Friday, August 26, 2011

Diabolicamente... Letizia (1975)

Diabolicamente... Letizia (1975) arrived at my doorstep on DVD, unexpectedly. The film, released under English-language title, Sex, Demons and Death, is a One 7 release. I must have dumped the film into my Amazon basket, ordered it, and forgot about it. I’ve given it a spin and am here to tell you all about it.

Architect Marcello Martinozzi (Gabriele Tinti) is married to Micaela (Magda Konopka). They are unable to conceive a child, and as a result Micaela suffers from depression with occasional bouts becoming severe. Micaela wants to remove her sister’s daughter, Letizia (Franca Gonella), from her boarding school and locate her to Marcello and Micaela’s villa. Micaela wants to raise Letizia as their daughter, despite Marcello noting that Letizia is no longer a child. The teenage girl arrives as the Martinozzi ward to the villa, and immediately, the entire household embraces an open dysfunction—everyone, including the servants, have almost sex (a term explained below), and Micaela’s depression worsens to madness.

Diabolicamente... Letizia seems a hybrid of two films which take aim at boo-gee values, The Exorcist (1973) and Pasolini’s Teorema (1968). Letizia becomes a willing catalyst for destruction of the family, exposing middle-class values as a house of cards. Unfortunately, Diabolicamente... Letizia does not have quite a film grasp on its own execution. The film is not campy nor is it sensational (unless nudity bothers the viewer). All of the would-be sensational material results in teasing: Letizia possesses a diabolical power which allows her to control others. She only uses this power temporarily. Her typical scheme is to engage say the manservant, Giovanni (Gianni Dei), or the maid into a sexual scenario with Micaela. When the two are about to have sex, she ends her power. Micaela pushes the other way, incensed, and summons the other away. Letizia does this herself with Giovanni and the maid (I apologize I do not know this actress’s name). She begins to seduce one or the other and immediately stops and scolds the other for trying to take advantage of her. I do not understand director Salvatore Bugnatelli’s motivation in this regard. It appears as if he wants to make an erotic film yet does not want to make Diabolicamente, a film of the erotic ghetto. I believe Bugnatelli admired Friedkin’s film in its ability to show shocking sensational material yet still retain its credibility as a drama. Pasolini, of course, was not concerned with such labels. Save Tinti, none of his actors are quite capable of making Diabolicamente the drama that Bugnatelli wants it to be. To the actors’ credit, the script is poor. So the almost sex makes it an almost genre film, and the lack of direction and poor script make it an almost drama.

Gabriele Tinti, as Marcello, is the only actor with whom I am familiar. Despite the fact that I must have seen hundreds of Italian genre films, none of the other participants are as memorable as Tinti. The handsome actor left quite a legacy in film. Within Diabolicamente, he shows his obvious talent and charisma, despite the ridiculous scenario. Not surprisingly, his character arc is the most interesting. Letizia is able to successfully seduce Marcello (they do not have almost sex). Not only does she seduce his body, but Letizia is able to influence his spirit. She convinces him to rethink his conservative lifestyle: she drags him to a dance club to his dismay and convinces him to purchase a prize of male virility, a hot motorcycle. By the beginning of the third act, it appears that Marcello is ready to embrace the coquettish young lady and forget his ailing wife. Of course, the plot of Diabolicamente will not let him do so, because the young lady is actually diabolical, and Marcello genuinely loves his wife.

Diabolicamente is quite boring, because it exists on a liminal plane: it’s too afraid to be erotic and not capable of being dramatic. The filming style does not appear to be professional, either. However, this is not a deterrent. Despite the fact that most of the compositions are not classical, some arresting ones are included. Of note are the compositions which play with the foreground and background. Overall, the visual style flows more from fear or conservatism, just like its narrative.

