“I remember everybody, kid. Most of ’em are dead.”
After finally watching STAKE LAND six years after the fact I looked it up on IMDb and was surprised to learn that they already made a sequel that just premiered on SyFy last week and was free on-demand through the 30th. Pretty good timing.
It’s directed by Dan Berk and Robert Olsen, who wrote the upcoming Dolph Lundgren picture DON’T KILL IT. Don’t worry. Part 1’s Jim Mickle did produce it along with Larry Fessenden’s Glass Eye Pix, and Nick Damici returns as screenwriter and starring as Mister, as does Connor Paolo as Martin. It’s not some bullshit TV exploitation of the title, it’s a legit sequel that they made and then must’ve gotten more money from SyFy than they would’ve going the normal VOD-then-video route. So more power to them.
(On the other hand, there seem to be virtually no reviews of it and not even poster art available online. Does anyone even know it came out?)
Making a part 2 means that part 1’s hopeful ending didn’t quite pan out. We see how Martin got a few years of bliss in New Eden, enjoying family life (and possibly ketchup flavored chips) until tragedy struck just like when he was a kid. Except this time
1) it was an organized army of berserkers led by a cruel Tilda-Swinton-looking master called The Mother (Kristina Hughes) who’s in collusion with The Brotherhood and
2) Mister wasn’t there to help.
Martin thinks Mister is the only person badass enough to help him track down The Mother for revenge, so he wanders into “the Stake Lands” of America looking for him. Martin is grown up and scraggly-haired now, but still looks pretty boyish under there. He finds that Mister is legendary in the Stake Lands. Some say he’s dead, many know him from The Brotherhood’s wanted posters. I’m gonna assume the movie’s original title, THE STAKELANDER, refers to him.
The world is still a Walking Dead-esque frontier of country roads, fenced-off settlements and isolated stragglers in cabins, but now with more MAD MAX type post-apocalyptic cultural developments. The most obvious one is the forced gladiatorial combat ring with a Thunderdome-esque ringmaster. I also thought of RETURN OF THE JEDI because of the leader watching with a slave (Laura Abramsen, WOLFCOP) on a leash. But the ROAD WARRIOR part is that she’s feral, and is later soothed with a music box.
Martin navigates a succession of close calls with vampires and cannibals before reuniting with his mentor (who looks a little Mickey-Rourke-ian now) and creating a new squad with the feral woman, who Mister frees and names “Lady.” I guess society went to shit long enough ago that young people who ran off into the woods by themselves and went feral are pretty common, or at least something that people have heard about. I like the scene where some Brotherhood assholes get all rapey-soldiers-in-a-Vietnam-War-movie with her, laughing about her being feral like it’s a kinky turn on. “I betchya she bites!” one of them says. But he does not seem turned on anymore when she does bite him.
They also run into and join forces with some of Mister’s grizzled old buddies, A.C. Peterson (THE SAMARITAN, DEFENDOR) and Steven Williams (21 Jump Street, JASON GOES TO HELL) who have fences, guns and generators. They make a pretty good team, always looking for new members, sometimes sparing enemies, trying to redeem them. Larry Fessenden is there too, I’m not sure if he’s supposed to be the same character who was the bartender in the first one, or if he’s like Bruce Spence showing up as different characters in MAD MAX and ROAD WARRIOR. There’s some cool action parts, my favorite being when Mister is left tied to a cross and a berserker tackles him, tipping it over, so he’s able to fight while still tied up, using the cross as a weapon.
This obviously wasn’t made by SyFy. It looks and sounds like the first movie, though I felt a couple of the smaller actors were less naturalistic, and some of Martin’s narration (not a favorite part of the first one either) was unnecessarily corny. I do think they found just the right amount of development for a more specific, formidable villain. She’s almost like one of those Orc leaders in the LORD OF THE RINGS and HOBBIT movies, you don’t see her that much and when you do you know it’s trouble. The Brotherhood have gotten more elaborate with their scary Klan-like masks and robes and they carry their vampire messiah around like a pharaoh. There’s a great Just How Evil Is She scene where she’s behind a curtain the whole time, we don’t even see her.
There’s a new I AM LEGEND sort of dimension added late in the game when (SPOILERS THIS PARAGRAPH) we see a vampire lady holding a baby vampire. It’s hard not to have a little more sympathy for them when you see that. She’s just living the life that Belle didn’t get to. But suddenly an arrow impales the baby and hits the mother, who screeches. And Mister steps out of the shadows. Then we see him wake up in his hospital bed, wracked with guilt from this memory. That may be only because of a realization that Martin’s family was killed in order to bring him out of hiding. Or it may be because he doesn’t like killing babies. It’s up to interpretation.
I like that Damici has created this style of simple character names. On paper it might sound kinda dumb but on the screen Mister and Lady and Bat fighting The Mother makes sense, and it’s especially cool when the latter name turns out to have more significance than you’d think at first.
I’m not sure how much this SyFy version differs from whatever uncensored cut will eventually exist. I noticed a couple fuck words censored, but there’s some pretty gorey stuff that didn’t seem cut up. The only hint that it could be heavily edited is how short it is: 84 minutes including commercials (that’s the short on-demand commercial breaks though, not as much as they’d have while it aired).
So that might make a difference, but my biggest not really fair complaint is that it’s only on the same level as the first one. I would actually like to see them make more so that the adventures of these characters keep continuing. But if it stays at the same scale then it might as well just be an ongoing TV series. I would really love if they somehow figured out to make the second one bigger, if not like TERMINATOR 2 or THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY then like PHANTASM II or DESPERADO. The little indie franchise made good.
But that didn’t happen, and I’m happy to see these guys together again, the father figure showing his pride in the son figure, even if none of us really approve of his facial hair.