Director Jim Mickle's newest film, “Stake Land,” gives us some offbeat twists in the vampire genre with the action taking place in a post-apocalyptic world made up of bloodthirsty vampires, religious nuts known as “the Brotherhood,” and human survivors looking for safety.
Director Jim Mickle has his feet firmly and comfortably planted in horror.
His first short film, “The Underdogs,” told of a town that was taken over by nasty pooches. His first feature film, “Mulberry Street,” featured survivors of a disease-ridden Manhattan, Mass., trying to avoid turning into “rat creatures.”
Mickle’s newest film, “Stake Land,” gives us some offbeat twists in the vampire genre with the action taking place in a post-apocalyptic world made up of bloodthirsty vampires, religious nuts known as “the Brotherhood,” and human survivors looking for safety.
All three of Mickle’s films star his actor-pal Nick Damici, who co-wrote both “Mulberry Street” and “Stake Land” with Mickle.
“I’ve always wanted to do this,” said Mickle recently. “When I was really little, I was into magic tricks, and that led to being interested in special effects, which led to getting into horror films.”
His student film, “The Underdogs,” played at festivals and opened doors wide enough for him to become a production assistant. From there it was a long slow climb: electric work on movie sets, a romance with a film producer –– who convinced him to “do what you really want to do” –– self-training on how to be an editor, production on commercials and industrial films.
Out of frustration, Mickle and Damici, whose acting career wasn’t exactly rocketing, decided to do an independent movie by cobbling together a few thousand dollars of their own, along with funds from investors.
“Mulberry Street” was well received by genre fans, but didn’t make much more than a ripple on the Hollywood circuit.
“Stake Land” started out as a plan to do a series of “webisodes,” each one featuring a different type of vampire.
“It was all about finding different vampires in different towns across the states,” said Mickle. “But there was nothing apocalyptic, and it had nothing to do with the Brotherhood. We tried folding them all in together, literally copy and paste them [into a feature]. But it just felt like a bunch of short films put together.”
So they reworked their original ideas and started shooting it in movie form, resulting in a film that’s made up of grisly, gory horror and sometimes outlandish humor, along with some nicely written and performed characterizations.
The simple plot has a tough-as-nails vampire killer named Mister (Damici) heading to a supposed vampire-free zone in Canada, picking up various survivors and dealing with various nemeses along the way.
He admits that while he has a co-writing credit, the idea was Damici’s. Their writing partnership, on both films, went like this:
“Nick sent stuff to me every day. I tried to read a draft every day, and give detailed notes. Then, at some point I’d take it and do polishing and reordering and get it ready for the screen. On ‘Mulberry Street,’ I never touched the script, but we went through about 50 drafts together. I did more writing on this one, and on the next one, it’ll be about 50-50, sending it back and forth,” said Mickle.
But sitting in the director chair, Mickle had all of the responsibility on his shoulders.
“Directing is harder than I thought it would be,” he said. “‘Mulberry Street’ was so low budget, there was no ability to control anything. It was chaos, and I was trying to control chaos. But with ‘Stake Land,’ there were creative decisions, and there were times when we could say, ‘We can do this or we could do this.’ The first time, it was literally like you have four extras, they’re here for 20 minutes, you have a two-page action scene, no stuntmen. This time there was a minimal upgrade. We had a stunt guy for two days.
“We also had nine producers on this film, and they all chipped in and had their specialty. One of them spent a month living in the town before we shot there. He made friends with everyone and found locations. So by the time we got there it was, ‘Come down to the bar, these are the guys who’ll play extras, this is where we’ll be shooting.’ It was like making a community film,” said Mickle.
With Mickle so pumped about “Stake Land,” it seems a shame to have to ask him about the very similar 2009 film “Zombieland,” another post-apocalyptic film with people headed west, fighting off zombies, instead of north, fighting off vampires. “Stake Land” has been completed for some time now, so there was definitely a bit of crossover.
“I first heard about ‘Zombieland’ while we were still in prep,” he said. “It was released while we were on a break from filming, and I avoided it. I finally saw it when it came out on video. I liked ‘Zombieland.’ But it’s really a different movie. A friend said it would be a good companion piece with ‘Stake Land.’ It would make a great double bill.”