I have to give kudos to One 7 for releasing Diabolicamente on DVD. If I had to speculate, the lack of English audio on the disc makes me believe an English audio track was never recorded. Perhaps the film saw no export sales which led to its obscurity. Perhaps, also, the lack of notable participants, save Tinti, led to its obscurity. Perhaps, finally, Diabolicamente is just shitty and no one wanted to see it. Except me. However, anyone that reads Quiet Cool regularly knows that I like to take risks on curious cinema. It just didn’t pan out successfully this time.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

L'alcova (1985)

If La chiave (1983) is D.H. Lawrence, then L'alcova (1985) is Henry Miller. Well, not quite. Joe D'Amato's L'alcova found its commercial inspiration in Tinto Brass's film, and while the film lacks poetry, it certainly does not lack a charming vulgarity, visual beauty, and purity in an exploitative sense. L'alcova oscillates from latent offensiveness to patent offensiveness with the film being continuously offensive. Joe D'Amato's period piece begins in holy-shit territory and never leaves. For this film to exist and to be one of his most successful films (Spaghetti Nightmares, edited by Luca M. Palmerini and Gaetano Mistretta, Fantasma Books, Key West, Florida, 1996, p. 80), I am simultaneously offended and impressed. Whenever these conflicting emotions from me are elicited from art, I don't fight it. I also relish the opportunity to see my favorite Italian actress, Lilli Carati, in just about anything.L'alcova stars four titans of European Cult Cinema. Elio (Al Cliver) returns home to his indulgent wife, Alessandra (Carati), after a military campaign. Having won a victory over a tribe during his campaign, the tribal leader awarded Elio his daughter, Zerbal (Laura Gemser) as a prize. (Yes, you're reading this correctly.) Elio has brought Zerbal back to his lush villa to live. While Elio was away Alessandra kept herself busy with secretary, Velma (Annie Belle). Neither Alessandra nor Velma are happy to see Zerbal. Elio begins to produce income for the household by writing a book. He gives Zerbal to Alessandra as a servant, much to the disapproval of Velma.

D'Amato dispenses with lofty ideals for his narrative of L'alcova and employs various soap-opera trists. Someone is having sex with someone during almost the entire duration of the film, and D'Amato stayed with his strengths--handsome photography and production while delivering quite a bit of sensational material. L'alcova's singular setting, the villa, intensifies the action, so these characters are going to create their own traps and pitfalls. The notable character arc is with Gemser's Zerbal and Carati's Alessandra. Indulgent Alessandra enjoys being dominant, but as the film unfolds she becomes more seduced by Zerbal. By the end of the second act, it is Zerbal who is in command and Alessandra who is doing her bidding. L'alcova has a genuine point of no return. Elio's book plans to produce income do not come to fruition. Therefore, he embarks upon a journey to see a woman whose identity Elio learned from a man within his company. This woman is in possession of two films, what modern audiences would later call "stag" films. Elio negotiates a price and takes them. He also purchases a camera and tells Velma and Alessandra upon arrival at the villa, that they are "going into the motion picture business." With Elio's statement, D'Amato begins his third act with all the participants collecting together to watch the films, become aroused, and convinced that they can make a better one. The film becomes, unsurprisingly, more outlandish and patently offensive.

D'Amato had just finished filming Anno 2020 - I gladiatori del futuro, The Blade Master, and Endgame, and seemingly, he still had action movie mentality running through his veins. The plot of L'alcova is like an action film, building upon its action sequences, leading to bigger and better explosions. No pun intended, L'alcova works in the same way: the plot is a vehicle for a series of sexual escapades and episodes, each growing a little steamier or a little kinkier along the way. Unfortunately, all of the characters are rather repellent, so what the viewer is left with is a soft-to-hard core film. It's sensational, exploitation cinema, handsomely filmed, and filled with participants, each giving especially erotic performances. Lilli Carati gave one of my favorite performances in Fernando di Leo's Avere vent'anni (1978). In that film, she radiated energy and beauty. Her character personified the themes of the film and without her performance, it would not rank as one of di Leo’s best. Seeing her in L’alcova is quite different. Carati seems very cold and sophisticated and detached. This role almost appears as the beginning of the end for Carati’s career. When I watch her adeptly draw a line of cocaine to share with Gemser’s Zerbal, I shudder a bit. She would never replicate the energy from Avere vent’anni, again. Cliver and Gemser give perfunctory performances. Belle stands out from the others. She seems to have embraced her role of Velma. In all of her scenes, she imbues her performance with emotion and she works the dramatic range. Unsurprisingly, Belle gives the best performance. To D’Amato’s credit, L’alcova is a pretty hot film. It’s memorable for its participants and its overtly non-”politically correct” stature. D’Amato’s photography is in its top form. L’alcova would be followed by three films, all period pieces, and each features Carati. As L’alcova stands, it’s only for fans of its participants.

