Stuart Gordon Spotlight: “King of the Ants”

King of the Ants


Welcome back to Misan[trope]y Movie Blog, and the continuing two week spotlight on writer/director Stuart Gordon. Next up is “King of the Ants,” Gordon’s take on the crime thriller genre.

“King of the Ants” is based on a novel by Charlie Higson, who also adapted it into the screenplay used for this film.  The novel has a 3.87/5 star rating on, which is generally pretty solid score. It was his first novel, of which he has currently written over 15, and is rapidly pushing 20.

The cinematography on “King of the Ants” was provided by Mac Ahlberg, one of Stuart Gordon’s most steadfast collaborators, and a man who Gordon affectionately referred to as “The Professor” since their first project together on “Re-Animator.” “King of the Ants” would be their last work together, as Ahlberg would pass away in 2012 at the age of 81.

“King of the Ants” was produced and released by The Asylum, a production company that is now best known for the “Sharknado” films and a long series of “mockbusters,” made to imitate larger-budget contemporary blockbusters to leech off of their secondary market sales. However, back in 2003 The Asylum was a pretty typical b-movie studio, years before they made their name with CGI monster movies and legally dubious imitation flicks.

The music in “King of the Ants” is provided by Bobby Johnston, who also worked on “Edmond” and “Stuck” for Stuart Gordon, making him one of the most consistent elements in Gordon’s more recent film efforts.

The cast of “King of the Ants” includes a handful of recognizable faces, including George Wendt, Daniel Baldwin, and Ron Livingston. The lead was given to a relative unknown in Chris McKenna, who has since popped up in a good number of television roles. The accessory cast includes Lionel Mark Smith (“Edmond,” “Stuck”) and Vernon Wells, who provide some some of the comic relief as enforcers beneath Daniel Baldwin. In the background, you might spot Ian Patrick Williams (“Dolls”) in a small role, similar to his ‘blink-and-you-miss-it’ part in “Re-Animator.”

kingants6 kingants4The story of “King of the Ants” follows a house painter who becomes a low level criminal after a happenstance encounter leads him to consider new professional options. He ultimately kills a federal investigator over a mistaken assassination order, which lands him in hot water with his criminal employers. From there, things get more than a little out of hand, ultimately leading to a climactic, revenge-fueled rampage.

kingants5As with most films backed by The Asylum, “King of the Ants” was released straight to video, meaning it didn’t get a theatrical run. It subsequently didn’t get much attention, but what it got was generally positive. It currently holds a 100% critic score and a 57% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes, as well as a 6.3 rating on IMDb. The critics’ score is a little misleading, given only 9 critic reviews were counted, but that is still undoubtedly solid.

kingants3“King of the Ants” is outside of Stuart Gordon’s usual style, but this film works astoundingly better than either “Edmond” or “The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit” as far as experimentations outside of his comfort zone go. This film is also a little more down to earth and relateable than “Stuck,” but the atmosphere feels very similar. Given what Stuart Gordon’s films have looked like in the 2000s, I can’t help but wonder if he has been trying to have a Cronenberg-esque late career change of style. The two film-makers have always had some similarities, though Cronenberg has certainly accrued more critical acclaim over his career. Whether intentional or not, it is probably a good thing that Gordon has tried some different kinds of movies, though I think his skill set at this point is very well catered to the horror genre over any others at this point. That said, I wouldn’t mind seeing him take on a couple of more thrillers like “Stuck” or “King of the Ants” in the future.

I particularly enjoyed the accessory cast in “King of the Ants”: shockingly, even Daniel Baldwin isn’t too bad here. Ron Livingston is always nice to see, even though he doesn’t get a whole lot of time on screen. However, the person who steals the show the most is probably George Wendt, who leads a sort of motley crew of odd enforcers under Daniel Baldwin.

kingants1As far as negatives go, there was one sequence that really didn’t fly with me. During a sequence where the lead character is being repeatedly hit in the head, a weird nightmare scene pops up periodically. It didn’t really work for me, and it seemed thrown in for the sake of a gross out gag (a grotesque humanoid monster eats its own poop at one point). It just wasn’t necessary in any way for the film, particularly given how realistic and harsh the rest of the violence was in the movie. Also, given how low-budget this film was, I can’t help but wonder if the money spent on those effects could have been used better elsewhere.

