Tag Archives: Stuart Gordon

LIST CANDIDATE: RE-ANIMATOR (1985)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Bruce Abbott, , David Gale, Robert Sampson

PLOT: Things are going well for Dan Cain, a talented third-year student at the prestigious Miskatonic University Medical School, until his advertisement for a roommate is answered by Herbert West, a combative genius who thinks knows he is on the verge of conquering death. After Dan witnesses West’s “re-agent” applied to his erstwhile cat, he becomes enthralled, and things quickly get out of hand when a human test spirals out of control, resulting in murder, kidnapping, and a decapitated nemesis.Still from Re-Animator (1985)

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: Jeffrey Combs brings his A-game with a maniacal-steadfastness as Herbert West as he squares off against would-have-been David Gale—his gaunt(er), sinister(er) adversary. Beyond these two weirdos, there’s the off-kilter combination of gore and humor, best illustrated by the macabre and hilarious romp involving the untimely death and untimely subsequent death of a pet cat.

COMMENTS: Those who read their horror literature know that ‘s work occupies an unfortunate spot on the Venn diagram, trapped in the “hauntingly entertaining” and “fairly unfilmable” intersection. This has not stopped directors from trying, to be sure, but if one were asked to list the top five Lovecraft adaptations, it’d be tough to get as far as the pinky-finger. Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator would be on that list. While his horror-gore-buddy comedy doesn’t strictly adhere to the more sinister original, as a compact update it ticks all the Lovecraft boxes: unsettling, outlandish, macabre, and nihilistic. Somehow, Gordon and his crew add “hilarious” to this otherwise depressing mix, in the process making Re-Animator one of the most popular, memorable, and comical genre films[1] to come from the golden ’80s.

With a movie this brief, efficient storytelling is key. Bam, we meet Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs), brilliant and insane. Bam, we meet Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott), skilled and compassionate. Bam, we meet Doctor Hill (David Gale), determined and fraudulent. West and Cain quickly become housemates, and Cain witnesses West’s genius. West quickly antagonizes Doctor Hill by questioning his academic integrity, setting the scene for nemesis. Lurking on the periphery are the school’s Dean Halsey (Robert Sampson) and his daughter Megan (Barbara Crampton)—their presence instrumental for the various showdowns. Throughout this quick-moving narrative are bunches of what gore-effects people refer to as “gags” (love that term): a re-animated cat, a re-animated strongman, a re-animated academic, a re-animated doctor, and culminating with a re-animated horde. Each step Herbert West takes brings him closer to both his greatest triumph and his organ-strewn downfall. No points if you guessed that Dan Cain ends up taking up the mantle.

Stuart Gordon was a director of an avant-garde theater troupe, and Continue reading LIST CANDIDATE: RE-ANIMATOR (1985)

  1. Though the term is disapproved of by some, I’ll use “genre film” until I stumble across a comparably brief mental short-hand. []

CAPSULE: FROM BEYOND (1986)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Barbara Crampton, Ted Sorel, Ken Foree

PLOT: A pair of mad scientists develop a device that activates the dormant human pineal gland, allowing them access to “the beyond.”

From Beyond (1986)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: From Beyond is a solid little cult-y 1980s B-horror, but it just barely cracks the “weird” barrier. As wild as it seems when Jeffrey Combs is running around with a penile pineal gland waving from his forehead, in terms of strangeness, Beyond is a dim echo of Gordon’s prior Lovecraftian update, Re-Animator (1985).