Monday, August 22, 2011

La chiave (1983)

Despite its "erotic" moniker, Tinto Brass's La chiave (1983) is about freedom inasmuch as it is about sex. Based upon the novel, The Key, by Junichiro Tanziaki, La chiave is about a husband and wife who explore their sexual relationship through each other's diary. One spouse reads the other's and vice versa, leading to an awakening for both. Brass sets his film in 1940s Venice (for reasons that he states in his interview included as a supplement on the Cult Epics DVD release) to imagine a time when there was formalism in a marriage. That is to say, Brass sets his film during a time when sexual matters were not spoken of openly between spouses. Second, and most interestingly, Brass was intrigued by the idea of this matter of privacy between a husband and wife set during a very public moment. The resulting intimacy of the film is heightened, and the quest for freedom, undeniably, takes on more power. The professor (Frank Finlay) is married to Teresa (Stefania Sandrelli). They have a daughter, Lisa (Barbara Cupisti), and their close friend is Laszlo (Franco Branciaroli). Lisa is taken with Laszlo, but by all appearances, Laszlo is attracted to Teresa. The professor is very attracted to his wife, yet he cannot create a satisfactory sexual life with her. He begins to imagine her and create her in a different way: with the aid of Laszlo's camera, the professor begins photographing his wife in various positions. This leads him no closer to any intimacy yet only fuels his imagination. Subsequently, he fills his diary with his desires and leaves the key to his locked desk in the open. Teresa finds his diary and reads it and is in turn inspired to open up her life. Teresa begins a courtship with Laszlo, much to the dismay of her daughter, Lisa. Teresa awakens sexually while the professor grows ill.One of the key aspects of La chiave is that there are risks, limits, and sacrifices in attempting to obtain freedom. The professor does eventually reach an emotional intimacy with Teresa at the cost of the realization that he always loved her intensely yet was never going to be able to express those emotions towards her physically. The end result is that Teresa, upon her sexual awakening, finds love in the arms of another with Laszlo. As the professor grows ill and wastes away, Teresa comes to terms with the love for her husband. By the end, she has a new life waiting for her with Laszlo. Intuitively, one must think that the result is irony, but perhaps not. Freedom is presented in La chiave as a foreign concept with its results being unknown. This uncertainty is borne from fear. In one scene, Lisa, Laszlo, and Teresa are spending an afternoon together and decide to stop in a cafe to wait out the rain. Lisa is summoned away so Laszlo and Teresa are left alone. Teresa becomes frightened and wants to go home. Why? She's afraid of her desires which have now become stronger. She's afraid to let go. Likewise, as the professor grows ill (Finlay gives a very tragic performance), he realizes that his attempts to create his wife into someone she is not, he has lost precious time in appreciating and loving who she is. There is a particularly tender moment after the professor suffers a seizure. One of the reasons that Tinto Brass's cinema, especially his erotic cinema, is appreciated is that, like a horror author who indulges his/her own fear, Brass is in touch with what he finds sexy. In his interview included as a supplement on the Cult Epics DVD, Brass reminisces on the 1940s and why they are an important period in his cinema. There's an innocence and secretive nature to sexuality, almost incidental. Garters and stockings and high heels are some of his fetishes. In the film's best erotic scene, the professor is imagining a coupling between Laszlo and Teresa. While Laszlo undresses, Teresa teases Laszlo with a series of poses. None of Teresa's positions are vulgar, and if one looks closely, she is mimicking many a classic pose of paintings of centuries past. The professor grows jealous of Laszlo seeing a private and intimate moment of beauty from his wife. All of Brass’s trademark fetishes are present. The viewer gets very close to the intimacy of the film, and perhaps this is where Brass is most successful with La chiave. Cupisti as Lisa gives a subdued and sad performance, as her character eventually watches her father succumb to his illness and also watches her mother steal the heart of the man whom she loves. In the hands of a less adept actress, this role might be over shadowed, but Cupisti shines. Finlay is perfect as the professor. At times he seems a dry and staid academic, while at others, Finlay is animated and vibrant. He has a wonderful expressive face, so those Tarkovsky-ian tragic moments, like the professor sitting alone in a cafe, are really felt with his performance. Sandrelli literally and figuratively bares all in La chiave in a high risk performance which she executes with the utmost certainty. She is undeniably amazingly beautiful and she easily conveys her inner beauty and transformation as La chiave unfolds. La chiave is a turning point in Tinto Brass cinema and an important film in the evolution of erotic cinema.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Amore sporco (1989)