There is arguably an issue with the main character not behaving like the average Joe he is supposed to be. Personally, I think he just declines rapidly in regards to his morality, and is not a character that you are supposed to be behind or supporting by the end of the film. I do think that a couple of staged of his moral degradation were missed, but the audience also isn’t exactly privy to his moral standards when the story starts: we just assume he is an average Joe, because that is what he appears to be.

Probably the biggest issue with “King of the Ants” is the low production quality, which makes it look particularly cheap. Oddly, even when working on a shoestring budget, this is an issue Stuart Gordon hasn’t ever had before. However, if “King of the Ants” had the production quality of either “Stuck” or “Edmond,” it would be one of his best films without a doubt. It might be a petty criticism, but appearance matters in a visual medium, and I have to dock it some points for its lackluster presentation.

kingants7Overall, I thought that “King of the Ants” was a pretty solid flick, particularly for a movie coming out of The Asylum. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to people despite its handful of flaws, because it mostly makes up for the problems that arise. I definitely wish that the production quality was higher, but it is still entertaining and impressive in spite of that issue.

Stuart Gordon Spotlight: “Re-Animator”



Welcome back to Misan[trope]y Movie Blog’s two week spotlight on the works and career of Stuart Gordon! Today, I’m taking a look at the most acclaimed and beloved of Stuart Gordon’s movies, 1985’s cult classic “Re-Animator.”

“Re-Animator” marked the first film directing work for Stuart Gordon, and was additionally the first writing collaboration for Gordon and Dennis Paoli, which would prove to be a long-running partnership. A third writing partner was present in William Norris, who never worked on any other films.

Before “Re-Animator,” Stuart Gordon was working for the Organic Theater Company in Chicago. He noticed that many of his actors were doing movies, and decided he wanted to try his hand at one as well. He decided to go with the horror genre because of the low budget required, and the generally high profitability of genre movies.

The source material, “Herbert West: Re-Animator” by H. P. Lovecraft, was published in parts over multiple issues of “Weird Tales” magazine. It was long out of print when Stuart Gordon got the idea of doing a movie, meaning that in order to read it, he had to request access to an original copy in the Chicago Public Library. The movie essentially “re-animated” the story from obscurity, and renewed popular interest in Lovecraft’s works.

reanimator1The screenplay of the “Re-Animator” film differs greatly from the content of “Herbert West: Re-Animator.” Ultimately, the original story only provided the characters and some details for the screenplay, which significantly altered the plot to make it more cinematic.

Brian Yuzna and Bob Greenberg both acted as producers on the picture, and would go on to collaborate extensively with Stuart Gordon on future projects. Yuzna even helmed two sequels to “Re-Animator”: “Bride of Re-Animator” in 1989, and “Beyond Re-Animator” in 2003.

The cinematography on “Re-Animator” was provided by Mac Ahlberg, who would go on to frequently collaborate with Stuart Gordon on films like “Dolls,” “Robot Jox,” and “The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit.” A handful of shots were completed by Robert Ebinger, who was dismissed after only a week of shooting on the behest of Charles Band, whose Empire Pictures was backing the movie.

The music on “Re-Animator,” which drew significant influence from the score of “Psycho,” was composed by Richard Band, brother of Charles Band and ultimately a frequent member of Stuart Gordon’s movie team.

The effects on “Re-Animator” were all done as simply as possible to keep the budget low, meaning that no optical special effects were used. There are a number of shots that appear to be done with special effects, but were actually executed with the creative use of lighting, camera angles, and practical effects. It has been estimated that the production used 30 gallons of take blood in total, which was used creatively in tandem with raw meat to do most of the gore in the film. Stuart Gordon has a fantastic quote about the use of cheap effects, taken from the “Re-Animator” DVD commentary:

“The audience will accept very simple special effects if they like the story and are involved.”