COMMENTS: Let’s just get this out of the way first: From Beyond has to be the pinkest horror movie ever made. I don’t know what the Beyond is like, but based on the light that streams from its world into ours when the barrier between the two is breached, I am guessing that it’s a gay disco. An aquatic gay disco, since those who come over from the other side are wet and glistening, and the native inhabitants, whom you can see floating around our dimension once your pineal gland has been stimulated, look like eels and jellyfish. To From Beyond‘s credit, this crazy coral color scheme works; because we’ve never seen gooey monsters from beyond flushed by a hot pink incandescence before, it’s genuinely abnormal. Lots of things about From Beyond are abnormal, in fact, like the pineal-irradiating Resonator made from a couple of giant tuning forks and one of those plasma balls you can buy from Spencer’s gifts. Or Jeffrey Combs, somehow zombified after his hair has been sucked off by a giant worm, slurping people’s brains out through their eyeballs (what’s his motivation?) Or the evil pink blob-head from Beyond using his psychic powers to convince Barbara Crampton to don a skintight black leather corset and matching thong (I think I understand his motivation). From Beyond finds a near perfect tone for this sort of material. It’s completely absurd, but it always takes itself seriously, trusting the audience to sort out the humor from the horror without big signs pointing at the jokes. Shamelessly made to capitalize on the success of 1985’s Re-Animator, From Beyond is another modernized, R-rated H.P. Lovecraft adaptation with nerdy Combs as an apprentice mad scientist and sexy Barbara Crampton as the love interest (Crampton and Combs were the Bogie and Bacall of slime-spewing, boundary-pushing mid-1980s H.P. Lovecraft adaptations). Here, Crampton is given a larger and more serious role as a criminal psychiatrist whose obsession with the strange case turns her into something of a mad scientist herself—although she still provides plenty of eye-candy once she lets her hair out of that bun and ditches the glasses and buttoned-up-to-her-chin blouse. Combs is a competent actor, but there’s not much to his character here. Gordon had not yet figured out that this actor is wasted unless he’s playing some variation of Herbert West, a malevolent nerd with a God complex, rather than just some good-natured schlub in a Miskatonic U. T-shirt. Although From Beyond pales a bit in comparison to its immediate predecessor—and it would have taken a miracle to recreate Re-Animator‘s mix of carnage, black comedy and general outrageousness—this one is still a good time for horror fans looking for cheap thrills delivered with otherworldly panache.

Shout! Factory’s new From Beyond release on its Scream! Factory sub-label ports over all the special features from the old MGM edition (including the commentary with Gordon, Combs, Crampton, and producer ) and adds several new interviews, along with a second commentary from scriptwriter Dennis Paoli, who reads some of Lovecraft’s original story. This “Collector’s Edition” is available in a DVD/Blu-ray combo pack only (neither format is currently being sold separately).

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…lacks the single-minded weirdness of Gordon’s first film, but it does establish him in the tradition of Hollywood horror directors who really try – directors including James Whale, Tod Browning and Roger Corman.”–Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: EDMOND (2005)

DIRECTED BY: Stuart Gordon

FEATURING: William H. Macy

PLOT:  A latently racist and mentally addled accountant leaves his wife, spends

edmond (2005)

an impossibly long night touring the NYC commercial sex trade and meeting lost souls, and finally ends up in prison.


WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LISTEdmond isn’t so much weird as terminally confused.  It’s true foreboding Tarot cards keep popping up in impossible places, that Macy’s wild night out is almost impossibly long so the script can fit in all the necessary episodes, and that it’s extremely odd that the prison wardens would march new meat past inmates’ cells in the buff.  Still, even with these departures from reality, the movie still doesn’t seem in-your-bones weird so much as it feels like the author (playwright David Mamet) is trying to force events into a meaningful symbolic line, but failing to communicate that meaning to his audience. 

COMMENTSEdmond is only for William H. Macy fans and for those who equate vagueness with profundity.  Macy creates some interest, though no sympathy, through his performance as a sad sack salaryman who thinks he’s found a temporary fix for existential bafflement by tapping into his tribal bloodlust.  After whoremongering, assaulting women and minorities, threatening old churchgoing ladies, and other more serious crimes, he finds himself under arrest.  In prison he’s forcibly stripped of his recently adopted macho facade, and spends his time in stammering attempts to articulate some profound philosophy of life (“every fear hides a wish”).  Unfortunately, Macy wanders through a script that doesn’t know what to make of Edmond any more than Edmond himself does.  Those recurring Tarot cards and the closing monologue suggest that it was all just fate anyway, and Edmond’s search for meaning and the choices he made never made a difference.  In the end, all that happens is we passively witness an inexplicable tragedy happen to an unlikeable man.

Although Edmond‘s angry white male sociopath seems like a faded nth-generation variation of Michael Douglas’ D-Fens from Falling Down (1993), Mamet’s original play was actually written during the first term of the Reagan administration.  The concept of the angry white male (who Democrats theorized jumped the fence to get Reagan elected) would have had more resonance in that era.  That theory may also explain why Edmond is named after Edmund Burke, the Irish philosopher/statesman who is looked upon as the father of modern conservatism.  Maybe that explains why both the character Edmond and the movie Edmond seem strange and unmotivated to us today, viewing the film in a different political context.  It also demonstrates why writers should not write to their times (or, at least, should not resurrect old pieces without revising them).

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a surreal spiritual fable that riffs on a notion voiced by Edmond that every fear hides a wish. Mr. Mamet shows no interest in offering a tidy psychological explanation for Edmond’s behavior. Hurled at you like a knife, the movie is as reasonable as a panic attack.”–Stephen Holden, The New York Times (contemporaneous)