Raising the Stakes

The creative team behind Stake Land talk about heroes with the Midnight Madness Blog...

Since the eighties, there has been a decline of the male action hero in horror films. Back then we had Bruce Campbell taunting demons, Kurt Russell fighting Things, and Rowdy Roddy Piper chewing bubble gum and kicking ass.

After that, we saw more and more females, soon to be defined as "final girls" taking on hero roles. The Final Girl hit its mainstream apex with Neve Campbell's portrayal of Sidney in the Scream films. Not only that, but in the nineties, we also saw the rise of empathetic villains stealing the hero spotlight all together with Jason Vorhees, and Freddy Krueger getting more screen time, and in Freddy's case, dialogue than the actual protagonists of the film. This trend continued to the point of Child Play's murderous doll Chucky becoming a full on protagonist in his more recent outings.

However, all through this, the males heroes have been having a tough time. While I intend to take nothing away from George Clooney's awesome performance in Dusk Till Dawn, or Vin Diesel's Riddick-- the male heroes of genre movies had become increasingly sinister. After the dust settled, these were not savory characters who you would invite to your home. More and more it seemed that these were bad people doing good deeds; but in no way did they intend to be redeemed. One could easily assume they went back to being their bad selves after the credits rolled.

When you look to TV's currently most successful hero, it's Michael C. Hall's Dexter - a serial killer who hunts other killers. Is it even possible to have cool male heroes in a horror movie who can realistically fight the evil forces convincingly... while also being a good human being?

With Mulberry Street, we saw a new force buck against this trend, where Nick Damici's character Clutch does everything in his power to save the tenants of his mutant rat infested building. The striking thing about that film, was that while Clutch was so tough, he was also incredibly human and believable. Here was a tough guy who genuinely cared about people- and not fleetingly or selectively. And he kicked ass. And I don't mean kicking ass by suing the villains or calling the police. This was a nice guy who could convincingly overcome his foes, without super powers, psychotic rage, or criminal talents. Just a good guy trying to do the right thing.

Now Mulberry Street's creative duo return with a new tale of apocalyptic terror. Nick Damici stars as a grizzled warrior teaching and protecting a young man in a doomed age of vampires in this year's midnight madness selection Stake Land.

And for my money, this further cements Nick's triumphant rise as a new kind of horror hero; one that cares about you!

I recently caught up with the director Jim Mickle, and writer/actor Nick Damici, and asked them some questions to test my theory.

NICK DAMICI - writer, actor

Do you write parts for yourself, or do you write the character as someone different in your mind and then you become that person -- as a writer how do you separate yourself from the story to become the actor, or what’s your method?

I write the characters generally with someone in mind including myself. As far as separating myself from the writing and moving into the acting, they are different processes taking place at different times so it's pretty easy. I'm not precious about what I write and often end up letting the actor in me edit the writer. When I not sure of something or it doesn't seem clear to me, I talk to Jim...

Have you ever had a “hero moment” in real life?

I've had a few scary moments, and you just react or you don't. I've been lucking in that I generally react. It's a reflex decision so I don't think heroism really comes into it.

How do you view your roles as a writer, and how do you approach them from an actor's standpoint?

I try to keep my characters as close to me as I can generally and then just try to be as honest as I can in my portrayal.

Who are your heroes in film, life, etc?

My film heroes range from King Kong to Bogart in films. In life I see heroes in anyone who faces the world honestly and with humility. People who have the courage to embrace the gift of our lives in the face such a shitty world.

What other kinds of characters are you interested in exploring?

I'd love to do a real period peace and stretch a bit. I played Sherlock Holmes in a play two summers ago and had a ball. I'd love to re-visit Mister some time in the future and maybe see how Martin turns out as a man.

JIM MICKLE - director

How did you two first meet?

I met Nick on a student film almost 10 years ago. I was doing lighting for a friend and Nick was playing an ex-con school bus driver. We hung out after the shoot and realized we had the same crazy tastes for movies and filmmakers and over the next few years we pipe dreamed about doing a movie together and working with guys like Tim House (from Mulberry Street) and other friends. Mulberry Street came about out of a mutual desperation to work on our own projects. And now that friendship has led to a pretty potent creative juice and we wind up making these hard to define, hybrid genre movies.

What was your first impression of Nick as an actor?

The first time I saw Nick he was acting in a scene and I was probably stacking sandbags on the side, but I remember thinking "Holy Shit! This guy's the real deal." So many times in the independent film world you see a guy who looks tough or sounds tough but you can tell it's an act, and they're trying really hard to fill a type. With Nick he just is. He's confident as a person and as an actor and he never has to push. Some people do that, but they're bland and no one wants to see them in movies. Nick can be himself, but he's got that great cinematic quality that pulls you in and keeps you watching more.

How did he convince you to play the lead?

He never had to. He wrote it for himself to play, and the cool thing was, it was the least doubtful decision of the whole film for everybody. I remembered being concerned at first that someone would want to put a huge name in that role but once people liked the script and met him for two seconds, the case was closed. He IS Mister.

As Nick wrote the script, did he need to audition; and if not, what was the major selling point for you in using him?

Nick wrote the script, and no he never had to audition. Because it was all born from his mind, I actually had to catch up with him on the character and the world. He was so engulfed in the joy of creating a character, that it was a pleasure to sit back and be a part of the ride. He slept in a tent during the shoot, camped out, carved his own weapons, sewed his own clothes. He made his own leather pants. He spent a few rainy nights sleeping in the car. By the time we started shooting, he was just doing his thing, and we grabbed the camera and just hoped to make it translate to the screen..

Has your collaboration gotten more in tune with a second feature film together?

Absolutely. We also did a short film and teaser trailer for another feature. I remember working with him on set before Mulberry Street and being amazed that someone was as enthusiastic and excited to be creating something as I was. It was like running around in the backyard making films as a kid and forgetting that the rest of the world exists outside of your little movie. By Stake Land, we know what the other guy is looking for, so the only time we need to speak up is if we're violating something in the story, or if we're screwing up a good idea by trying to pull off too many ideas. It's fun to hit that groove with someone.

What would YOU do in a vampire apocalypse?

I'd go to Nick's apartment and watch him go to work.
Check out the team at work in Stake Land, mere hours from now as it premieres at Midnight Madness!

Stake Land Screening times:

Friday September 17 11:59:00 PM RYERSON

Saturday September 18 12:15:00 PM SCOTIABANK THEATRE 4

Sunday September 19 9:00:00 PM AMC 2

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