Valentine Demy ("l'italianissima Marisa Parra") is Terry Jones, a young woman who wants to turn her passion for dancing into a career. She leaves her family and treks to Richmond, Virginia to enroll in a dancing school to learn the needed skills. Once in the big city, Terry realizes that the path towards her dream is littered with some shitty people, some decent people, quite a few erotic adventures, and tough decisions. Did I mention dancing? Lots of dancing, too. Joe D'Amato's Amore sporco (1989) seems borne from Adrian Lyne's Flashdance and the sequel to Saturday Night Fever (1977), Staying Alive, both from 1983. The script of Amore sporco is a mishmash of the narratives of the two dancing films with the softcore spice that only D'Amato could deliver. Ultimately, then, would Demy and D'Amato be able to transcend this film's Skinimax-cal roots and deliver memorable erotic sequences; or would Amore sporco languish in its dated 80s-ness, dance scene and light narrative? In other words, is Amore sporco sexy and is it worth sitting through? Let me openly be an asshole, today, and employ a risk versus benefit analysis towards Amore sporco.

There is no doubt that Ms. Demy is sexy, and D'Amato doesn't hide it. The opening sequence of Amore sporco is Terry being driven to the train station by her boyfriend. In a montage credit sequence, one can easily tell that he loves his girlfriend and wants to encourage her hopes and dreams. He is so full of happiness towards Terry's bold move towards her dancing dream that he is going to take the opportunity during the car ride to fondle her breasts and caress her inner thighs. "Don't betray me, Terry," he says as he drops her at the train station. Terry won't betray her boyfriend but she will forget that he exists (which is understandable). Terry misses her train, and the next two assholes that pick her up while she is hitchhiking also take to caressing her inner thighs. This is how D'Amato sets his exposition for his heroine: this is how the world sees her and this is her obstacle to overcome. In the hypocritical exploitative sense, this how D'Amato wants you, the viewer, to see his heroine yet he also wants you to sympathize with her, too. During her first evening in the big city and after dancing class, Terry is walking through a dark alleyway where two assholes, donning some serious heavy-metal attire, attempt to assault her. She is rescued by yuppie, Robert (Cully Holland), who takes her to his townhouse. He tends to her wounds, and despite taking a peek or two at Terry's crotch, Robert in gentlemanly fashion takes her home. After a series of assholes are introduced into Terry's life, is this yuppie going to be a saint? Probably not. Terry becomes taken with Robert and near the end of the first act, Terry and Robert consummate their attraction in the elevator in quite an erotic sequence. D'Amato employs some bold compositions in Demy-centric fashion. The actress with whom D'Amato is quite taken, especially Ms. Demy's legs and derriere, become even more focal in the subsequent two acts of Amore sporco. In two sequences where Terry is exercising and dancing alone in the studio, the compositions of the actress become the height of inappropriate. Well, inappropriate compositions in another film. These two sequences are unabashedly ogling time for the viewer, and Demy's irresistible. Interestingly, Amore sporco introduces a series of male assholes who take advantage of Terry. However, when dancing colleague, Michael (Jeff Stryker), recommends that Terry get a massage with his friend, Terry is cool when the masseuse becomes inappropriate. Why? The masseuse is portrayed by Laura Gemser, of course. I have never witnessed a massage where there is so much fondling of the buttocks. The sequence goes beyond unbelievable when Gemser's character introduces a foreign object into the proceedings. I was offended, but in hypocritical, exploitation-film-fashion, I was also amazed by this sequence. Unsurprisingly, Amore sporco does become overtly offensive with a political/sexual scenario, ending in scandal. By this point, the film could continue to unfold in this manner, but the narrative is intended to be inspiring: Terry's a dancer with hopes and dreams after all. As with most D'Amato narratives, Amore sporco suffers from a lack of focus. A couple of hallway dance sequences become tired very quickly. Way too much time is devoted a Chippendale-like dance club scene which ends, unintentionally, very funny at its attempts to be tragic. As an overall narrative, Amore sporco wants to celebrate dancing culture, in general, instead of chronicling Terry's dancing career. Then again, Terry's dancing sequences are sequences objectifying her body, so really the narrative is a vehicle for more sexy sequences. Valentine Demy is pretty hot in a leotard. Amore sporco has enough filler for the fast forward button and enough to deter most casual fans. As a Joe D'Amato experience, Amore sporco is kind of fascinating. I've always wondered what he values. A commercial impetus for most films, like Amore sporco, is certain, but there is always an overwhelming sense that there is someone with an intense love for the craft of cinema is behind the camera. With quite a bit of talent to boot. However, certain sequences, again as in Amore sporco, are sweet and then, within a moment's notice, the film takes a turn into holy-shit territory. Often I'm offended by exploitation cinema, but I'm never ready for when D'Amato pulls his shocking twists. This is an indefinable, amazing quality, and perhaps unique to D'Amato and a few choice filmmakers of his class. Joe D'Amato really excelled at softcore, erotic cinema, so see Amore sporco if a fan of the genre or a fan of D'Amato.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Sangue negli abissi (1989)

