A quick glance at Nick Damici’s IMDB.com profile reveals an actor earning a steady paycheck in Hollywood.
That’s no small feat.
But Damici says he’s like any most other actors – “you work, but you don’t work enough.”
“A lot of times I don’t work for months at a time,” Damici says.
So the actor occasionally takes matters into his own hands. Or, rather, his own laptop. Damici co-wrote and starred in the 2006 horror film “Mulberry Street,” and his latest screenplay pumps fresh blood into vampire genre overrun with Tiger Beat actors.
“Stake Land,” out Aug. 2 on Blu-ray and DVD, stars Damici as a brooding vampire killer teaching a teen (Connor Paolo) how to survive the vampire outbreak. The U.S. government has collapsed, and while some simply live to survive, others use existing ideologies to help explain a world gone mad.
Damici co-wrote the script with Jim Mickle, his “Mulberry Street” collaborator. The pair first met doing student films and quickly fell in creative sync.
“Stake Land” was envisioned as a web series about a veteran vampire slayer and his raw protégé.
“We were looking for something we can do cheap and on the side,” Damici recalls. Producer/director Larry Fessenden read what Damici and Mickle had written and thought it belonged on the big screen.
A nip and a few tucks later, and “Stake Land” was born.
Damici based his character, simply called Mister, on one of John Wayne’s legendary films.
“’The Searchers’ is John Wayne’s best performance, by far,” he says. “Making Mister an enigma was a big thing for me, not letting him ever show kindness to the kid, and for the kid to grow up with that.”
“We’ve seen this character before, so let’s underplay him. No funny cracks. No superhero stuff. It made him more human. He does take a beating throughout the film … like Batman,” he adds.
“Stake Land” paints a bleak picture of the spiritually minded, making a gaggle of Christian fundamentalists nearly as frightening as the vampires swarming the countryside.
“It’s a personal thing with me. I’m an atheist and I’m not afraid to admit,” says Damici, who adds he was baptized as a Catholic. “I just feel religion has gotten out of hand in every which way … I’m just tired of it.“
“It’s a chance to take a swing at the bigoted religious people,” he says.
“Stake Land” does feature Kelly McGillis in a rare screen performance as a sympathetic nun. Damici included the character to offer a modicum of balance, but he also understands how horror movies allow for social commentary.
“Read Grimm’s Fairy Tales, it’s folk tales wrapped in scary stories,” he says. “They work on a subliminal level. You don’t have to beat [audiences] over the head … films like ’Night of the Living Dead’ stay with you.”
“Stake Land” was shot in two stages, a method which allowed for the characters to appear a little older and more weathered as time passed on screen.
“It gave us that chance to really make it seem a lot more real, give it an epic feel,” he says.
Damici is planning on more joint projects with Mickle, including a long-gestating adaptation of Joe R. Lansdale’s “Cold in July.”
“It’s been in Hollywood hell for five years,” he says.
“Stake Land’s” moody tone and unflinching commentary isn’t something one sees in mainstream horror movies. That’s no accident, Damici says.
Studio horror films feature “too many chiefs in the house,” he says. “Most scripts that come through the studio are written by five or six different writers, and every producer has something to say or change. It’s a formula they’re all trying to find.”
It wasn’t always that way, he says, pointing to mainstream horror classics like “The Omen” and “The Exorcist.”
Independent films operate in a different fashion.
Films made outside the studio system offer “a kind of freedom that allows you to have a voice. Independent films feel more visceral to people,” he says.