The cast of “Re-Animator” features a handful of actors who would return to work with Stuart Gordon again in the future. Of course, Jeffrey Combs leads the way as Herbert West, who would become one of the most consistent figures in Stuart Gordon’s later films. Barbara Crampton later popped up in “From Beyond” and “Castle Freak,” and Robert Sampson appeared in 1989’s “Robot Jox.” Bruce Abbott returned for the first sequel to the film, but never reunited with Stuart Gordon on any of his later movies. David Gale would unfortunately die only a few years after “Re-Animator,” though he also appeared in Yuzna’s sequel, “Bride of Re-Animator.”

A number of notable actors appear in the background of “Re-Animator,” such as Stuart Gordon’s wife, Carolyn Purdy-Gordon, as an ER doctor. The first reanimated corpse is played by Peter Kent, who is best known as a frequent stunt double and stand in for Arnold Schwarzenegger in films like “The Terminator,” “Total Recall,” “The Running Man,” “Predator,” “Last Action Hero,” and “Jingle All The Way.” Also in the background is Ian Patrick Williams, a member of the Organic Theater in Chicago with Gordon at the time, who would later appear in the Stuart Gordon films “Dolls” and “Robot Jox.”

“Re-Animator” follows the story of a medical student who becomes embroiled in experimentation on the re-animation of corpses after a mysterious new student transfers into the school and leases a room in his home. This relationship winds up causing significant problems for the pair as they are forced to butt heads with the school administration and simultaneously have to deal with the violent, erratic behavior of their creations.

reanimator4Notably, the creative team behind “Re-Animator” decided to release the movie unrated after getting an NC-17 from Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) rating board. Amazingly, the movie still managed to get advertised widely and booked in theaters, a major accomplishment for a film without a stamp of approval from the MPAA, and something that is unlikely to happen nowadays.

The infamously radiant reanimation fluid used in the film was made up of a chemical mixture used for certain kinds of road flairs, and was apparently highly toxic. Given the short life span of its luminosity, it had to be frequently replaced in order to maintain a consistent glow from shot to shot.

reanimator2All of the dead bodies were meticulously made up based on professional input from forensic pathologists in the Chicago area. Specifically, the coloration of the makeup was done using direct comparisons to actual autopsy photos of corpses. The vivid coloration on the bodies is meant to imitate the actual coloration effects that occur after death.

The humor in “Re-Animator” was something that wasn’t initially planned, but has wound up being a defining aspect of the film. Stuart Gordon has said that it was added in party due to his experiences working with forensic pathologists while doing research for the film, noting that they had some of the darkest senses of humor of any people he had ever met. In many ways, this integration of humor into horror influenced what would eventually define Stuart Gordon’s style. Here is another relevant quote from the director about what he learned about humor and horror from making “Re-Animator”:

“Laughter is the antidote for fear…you can build tension and then relieve it with laughter…but if you do both at the same time they cancel each other out.”

“Re-Animator” interestingly used many of the same locations and crew as “The Terminator.” The movie was eventually screened for Arnold Schwarzenegger himself, on the recommendation of his body double, who plays the first revived corpse in “Re-Animator.” Arnold apparently loved it, enough so that he later recommended Stuart Gordon for the directing job on “Fortress.”

The inclusion of the “laser drill” in the movie was a bit of science fiction when “Re-Animator” was made, but today laser surgery is standard practice in medicine in general, and specifically in autopsies (as is depicted in the film).

The most infamous scene in the movie is undoubtedly the decapitated head attempted rape sequence, and is perhaps the most uncomfortable thing Stuart Gordon has ever filmed. The original actress cast for Barbara Crampton’s role apparently dropped out due to the inclusion of the scene, and it caused David Gale’s wife to walk out of an early screening of the movie in shock.


“Re-Animator” was highly regarded by critics at the time, and still holds an impressive 94% Rotten Tomatoes critical aggregate rating. Audiences have been a little less receptive to the film, giving is a 7.3 on IMDb and a 82% on Rotten Tomatoes, but it is regarded as both a horror classic and a cult classic regardless.

Personally, I think that one of the most fantastic aspects of “Re-Animator” is the ending, in which Bruce Abbot’s character revives Barbara Crampton over a black screen, with only the reanimating agent in a syringe visible. It then closes on an iconic scream from Crampton. I have mentioned this ending before, way back when I covered Uwe Boll’s “House of the Dead,” which manages to botch a very similar concept for the ending.

