Are vampires the new Nazis? You’d think so if you looked at Hollywood’s release roster during the past couple of years. The bloody minded – and mindless – bad guys trying to wipe out the human race aren’t goose-stepping German soldiers; they’re coffin-dwelling, sunlight-hiding minions of the undead.

Are vampires the new Nazis? You’d think so if you looked at Hollywood’s release roster during the past couple of years. The bloody minded – and mindless – bad guys trying to wipe out the human race aren’t goose-stepping German soldiers; they’re coffin-dwelling, sunlight-hiding minions of the undead. And they’ve been prominently displayed in films such as “Twilight,” “Let the Right One In,” “Daybreakers,” “30 Days of Night” and “Priest” (and don’t forget Tim Burton’s upcoming adaptation of the classic TV soap “Dark Shadows”).


In “Stake Land,” horror director Jim Mickle’s newest entry in the field, audiences are invited to spend feverish quality time in post-apocalyptic America, where an outbreak of vampirism has destroyed the economy faster than George W. Bush did, and a handful of heroes are road tripping their way north, across the Canadian border to a possibly mythical, supposedly vampire-free haven they’re calling New Eden.


A lot has gone wrong with the world at the film’s start, with babbling voices on radios talking about plague-like conditions, but never explaining what actually happened. (Useless piece of info: Every voice heard on every radio is that of the director, who had it pitched up and down to sound like different people.) All that’s clear is there’s a bunch of mean, ugly, thirsty fanged creatures lunging around screaming, and that American leaders “ran for it.”


There’s also nice guy Martin (Connor Paolo – Eric on “Gossip Girl”) who’s saved from the monsters by rough and gruff Mister (co-writer Nick Damici), who’s not very talkative, but knows plenty of ways to knock off various vampires (some require a stake to the heart; others have a sweet spot at the base of the skull).


The shell of a plot has Mister and Martin driving around in Mister’s beat-up old convertible. Mister teaches Martin how to both survive and kill, and the car eventually gets a bit crowded from picking up humans they find along the way. They include Belle (Danielle Harris), a pregnant bar singer who does a pretty nice rendition of Lead Belly’s “Black Girl,” and a nun, only known as Sister (Kelly McGillis – yup, that Kelly McGillis, from “Witness”).


Unfortunately, they also meet up with a different sort of bad guy: gun-toting religious nuts calling themselves the Brotherhood, led by the creepy Jebedia (Michael Cerveris – September on “Fringe”). He and his followers seem to think the presence of vampires is a good thing, and a way to – like those folks recently awaiting the Rapture – cleanse the world of sinful humans.


This is a movie that revels in its grimness, though there is opportunity for spots of outlandish humor to peek through. Radio broadcasts are full of negativity, but our heroes do manage to find “pockets of civilization” along the road. One such bright spot is a bar where the house rule is that no one is allowed to discuss religion or politics. Another is in a sort of Wild West town that provides a taste of almost forgotten normalcy.


The creatures are made of unrelenting rage, but Mister – when he’s not viciously dispatching them – manages to stay calm, collected and focused.


The film gives us hordes of hideous vampires, with accolades going to the makeup people. But unlike so many similar movies before it, it shies away from visual effects. We don’t see any vampires get destroyed by sunlight, but we do see the repulsive after-effects of those unlucky ones who were chained outside at night, and left there for the coming dawn.


Things get close to being over the edge with something that passes as a “super vampire.” But Mickle and Damici keep the film grounded in an interesting reality. As things get tougher for our heroes, they don’t just keep bouncing back. They look pretty darn tired.


STAKE LAND (Unrated, but includes rough language and gory violence.) Cast includes  Nick Damici, Connor Paolo, Kelly McGillis. Co-written and directed by Jim Mickle. 2 1/2 stars.