TIFF ’10: A Visit to the Set of Stake Land


The new Apocalyptic thriller from the makers of Mulberry Street

It’s the middle of the night, and we’re in the middle of nowhere. It’s cold, it’s raining and a few yards away a man in a leather jacket who has clearly seen better days is attacking a large nun dressed in tattered clothes with a long spiked stick, before pouncing on top of her and driving the point of one of the stakes he wears on his belt into her heart.

The angry man with the stakes is Nick Amici, actor and screenwriter of the Apocalyptic thriller Stake Land, which premieres later this week at the Toronto Film Festival as part of the “Midnight Madness” track. The movie reunites Amici with director Jim Mickle, the two of them having made the popular festival movie Mulberry Street. As one might guess from the “stake” portion of the title, the movie has something to do with vampires, but not the moody coiffed Robert Pattinson type as much as angry, feral bloodsuckers who outnumber the uninfected by the time we join the story sometime in the near future.

Earlier this year, ShockTillYouDrop.com were driven up to the Catskill Mountains and spent the night outside a deserted roadside motel to watch Mickle and Amici filming a portion of their second film that’s being co-produced by Larry Fessenden’s Glass Eye Pix.

Things are rarely what they seem in the world of movies, and in fact, that homely vampire nun we saw being executed earlier was none other than Brian Spears, the film’s make-up FX supervisor, who asked to play the role of “Sister Agatha” and then spent months designing her fake breasts and make-up for himself to wear. He has essentially turned himself into the world’s most horrifying transvestite.

Stake Land is the story of two vampires hunters trying to survive in a world overrun by the creatures. Amici is “Mister,” the seasoned vet while 20-year-old Connor Paolo from “Gossip Girl” is Martin, Mister’s young liege he takes under his wing to teach him the skills of survival and vampire killing. Together, they’ve been able to survive for months and over the course of their journey, we see them encountering other survivors, including a less bloodthirsty nun referred to as “Sister,” played by Kelly McGillis, best known for her roles in ‘80s classics like “Top Gun” and “Witness” and making her horror debut in “Stake Land.” Dannielle Harris will be a lot more familiar to horror fans, having appeared in some of the “Halloween” sequels in the late ‘80s then returning as another character in Rob Zombie’s sequel in 2009. She plays “Belle,” a single pregnant mother who hitches a ride with the boys, while TV actor Sean Nelson plays “Willie,” a Marine who has returned home from Iraq only to find the United States in even worse shape.

Although there may be similarities between the group’s situation and any ensemble of actors who find themselves cast in a George Romero movie, we were told they weren’t worried about comparisons to the similarly-named hit Zombieland, since that was clearly meant as a comedy. Instead, they were more concerned about the recently-released movie based on Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, which also involves a man and a boy trying to survive in a world where danger could come from any direction.

By the time we meet Mister and Martin, the vampires have evolved into a number of different levels and breeds, including the harder-to-kill Berzerkers that require more than a stake in the heart to put them down. The vampires aren’t the only dangers survivors in this world must face though, as there’s also an extremist Christian sect known as the Brotherhood who are using survivors they encounter for their own means.

When we arrived at the motel in the middle of nowhere after a nearly three-hour drive, the place was completely deserted with no signs of anyone being there anytime soon to shoot any sort of movie. It was a fairly dreary and drizzly night, perfect for the atmosphere of the movie, not so much for the demeanor of the few attending journalists.

Still, it would be quite some time before we’d get to see Amici driving a stake through the heart of the movie’s FX supervisor, as we watched them shoot a scene shortly after Mister and Martin meet Kelly McGillis’ nun, who they save from members of The Brotherhood trying to rape her. The group have holed up in the motel for the night and they’ve created a make-shift alarm system to warn them of impending danger. Twine has been wrapped around the trees in front of the entrance to their motel room and it’s been lined with all sorts of bottles, license plates and other objects that could warn them if someone trips over the wire. Even so, Mister prefers to be somewhat more proactive in luring vampires to their location, and how do they do that? With a teddy bear on a string, spotted with a bit of blood to attract the vampire’s lust for the substance. As they began filming that night, Nick and Connor were inside the motel room peering out through the boarded-up windows, pulling gingerly on the string to make the stuffed bear dance and entice “Sister Agatha” into their trap. When the dancing bear reaches the top of the stairs, it rests on top of a bear trap that catches the vampire off-guard and once its arm has been snared in the trap, Mister and Martin come charging out of the motel room with large pointed sticks and start circling the trapped vamp, driving her down before Damici delivers the killing blow. This doesn’t make McGillis’ character particularly happy, because she still sees the human she knew inside the deadly creature.

We watched them shoot the different set-ups for this particular scene over the next few hours, doing interviews with whomever was available, and as we left the set in the wee hours of the morning, it began to really pour down, which we assumed would just add to the dour atmosphere in which the film was meant to take place.

Below, you can read a few of the interviews we did while on set:

Director Jim Mickle

Nick Amici

Kelly McGillis

Connor Paulo

Stake Land premieres this Friday, September 17, at the Toronto Film Festival, which his being covered both over on ComingSoon.net and here on ShockTillYouDrop.com. Maybe once Stake Land gets distribution, we’ll run a few of the other interviews we conducted.

Source: Edward Douglas