“Re-Animator” is now regarded as a classic of the horror genre, and has influenced many other films since its release. On top of the eventual sequels, “Re-Animator” also inspired a musical adaptation, which was apparently pretty highly acclaimed.

Overall, “The Re-Animator” is more than deserving of the reputation that it has garnered. The effects are fantastic, the performances are great, and it has set the tone for the careers of both Stuart Gordon and star Jeffrey Combs. It is a must watch for horror movie fans, b-movie aficionados, and arguably film buffs in general. For fans of the genre, this is a thoroughly enjoyable movie.

However, I think it is hit-or-miss for people not already ingratiated into the genre: particularly, the infamous “head” sequence is likely to turn a subset of people off who might otherwise enjoy the movie. As effective as the scene is at disturbing the audience and drawing a reaction, that has to be weighed against the potential for the effect to turn people away: you want an audience to cringe and turn their head, but you don’t want to go so far as to push them out the door.

So, as far as a recommendation goes, it is an emphatic ‘yes’ for horror fans, and an indecisive ‘maybe’ for general audiences, with a clear caveat of the content that pops up in the film. If you think you can handle it, give the film a shot.

Stuart Gordon Spotlight: “The Black Cat”

The Black Cat


Welcome back to Misan[trope]y Movie Blog! Next up in the two week spotlight of Stuart Gordon is his 2007 installment in the “Masters of Horror” television program: “The Black Cat.”

“The Black Cat” takes story beats and details from a short story of the same name by Edgar Allan Poe, and blends them with details of the author/poet’s personal life, playing with the idea that he had difficulty differentiating reality from his dark imagination. This peculiar adaptation was co-written by Dennis Paoli and Stuart Gordon, the writing pair behind “Re-Animator,” “Dagon,” “From Beyond,” “Castle Freak,” and a previous Poe adaptation of the short story “The Pit and The Pendulum.”

The characterization of Edgar Allan Poe in “The Black Cat,” while incorporating a handful of true details (his wife’s consumption, for instance), is certainly highly fictionalized to suit the needs of the story. There are also a few elements that clearly send up to Paoli and Gordon’s previous work, most notably the eponymous black cat itself. “Re-Animator,” their most famous collaboration, features a notable segment with a zombie cat puppet who attacks Jeffrey Combs (who plays Poe here), which seems to be lampooned throughout this adaptation of “The Black Cat,” something that I definitely appreciated.

blackcat7“Masters of Horror,” the television program which produced and aired “The Black Cat,” assembled various horror directorial and writing icons to create hour-long original works to comprise the show. It ran for two seasons on the Showtime premium channel from 2005-2007, during which time Stuart Gordon contributed two episodes: “The Black Cat” and “Dreams In The Witch House.”

The cast is led by long-time Stuart Gordon contributor Jeffrey Combs, who plays the famed author and poet Edgar Allan Poe. He would later take up playing Poe on stage as well, in the one-man play “Nevermore…An Evening With Edgar Allan Poe” which saw wide acclaim, running in 2009 and 2010.

blackcat6The rest of the cast includes Elyse Levesque of “Stargate Universe,” Aron Tager of “You Kill Me” and “Billable Hours,” character actor Patrick Gallagher, Christopher Heyerdahl of “Hell on Wheels” and the “Twilight” movie series, and Eric Keenleyside, perhaps best known for the film adaptation of Stephen King’s “Dreamcatcher.”

The story of “The Black Cat” follows Edgar Allan Poe as he deals with his alcoholism, writer’s block, and the slow disintegration of his wife’s health. As everything around him begins to fall apart, he begins to believe that his wife’s black cat has cursed them, and is the source of their troubles. He then takes a series of increasingly drastic actions.