Inasmuch as I love films made in the commercial wake of Jaws (1975), Sangue negli abissi (1989) is an incredible piece of tedious cinema. It's cinema done paint-by-numbers style--a little drama here, a little action there, and a big dorsal fin sticking out of the water, here. Sangue negli abissi has no energy in its pacing nor in its impetus. Sangue is a Joe D'Amato production, and the former statement is perhaps the most offensive aspect of it. Sangue is almost wholesome--a film about fraternal loyalty in the face of adversity. Huh?Four young boys are on the beach in Florida, enjoying the sun setting. A Native American approaches the young four and warns them of a monster, steeped in legend from when he was a boy. The monster resides in the water, and if ever the day the monster returns, the four boys make a blood pact to unite and fight it. Cut to present day, and the four are recent high-school graduates--one is the mayor's son, prepped for a military career; one has a father who was once a fisherman but is now scared of the water; one has lost his mother and is living a slightly wayward life with a distant father; and the final young man is happy-go-lucky with conspicuously a lack of a back story comparable to the other three. They all have names, yet I do not remember them. Not to be disrespectful towards this production, but I believe their names are not important. The happy-go-lucky of the four gets attacked and killed by a shark while his slightly-wayward buddy looks on. Cue the small seaside town shenanigans: enter sheriff, enter collateral drama, and enter plan to stop the shark. Let's get some of these characters into the water. Transition is the primary flaw of Sangue negli abissi. The script of the film is too short and too complicated, so ordinary scenes which would be cut out for pacing are included to its detriment. Sangue needed to decide which film it wanted to be--small-town drama or adventure. Unlike Jaws, the script (and the budget) of Sangue pulls in opposite directions--the drama hurts the adventure and vice versa. Surprisingly, scenes like the sheriff visiting the shark expert get little serious treatment in the narrative, but scenes like one of the young men having a heart-to-heart with his returning-home girlfriend get included. I don't even understand why the girlfriend is in the film. She's included as if Sangue needed someone to worry about the main characters. Someone needed to be at the foot of the pier when the young men returned from the shark hunt ready to say "I'm glad to you're safe."

All the locations appear genuine. Joe D'Amato says Sangue negli abissi was filmed "[i]n Florida mostly, though we did do a small part along the Mississippi River, which proved very awkward because the water there is very dark and murky. The actual underwater scenes, though, were shot in various places: at Venotene, in a Roman swimming-pool and in a New Orleans aquarium." (Spaghetti Nightmares, edited by Luca M. Palmerini and Gaetano Mistretta, Fantasma Books, Key West, Florida, 1996, p. 79). Sangue appears recorded with direct sound with little clean-up in post-production, as voice echoes in big rooms are heard, for example. During a night beach scene, however, where the local bartender decides to take a swim into the ocean for a slo-mo shark attack scene, her voice audio seems inserted to cover for the loud sounds of the wind and crashing waves. In addition to the genuine locations, all the actors appear to be its residents. That is to say, Joe D'Amato and company showed up to shoot Sangue and asked people, "May we shoot a film in this home? And would you be willing to act in a scene here? We're making a Jaws-like film."

