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Welcome to the set!” crows STAKE LAND director Jim Mickle upon seeing Fango arrive at a Pennsylvania farmhouse. “The final day of the shoot; how exciting!” It’s actually the end of just one leg of the multipart filming of STAKE LAND (currently playing festival dates and opening theatrically next year from Dark Sky Films, which produced it with Larry Fessenden’s Glass Eye Pix), and a blisteringly cold night in September—the kind of complete, consuming darkness that only comes with the absence of streetlights. In other words, the perfect climate for a vampire attack.
As this scribe tries to navigate the unfamiliar terrain lit almost exclusively by the lights of the property’s lone house, we literally walk right into Nick Damici, the film’s co-writer (with Mickle) and star. For the past couple of months, Damici has been camping out behind that house, trying to get into the mindset for his role of Mister—a rogue vampire hunter who becomes the caretaker of teenager Martin (played by GOSSIP GIRL’s Connor Paolo).
“This is the scene where I find Martin,” he says. “I’m hunting a vampire, and it attacks his family and kills them. They’re trying to escape because the radio is broadcasting stuff about the plague, telling them to go to this high school because the National Guard has it locked up. While they’re trying to leave, the vampire gets them in the barn. Yesterday we shot a scene where a head goes through a glass door, which was great.” STAKE LAND’s scenario sees Mister and Martin subsequently trekking north toward hoped-for safety, picking up a few companions along the way: Sister Anna, a nun played by Kelly McGillis; pregnant Belle (Danielle Harris); and young Marine Willie (Sean Nelson).
Upon reaching the enormous barn where tonight’s shooting will take place, Damici heads off to take a nap in a nearby tent. Entering the barn feels like stepping into another time: Actors are swaddled in clothing reminiscent of the Depression era; an old-fashioned car sits in the center of the space; suitcases and other luggage rest on the floor nearby.
Making sure to talk through every single movement with his actors, Mickle is what Paolo will later call “a hands-on director.” In this scene, Martin and his family are in the midst of packing the car when their dog runs out of the barn. Unfortunately, there are canine actor issues; instead of running like it senses something bad outside, the dog merely saunters through the door. Everyone cracks up. After a half-dozen more tries, the dog finally hits its mark.
As the crew quickly sets up for the next shot, Mickle fills us in on the details: “Last night we got a couple of money shots, such as an exploding head that [makeup FX artist] Brian Spears made, so tonight is primarily about getting wraparound shots while trying to keep continuity. We have a broken window and blood all over the car at some point. We did wire stunts yesterday where the vamps were flying through the air.” (Fango is later treated to a glimpse of the footage; it looks amazing.)
For the whole story, pick up FANGORIA #299, on sale this month. Go here for full issue details, and here to subscribe to the magazine!
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