Personally, I thought Jeffrey Combs was pretty fantastic playing E. A. Poe. However, the writing on this is far from ideal: it tries to meld aspects of both Poe’s personal life and the original short story of “The Black Cat,” and the result is just a tad strange for those familiar with the sources.

blackcat2The whole film of “The Black Cat” has a greyed, desaturated look to it that I am sure was meant to give it a dark, aged appearance. It did help to make the blood stand out, but I thought it was a little bit overdone, and that it should have been toned down a little bit. It ultimately served to mute all of the details, which didn’t do the movie any favors.

blackcat4I really like a lot of the shots, but the whole thing doesn’t come together quite as well as I had hoped. In comparison to “Dreams In The Witch House,” Stuart Gordon’s other contribution to “Masters of Horror,” this doesn’t feel like as complete of a work. Even though Jeffrey Combs is fantastic in the lead role, he isn’t able to cover for the weaknesses of the story. I actually think that this is a rare case where the original source material would have been better off with less alterations. This would have meant that Poe himself wouldn’t be included, but I think that the faux-biopic aspect of the film is part of what muddies it so much, and causes it to lose focus. Having Poe as a book-ending mechanism might have worked out, but I think taking Occam’s razor to the script would have been the best method to correct the issues with the story.

I still like “The Black Cat” as a film. It has some really enjoyable moments, mostly powered by Combs, and it is certainly better than what you would typically find in television horror. It also well represents Stuart Gordon’s style, more so than most of his more recent work, which is really fun to see. As far as recommendations go, despite my criticisms, this gets pretty solid approval from me for entertainment value. It certainly could have been executed better, but the ultimate result is certainly entertaining, and that isn’t a result to be argued with.


Stuart Gordon Spotlight: “Dagon”



Welcome back to Misan[trope]y Movie Blog’s two week spotlight on writer/director Stuart Gordon! Next up is 2001’s “Dagon,” which sees Gordon dive back in to the Cthulhu mythos of H. P. Lovecraft.

“Dagon” is a loose adaptation of H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Shadow Over Innsmouth,” the only one of his works to be published as an independent book (as opposed to a section of a magazine) in his lifetime, with a whopping printing of 200 units. The film adaptation changes some major details from the story, most notably the location (from New England to Spain), and the nature of the creatures (from frog-like to octopus-like).

“Dagon” once again reunited Dennis Paoli and Stuart Gordon on what would be one of their longest-running projects (taking over 15 years to ultimately see to the screen). Paoli took sole writing credit on “Dagon,” which was unusual given how often the two have acted as writing partners. “Dagon” was initially written to be made as a follow-up to “Re-Animator” in the 1980s, and was intended to have Jeffrey Combs in the lead. However, for a handful of reasons, “From Beyond” ultimately got precedence, putting “Dagon” on the back-burner for what wound up being well over a decade.

The cinematography on “Dagon” was provided by Carlos Suarez, an acclaimed Spanish cinematographer who has been working since the 1960s, but has never really branched outside of his home country.

The music on “Dagon,” which is only used sparingly in the film, was composed by Carles Cases, another Spanish member of the crew who has never particularly branched outside the world of Spanish-language cinema.

The special effects on “Dagon” were provided by DDT, an acclaimed Spanish special effects outfit that has worked on films such as “Hellboy” and “Pan’s Labyrinth,” where their skill in creating creatures has been excellently showcased.

A number of members of the production design and art team from “Dagon” would later work with producer Brian Yuzna on “Beyond Re-Animator,” the second of two dubious sequels to Stuart Gordon’s initial 1985 adaptation.

The cast of “Dagon” is led by Ezra Godden, who would later reunite with Stuart Gordon years later for “Dreams in the Witch House.” The British actor modeled his character of Paul on a combination of Woody Allen and Harold Lloyd, creating a sort of oddly comic and out of place protagonist. The cast also features the acclaimed Spanish actor Francisco (Paco) Rabal in one of his last on-screen performances before his death, as well as the first film role for actress Macarena Gomez.

dagon3 dagon7The story of “Dagon” follows four Americans  on a boating vacation, where they suddenly and mysteriously become shipwrecked just off of the Atlantic coast of Spain. In their search for medical help on shore, it quickly becomes clear that they have stumbled upon a peculiar and hostile village with a number of hidden secrets.