Raf Donato is the credited director. Joe D'Amato explains: "Raf worked with me in Giubbe rosse as dialogue coach, taking care of the actors' English diction. He's Italian-American and lives in New York. He works for Martin Scorsese as diction secretary. ¶ When I met up with him again after ten years, he revealed to me that he wanted to start up as a director, and so I went along with the idea. However, after shooting the scene where the kids gather to seal their blood pact, he realized that he didn't feel up to directing the film through to the end, and since I was on the set anyway as producer and director of photography, he agreed that I should take over." (Spaghetti Nightmares, pp.78 -79) Take over he did, and Joe D'Amato went into professional mode keeping Sangue clean with classic shots, such as close-ups, mediums, and wides. D'Amato shoots Sangue in a wholly uninteresting style, save the underwater scenes; yet he takes a flawed script and wrangles a coherent narrative. It's a palatable package in an established commercial market for buyers and distributors. "It was very successful abroad," says D'Amato, "it even sold well in Japan." (Spaghetti Nightmares, p. 79)
The best scene of Sangue negli abissi comes in the third act at an underwater wreckage, where the young men engage in the laborious, ridiculous, and complex task of killing the shark by detonating the wreckage (and hoping to kill the shark with the blast). The scenes of the wreckage are brilliant and made me wish the whole film was set down there. The dark shadows and corners of the wreckage are merely a plot device for Sangue, but the mystery that D'Amato creates with his visuals are enough to see this talented director working on something not worthy of his time. Sangue negli abissi is the very definition of tedium and is recommend for those who enjoy tedium. I presume, perhaps unwisely, that there are few who enjoy such. With a "mechanical shark's head and the rest we used [from] stock footage shots that we bought from National Geographic," (Spaghetti Nightmares, p. 79) Joe D'Amato pulls another cinematic prank at the expense of all. Including the shark. Rock on.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Stake Land (2010)

Three of my all-time favorite horror novels stem from the premise that the vampire is an invasive specie, leading to an epidemic of catastrophic proportions: I Am Legend by Richard Matheson; 'Salem's Lot by Stephen King; and Midnight Mass by F. Paul Wilson. Unfortunately, the screen adaptations that I have seen have rarely been satisfying. The Last Man on Earth, starring Vincent Price, and The Omega Man, starring Charlton Heston, both adaptations of Matheson's novel, are entertaining because of their leads; yet both lacks something special making them truly great. Both television adaptations of King's novel have their strengths: Tobe Hooper's 1979 version has better casting of the leads and stronger performances by David Soul, Bonnie Bedelia, and James Mason, for example; but the mini-series suffers from poor pacing and structure. It's biggest flaw is with its rendition of the villain, Barlow. The 2004 version is better-paced and the collateral characters are better cast: Rutger Hauer plays an excellent Barlow, and while I enjoy Mason's performance in Hooper's version, I much prefer Donald Sutherland as Straker. James Cromwell was particularly affecting as Father Callahan. The 2004 version of 'Salem's Lot, however, suffers on all other fronts with its biggest flaw being its modern-day setting. There is also an adaptation of Midnight Mass which ranges from the occasionally brilliant to completely fucking up the source material. I would be curious yet reticent to see another film which had as its premise a vampire epidemic, leading to an apocalyptic situation. When the recent Stake Land (2010) was announced with a DVD release, my curiosity was piqued, yet I wasn't interested enough to give it a gander. I gave in when I learned that its director and co-writer was Jim Mickle and its star and co-writer was Nick Damici: the same duo who made Mulberry St. in 2006. Mulberry St. was unique in the fact that it was a modern-horror film which created a real sense of community, buttressed with likable characters with good performances. I have a rule when I watch horror films (really any film but especially horror films): if any character within the first fifteen minutes of the film annoys the shit out of me, I cut it off and go do something else. I didn't even think of my rule while watching Mulberry St. The atmosphere of the film was adeptly-drawn, and the visuals were extremely creative. So with a creative team of filmmakers and a very intriguing premise, I gave Stake Land a spin.

