Wednesday, February 1, 2017

STAKE LAND II (2016) (Blu-ray Review)


Label: Dark Sky Films

Release Date: February 7th 2017
Region Code: A
Rating: Unrated
Duration: 95 Minutes
Audio: English DTS-HD MA Surround 5.1, Stereo 2.0 with Optional English subtitles
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (2.35:1)
Director: Dan Berk, Robert Olsen
Cast: Connor Paolo, Nick Damici, Laura Abramsen, AC Peterson, Bonnie Dennison, Kristina Hughes, Steven Williams 

This sequel picks up right where the first left off, America is still a wasteland overrun with vampires. Survivors gather in small pockets in fortified villages, or they have joined a doomsday cult known as The Brotherhood, holy rollers who see the blood-suckers as a righteous plague sent from God to wipe the world clean of sin. At the start of the film Martin (Connor Paolo, Gossip Girl) from the first movie is living in New Eden with his wife Peggy (Bonnie Dennison, Beneath)and their infant daughter Belle, but all that is up ended when a horde of vampires attack the village, lead by albino vamp queen known as The Mother (Kristina Hughes), a new player on the scene, who is somehow able to control the berserker vampires, and is apparently able to give birth to blood-sucking children. 

Seeking vengeance against the vamp queen Martin heads into the badlands in search of his former mentor, the badass vampire-slayer known as Mister (Nick Damici, Late Phases). Martin makes the trip through the wastelands solo encountering numerous dangers, including an aging couple who seem friendly at first but later attempt to dismember the him after they drug his food, which does not end well for them.

Martin eventually
catches up with Mister when he is forced into a fight against him in a caged fight to the death, a scenario that's borrowed from Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, but it was a device that worked well to re-introduce the character to each other. Escaping their captors after some sweet bloodshed they together head deeper into the wastelands with a new found friend, feral young woman that Mister, calls Lady (Laura Abramsen, Wolf Cop). After Mister is mortally wounded by a vampire they wind-up at a survivor outpost where he hooks up with Mister's old friends Bat (A.C. Peterson, Suckerpunch) and Doc Earl (Steve Williams, 21 Jump Street), and together they face-off against the vamp queen and her hordes of bloodsuckers, who are fighting alongside the human traitors of Brotherhood.

I liked this sequel a bunch, the production looks nice, it's well-shot, there's good composition all around,  but it feels a bit anemic compared to the original which I just watched, but if I didn't have that to compare it too this would be just fine. The team did good work finding rural locations that feel post-apocalyptic, the world has a lived-in Walking Dead type feel, which is sort of what this feels like, just with vampires instead of zombies. 

Damici and Paolo do good work revisiting the characters they created in the first film, with Damici's Mister looking quite a bit more grizzled, though a bit less cold this time out. Meanwhile Paolo's Martin had grown, still a bit young in the face but his youth is slightly masked by a post-apocalyptic hipster beard, he's become the man that Mister trained him to be in the first film, there's some decent character growth for both men.

The gore is a bit more restrained this time around, this debuted on Syfy channel, which is weird considering that the first film played in theaters for a little bit, so that could have something to do with the toned-down viscera, but what we get is decent, the blood flows but the gore is toned own, but this is still a very violent watch. 

The task of creating a sequel to the original film is unenviable to say the least, the first was one of the more original vampire movies in a while, but I think what hurt this the most for me is it felt a bit formulaic, and years of watching the Walking Dead have made whole apocalyptic humans vs undead narrative a bit too familiar. 

Audio/Video: Stake Land II arrives on Blu-ray from Dark sky Films looking solid, shot on digital the images are crisp, black levels are damn good. Audio options include choice of English DTS-HD MA Stereo 2.0 and Surround 5.1 with optional English SDH subtitles. The only extras on the disc are a 24 minute making of doc and a trailer for the film. The making of features interviews with Connor Paolo, Nick Damici, Larry Fessenden and Kristina Hughes among others, it covers the script, scouting locations and explaining why Stake Land director Jim Mickle did not direct. 

Special Features:

- Making Of (24 min) HD
- Trailer (3 min) HD 

This is a solid sequel to the original, it didn't blow me away, but as a continuation of the first movie this was good stuff with a compelling story and some decent vamp violence, but it is a lesser movie when stacked-up against the first film. It helps that we have most of the original cast back, including the badass Nick Damici, who aside from starring in, also wrote the screenplays for both movies. 2.5/5