In the DVD commentary for “Dagon,” both Dennis Paoli and Stuart Gordon mention the concept of the story being a “battle of the gods.” Dagon was not just an invention of Lovecraft, it was based on a fish-god of the same name mentioned in the Old Testament as being the deity over the Philistines. Appropriately, there are a number of sequences showing conflict between Christianity and the Dagon-worshippers: notably, an extensive flashback sequence that depicts the revolution of the town from being Catholic to following the sea-god Dagon.

Apparently, Stuart Gordon was worried that there would be issues with finding Spanish extras willing to desecrate Christian symbols for this sequence. Hilariously, the cast and crew were more than happy to oblige, and reportedly destroyed all of the spares  off-screen as well, claiming it was therapeutic.

The intersecting crescents “eye” symbol for Dagon was developed specifically for this film

Stuart Gordon and Dennis Paoli include a number of small details throughout “Dagon” that become more noticeable upon re-watching the film. For instance, none of the native islanders are ever shown blinking, a detail pulled from the source material that is meant to point to their “fishy-ness.” There are also a number of repeated phrases and actions on the part of Paul: he frequently mentions “two possibilities,” and is often faced with dichotomies throughout the film. Paul is also shown experiencing stomach pain, which becomes more intense and pronounced as the film goes on. Ultimately, the source of the pain is revealed to be a set of gills that have developed around his ribs. Personally, I would think that the sensation of growing gills would differ a little bit from a stomach cramp, but I have also never experienced a transformation into a fish-person.

Those with a keen eye will notice that the Godden’s character of Paul wears a sweatshirt throughout the film bearing the name “Miskatonic University.” That fictitious school features prominently throughout Lovecraft’s works, and is directly featured in Stuart Gordon’s previous Lovecraft film adaptation, “Re-Animator.”

“Dagon” reportedly had a total budget of 4.2 million euros, a total that it didn’t even come close to meeting in a limited Spanish theatrical run. The movie currently holds a 6.3 rating on IMDb, and has Rotten Tomatoes scores of 56% from both audiences and critics, a rare case of consensus. No matter how you cut it, “Dagon” was not a successful feature.

Criticisms that I have seen of the movie have claimed that it was too specifically catered to fans of Lovecraft, while others have claimed that despite its attempts, it proves that Lovecraft’s style simply can’t be adapted to film in a way that is simultaneously successful and faithful.

Personally, I have a few issues with the film, but none of them specifically relate to the adaptation. I think that the changes made by Paoli were sensible, and that there is nothing inherently prohibitive about this story that would prevent it from making a good movie. Hell, I think Stuart Gordon came pretty close here to having one of his best films.

Unfortunately, there are definitely issues with “Dagon.” First off, Ezra Godden’s Woody Allen act is just distracting, and completely fails to extract any laughs. Worse yet, his development into a hero seems to happen inexplicably, and his final twist even moreso. I could see exactly how Jeffrey Combs might have managed this character, and if things had turned out different, I think he could have nailed it. Godden struggles to convey intensity, and never seems genuinely terrified. Combs has an ability to portray those things, while also pulling off a side of humor. Godden tried to do that, but he doesn’t have the same kind of balancing capabilities or the comedic chops to do so. While none of the performances were outstanding (Gomez was also distractingly awful at times), no one had the same amount of screentime or responsibility as Godden, and he just couldn’t keep it all together.

dagon1dagon4Apparently, there was some internal debate on the production over whether or not Dagon should be shown in the conclusion. There were a handful of poor decisions here that wound up just about sinking the movie for me. First, Gordon relented, and allowed Dagon to be shown on screen at all. Second, Dagon was depicted solely with low-budget, 2001 CGI. Third, CGI was used inexplicably and interchangeably with (really good) practical effects throughout the film. Computer generated special effects, with rare exception, age horribly, and that is absolutely the case with “Dagon.” Worse yet, there was no reason to have a full shot of a giant monster at all in this movie: Lovecraftian horror is atmospheric, and relies a lot on what you don’t see, and I believe Stuart Gordon knows that. This movie could have been pulled off with only a glancing shot of Dagon (“Cabin in the Woods”,  “Cloverfield”) or just by showing the results of his actions. However, I think I understand why that decision was ultimately made.