At the beginning of Stake Land, the vampires have taken over the world, and survivors are few. Most humans have banded together in makeshift towns, scattered throughout the country side, away from the big cities. One evening, a young man, Martin (Connor Paolo), and his parents and infant sibling, are taking shelter in a farmhouse. The family is attacked by vampires, but Martin is saved by an older man whom he calls "Mister" (Nick Damici). Now alone, Martin accompanies Mister on a trek to a place called "New Eden," a community in Canada where vampires have not been seen. During their journey, Mister teaches Martin how to take care of himself in this new world. The two also make new friends along the way who become traveling companions: a nun (Kelly McGillis), a pregnant young woman (Danielle Harris), and a young marine (Sean Nelson). In addition to the vampires, who are feral and animalistic, there is a violent cult called the Brotherhood who are kidnapping and murdering their fellow survivors. Stake Land is going to be an adventure.There are grander philosophical ideas within Stake Land about humanity, but they reside in the background and really only take focus in reflection. The human drama is focal in Stake Land, and Mickle and Damici are able to recreate that strong kinship from its characters, so evident in Mulberry St. Dialogue is sparse, and the character motivations are surprisingly simple. Mister and Martin help people without asking for anything in return. It is so refreshing, because the modern character is drawn as if he/she has to earn the audience's trust. It lacks the post-modern irony that every relationship is built around power: you must want something, don't you? Mister and Martin do not. Likewise, the Brotherhood characters appear as despicable characters, especially a leader named Jebediah Loven (Michael Cerveris). Their single motivation is that they are the few to be saved while the other survivors are food for the vamps. With the simplicity of the focus of Stake Land, human drama, and the simplicity of each character motivation, Mickle and Damici can add depth to details. For example, when Danielle Harris's character is introduced (named Belle), she is singing in a bar in one of the makeshift communities. It's a sweet performance and quite endearing. With the subsequent images, not with some trite dialogue, the viewer realizes that her performance bought her a meal that night. There is not a lot that a pregnant young woman can do in this new society to earn her keep. She is going to have to depend on others' kindness, at least a little. Stake Land is full of these enriching yet subtle scenes. Visually, the duo of Mickle and Damici top their work from Mulberry St. Ryan Samul, who also lensed Mulberry St., captures some arresting compositions. Post-apocalyptic imagery and images of destruction are often affecting, and Samul makes many of these images beautiful. None are overt and none are designed to be shocking. Later, Martin in voice-over, after a vampire attack, relates his feelings about the carnage. The victims are piled together in the center and covered with blankets. A child victim is amongst their number. Her small feet protrude out from the blanket. It is this image that affects Martin, and he comments upon it. Likewise, there are many such images within Stake Land which have a similar effect upon the viewer. In addition to the visuals Graham Reznick did the sound design. He is responsible for work on Ti West's The House of the Devil and Trigger Man, for example. With his body of work as it stands now, Reznick is one of cinema's finest technicians. The sound design of Stake Land is wonderfully layered from echoing screams to the effective use of music throughout the film. The vampire sequences are particularly intense with a standout sequence occurring at the beginning of the third act. It's survival horror. Period. Veteran actress Kelly McGillis gives an outstanding performance. She has such an inherent beauty and vulnerability that is as evident in Stake Land as in say, Witness. Danielle Harris has blossomed into a fine young actress, and it is very easy to fall in love with Belle. Cerveris as Loven almost steals every scene that he is in, and Damici plays Mister as a kind-hearted and wounded warrior. He brings a tragic quality to his role. Connor Paolo has to carry the film as the proverbial heart of Stake Land: wide-eyed and innocent, it is though his eyes that the viewer takes this journey. After Mulberry St. and Stake Land, I'll see anything that the duo of Jim Mickle and Nick Damici make. Like Ti West, the two are clearly superior to their contemporaries in the genre. So, Stake Land gets a hearty recommendation, cool cats. See it.