martin (Connor Paolo) watches as his family is slaughtered by a vampire and only avoids the same fate thanks to the intervention of an enigmatic vamp hunter known simply as Mister (Nick Damici, who also cowrote the script). Mister dispatches the bloodsucker and takes Martin under his wing – and the rest of the film chronicles their journey across a postapocalyptic America where vampires are almost as dangerous as the starving cannibals and a fanatical religious group known as the Brotherhood.
As the duo works their way toward Canada and a potential safe haven in a place called New Eden, they’ll find new allies and face grave danger, and all will lose something along the way.
Made for an estimated $4 million, Stake Land looks far more accomplished than most other low-budget films crowding the Watch Instantly queue at Netflix. It would be easy to write Mickle’s film off as yet another low-budget disaster, but you’d be missing out on one of the better vampire movies to come along in ages. Mickle and Damici get the genre, and they’ve given us a tale that’s the antithesis to all the lame vampire product clogging up our televisions and multiplexes.
The film is presented as a straight narrative, but Mickle breaks things up into an almost episodic format that I wasn’t sure was going to work at first. Generally speaking, films that rely too heavily on voice-over narration bother me, and Stake Land makes copious use of monologues from Martin delivered over establishing shots and montages. However, it works for some reason I can’t quite explain. Part of it is attributable to Paolo, who’s a genuine surprise in the film. Mickle’s direction and editing also carry the technique – the shot selection is magnificent, creating a mood that radiates right out of your screen and into your living room.
The atmosphere of the film is heavy and dark with an air of melancholy and despair that seeps through every camera setup, and this is Stake Land’s greatest achievement. The writing and imagery work in concert, creating this symphony of darkness that is pitch perfect. This is a horror film about monsters and monstrous humans, but it’s also a character piece, and Mister really embodies the mood of everything. It’s no real surprise that Damici wrote the part for himself.
Damici and Paolo are the film’s focus, but they encounter others along the way – from a brutalized nun (played by an almost unrecognizable Kelly McGillis) to a pregnant young woman (genre vet Danielle Harris), to a soldier who came home to nothing other than the end of the world. Horror fans will also spot Larry Fessenden as a bartender in one of the few remaining human settlements.
The film presents these characters – who’ve all lost family – as their own little nuclear unit. That makes it resonate that much more when bad things happen. Like the past season of The Walking Dead, not everyone can survive in a postapocalyptic world overrun by monsters. Mickle’s film does a much better job than AMC’s series when it comes to actually making us care about these people. Some of the losses feel surprisingly profound considering these are characters we’ve known for less than 90 minutes.
It’s all quite impressive, the only real misstep occurring late in the film when a character comes back into the picture in a rather unsatisfying way. Stake Land doesn’t really need an antagonist, and the 11th-hour insertion of one feels a bit forced. It makes sense narratively (and hints at dark things for humanity moving forward if the vampires are indeed this adaptable), but I would have been okay with the episodic approach playing through right to the end without any sort of showdown.
That’s a very minor complaint, though. Stake Land is an impressive piece of low-budget cinema, a horror film that features the gore and violence and monsters fans clamor for, but presents it with a level of depth and pathos missing from all but the best genre films. I’m looking forward to seeing how Mickle handles his upcoming remake of We Are What We Are. If he nails that one, he’s certainly earned himself on the spot of up-and-coming horror filmmakers to look out for.
Horror on the Horizon
January and February continue to be good months for horror fans with several new releases headed for the multiplex.
The week of January 25 brings us the debut of Tommy Wirkola’s (Dead Snow) Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters. If that doesn’t do it for you, there’s also the limited release of Don Coscarelli’s John Dies at the End for those who haven’t caught it on VOD already (and really, if you haven’t, you should).
As the calendar flips over to February, we’re treated to the release of zombie love story Warm Bodies (which might or might not actually appeal to horror fans…) and the limited release of the geographically challenged The Haunting in Connecticut 2: Ghosts of Georgia. Did these ghosts take a road trip?
Unfortunately, there’s not a lot happening on the home video front. February 12 sees the arrival of Silent Hill: Revelation, but it’s otherwise slim pickings for the next few weeks.
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