dagon6 Seriously, the practical effects look ok

“Dagon” was a low-budget production, and in 2001, I imagine the computer effects featured were expensive. For whatever reason, it was decided at some point in the production that certain aspects of the film needed CGI. My guess is that the effects shop pushed it, and showed off the capabilities of their CGI department, and maybe even cut the production a good deal. At that point, I imagine the “in for a penny, in for a pound” logic took over, and decisions were made to get everything possible out of the money that was sunk into the effects. Thus, we get a number of CGI shots that look awful now, but were probably impressive then, including Dagon himself. Regardless of what the logic was, it still looks awful, and cheapens the look of the movie as a whole. Those kind of missteps are like a pin in a balloon for me, and can sink my opinion of a pretty good movie pretty quickly.

Overall, “Dagon” is not one of my favorites in Stuart Gordon’s filmography by a long-shot. There are a lot of things I like about it: the location, the monster designs, and the practical effects, for instance. However, the moments of poor CG just about spoil the whole thing for me, and most of the acting is really disappointing (or at worst, grating). There is a general lack of genuine intensity, and the whole movie feels hollow for it. If this movie had happened in the late 1980s with Jeffrey Combs (and probably Barbara Crampton, I would assume), I’m sure that the result would have been stronger on all fronts. Not only would the cast have been more capable, but the option and temptation of adding the extensive computer generated effects wouldn’t have been there due to technological and financial constraints. Worst case scenario, they would have attempted a practical solution to include Dagon at the end of the movie anyway, and I would be willing to bet that it would still look better (and certainly age better) than what made it onto the screen in 2001.

I’m saying they sacrificed the film’s quality

All of that said, “Dagon” is still a pretty fun horror movie, and doesn’t deserve the generally scathing reviews that it garnered. The upsides are very strong, and there is certainly some entertainment value to the movie. “Dagon” is worth giving a shot, but I wouldn’t put it on the top of my Stuart Gordon list by any means.

Stuart Gordon Spotlight: “Edmond”



Welcome back to the Misan[trope]y Movie Blog! Next up in the two-week spotlight on Stuart Gordon is the 2005 film “Edmond,” a controversial David Mamet thriller starring William H. Macy.

“Edmond” features no significant writing contribution from Gordon, making it one of the few of his movies that he didn’t at least have a hand in writing. It was adapted by the acclaimed stage and screen writer David Mamet (“Glengarry Glen Ross,” “Wag The Dog,” “The Untouchables”) who wrote the original stage play in the 1980s. The violent tale of mental breakdown was written while he was going through a divorce, a fact that shouldn’t be surprising given how it portrays marriage.

As strange as the duo of Stuart Gordon and David Mamet may seem, they worked together previously on the play “Sexual Perversity in Chicago,” and came up together in the theater scene in Chicago. So, interestingly, there is precedent for the pairing.

The cinematography on “Edmond” was done by Denis Maloney, who would later rejoin Stuart Gordon for the 2007 movie “Stuck.” Despite the other issues with the film, I thought the cinematography here was generally fantastic, and one of the more memorable aspects of the film.

edmond4The fantastic musical score to “Edmond” was composed by Bobby Johnston, who also provided the music for “Wristcutters: A Love Story.” He worked with Stuart Gordon on a couple of other films, namely 2003’s “King of the Ants” and 2007’s “Stuck.” The jazzy, noir-esque score is almost certainly one of the most notable aspects of the film, and does a good job building up the atmosphere over the course of the story.

“Edmond” features production design from Alan E. Muraoka, who has worked on films like “Little Miss Sunshine,” “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective,” and “Loaded Weapon 1.” Set decoration was provided by Kris Fuller, who is currently attached to Kevin Smith’s upcoming “Yoga Hosers,” and has also worked on films as diverse as “The Cell” and the Blue Collar Comedy team’s “Delta Farce.” In spite of their primarily comedic backgrounds, the sets, locations, and visuals all look pretty fantastic and appropriate for the film.

The cast on “Edmond” features a score of recognizable faces: a mixture of both acclaimed actors and Stuart Gordon faithfuls. At the top of the stack is William H. Macy as the title character, Joe Mantegna, Denise Richards, Julia Stiles, Dule Hill, and Dylan Walsh. Among the Stuart Gordon gang who show up are Jeffrey Combs (“Re-Animator,” “From Beyond,” “Castle Freak,” “Fortress”), Debi Mazar (“Space Truckers”), George Wendt (“Space Truckers”), and Lionel Mark Smith (“King of the Ants,” “Stuck”), who also acted as a co-producer on the film.

edmond6“Edmond” is the story of a man having an abrupt and explosive mental breakdown. It is sparked off by an unplanned visit to a tarot reader, which then leads him to leave his wife, attempt to hire a prostitute, and ultimately commit a number of acts of violence by the end of the story.

edmond2The film adaptation of “Edmond” took years to get off the ground, primarily due to issues of securing funding given the numerous controversial elements to the story. Alec Baldwin and Gary Oldman were both at one point rumored to be attached to the project as the title character. Amazingly, it took so long to see the screenplay come to life that David Mamet had to update the pricing on the prostitutes once the film was finally a go.

According to Stuart Gordon, the entire movie was completed over 16 days of filming. However, filming was only done after over a month of intense rehearsals with the actors to nail the details of their performances down.

The reception for “Edmond” was not exactly positive (outside of opinions of William H. Macy’s performance, which was received well). The film currently holds an IMDb rating of 6.3, and Rotten Tomato scores of 45% (audience) and 46% (critics). The budget of “Edmond” was rumored to be $10 million, of which it only made less than a quarter of a million back in its theatrical run, making it a significant financial failure.

“Edmond” is almost certainly the most out of left field work by Stuart Gordon, as it is nothing like anything else he has done on screen. It does try to have a slight humor in spite of the subject matter, something that Gordon is usually good at pulling off in horror, but it doesn’t really work here. Everything about the film just feels excessively weighted down, to the point that no attempts at humor are going to lighten the mood.

edmond3Criticisms of “Edmond” have run the gamut: many have taken issues with the explicit racism and homophobia in the story, while others have just claimed that the film is just too boring or needlessly weighted down with heavy dialogue.

Personally, I think that the racism and homophobia makes sense for the Edmond’s character, and I don’t think the story at all excuses his actions or opinions. However, the prison rape in the film struck me as unnecessary, and even cliched and lazy from a writing point of view. It almost felt like this was supposed to act as a perverse retribution for his actions, and provide the audience with some sort of satisfaction. Personally, I think that’s the kind of thing that is low for the lowest-brow of comedies, and certainly doesn’t fit in here. It also sorts out very unrealistically in the conclusion, with Macy’s character seemingly satisfied with his new life in prison.

A couple of review blurbs that I saw resonated with my initial feelings after first watching the film. Specifically, they compared “Edmond” to “Falling Down,” but without the energy and drive of that film. “Edmond” is really quite similar, given the character’s intolerance, anger, and ‘snapped’ state. However, “Falling Down” is perhaps a bit less sophisticated, but is also much more fun to watch given its quicker pace and tighter plot.

edmond5Something I did like about “Edmond” was the use of tarot cards, which was apparently a detail specific to the film. I think it was a pretty good addition, as the tarot cards are at once colorful, visual, and more symbolic than the original triggering mechanism, which was a palm reading.

As far as criticisms of the dialogue go, I think it is a bit excessive, but it is still Mamet dialogue, and sounds very organic despite its rigid scripting. There is just not enough happening in the story to make it really compelling, which is partially Mamet’s style and partially because the play was only one act to start with.

Overall, “Edmond” isn’t quite a good movie. If you are fan of David Mamet, this is probably up your alley, but I don’t think general audiences would ultimately get much out of it. Even less likely to enjoy this flick are Stuart Gordon fans: this just isn’t the Stuart Gordon product that people have come to expect, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I’m not going to fault him for trying something new by any means, but this film is definitely not catered for the same audience that he has historically served.

“Edmond” is not a good movie, a bad movie, or a good-bad movie. It exists in the limbo state of mediocrity in film, despite some fantastic performances. There unfortunately isn’t much for me to recommend here, unless you are a fan of David Mamet or William H. Macy, in which case you will get both of them on full display.