Category Archives: Stuart Gordon Spotlight

Works from writer/director Stuart Gordon

Stuart Gordon Spotlight: “Re-Animator”

Re-Animator

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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.”

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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.

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“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.

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Stuart Gordon Spotlight: “The Black Cat”

The Black Cat

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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”

Dagon

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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”

Edmond

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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.

Stuart Gordon Spotlight: “Fortress”

Fortress

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Welcome back to Misan[trope]y Movie Blog! Next up in the two week Stuart Gordon spotlight is “Fortress,” a 1992 Australian sci-fi flick starring the Highlander himself, Christopher Lambert.

“Fortress” marks one of the rare occasions where Stuart Gordon didn’t have any writing credit: he strictly directed “Fortress.” That is probably a good thing, because judging from the listed credits, there were already plenty of writers involved with the screenplay.

The initial story of “Fortress” is credited to both Troy Neighbors and Steven Feinberg, who share an initial screenplay credit with a third collaborator, David Venable. Following that, there were apparently re-writes done by Terry Curtis Fox, a scarce television writer who shares an additional (but separate) writing credit on the film. Judging by how the gymnastics sometimes go regarding writing credits on films, I wouldn’t be shocked to learn that plenty more hands were involved as well, but were left off of the final listing. I would be even less surprised to learn of some phantom writer on the project given the combined inexperienced of all of the listed writers involved.

The cinematography on “Fortress” was provided by David Eggby, a particularly well-regarded director of photography in Australia, who has extensive work on sci-fi features such as “Mad Max” and “Pitch Black” to his name.

Frédéric Talgorn returned to do the music on “Fortress” after contributing the excellent score to a previous Stuart Gordon movie, “Robot Jox.” Despite not being quite as memorable as the one he did for “Robot Jox,” the score to “Fortress” is certainly good, though perhaps unremarkable.

“Fortress” was distributed by Miramax’s Dimension Films in the United States, which was Bob Weinstein’s sub-division of the highly successful company. Dimension has historically focused on high profit-potential horror and sci-fi films, and “Fortress” was no exception. Interestingly, the Weinstein brothers retained the Dimension label when they ultimately jettisoned Miramax, and incorporated it into the current powerhouse that is the Weinstein Company today.

There is a lot to say about the effects in “Fortress.” There is certainly lots of gore and squibs to go around, which pushes the cheese limit on the flick. In particular, there’s a sequence where a guy has his entire stomach blown out, to the point where there is a complete and perfect hole that he can put his hand through. I’m pretty sure that was a gag in “Kung Pow: Enter the Fist,” which puts “Fortress” at the Rubicon of turning into self-parody. In spite of that, it never quite crosses that river in such a way as to lose the audience entirely, at least not in my opinion.

fortress7Something absolutely worth noting about “Fortress” is that the cyborgs and gadgets all look pretty damn cool, and fit in fantastically with the general set design (which is also top notch). That might seem like a basic thing, but I’m sure there are plenty of ways where this could have gone wrong. Practical effects are all over the place, which is a good practice for this kind of film. All of the sci-fi devices are believable and tangible, and nothing is completely ridiculous. Even the internal detonators placed in the prisoners are pretty simple explosives from the look of them. Speaking of explosives, there are also a couple of fantastic, classic explosions throughout the movie that action movie fans are sure to get a kick out of.

The effects people on “Fortress” included Robert Clark, who has worked effects and makeup on such films as “Starship Troopers,” “Mimic,” and “Cocoon,” and Robert Blalack, whose special effects credits include “Stars Wars – A New Hope,” “RoboCop,” “The Blues Brothers,” and the original “Cosmos” television series. “Fortress” also marked the first credit for the now-proficient visual effects producer Blondel Aidoo, who has worked such fantastic effects movies as “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” “Spider-Man,” and “Minority Report,” and such not-so-fantastic movies as “Marmaduke,” “Beverly Hills Chihuahua,” and “Kangaroo Jack.”

fortress3Outside of Christopher Lambert, the cast of “Fortress” includes a handful of recognizable faces, including Stuart Gordon favorite Jeffrey Combs and Kurtwood Smith of “RoboCop.” Character actor Clifton Collins, Jr. appears in an early role for him, before dropping his initial stage name of “Clifton Gonzalez Gonzalez,” which he bore in honor of his grandfather, the actor Pedro Gonzalez Gonzalez. The voice of the prison computer system is voiced by none other than Carolyn Purdy-Gordon, wife of Stuart Gordon and frequent antagonist-figure in his films. Other notables in the cast include Vernon Wells as a heavy inmate and Lincoln Kilpatrick as an aging prisoner facing parole.

fortress6The plot of “Fortress” follows a couple attempting to have a second child after an initial failed pregnancy. However, the dystopian future they live in (2017 United States, hilariously) operates on a strict one-child policy, meaning that they must attempt to cross a border out of the country without their pregnancy being detected by authorities. Unfortunately, they are caught at the Canadian border and sentenced to incarceration in an underground super-prison, where their child is to be confiscated upon birth. Lambert’s character tries to survive the hazardous world inside the prison, while also searching for a way to escape with his wife and unborn child before the out-of-control prison company can claim all of their lives.

“Fortress” made $46 million total on an estimated budget of $8 million, making it a significant financial success. However, it currently holds an IMDb rating of 5.8, a Rotten Tomatoes audience score of 48%, and a critic rating of 40%. Personally, I feel like these scores are a bit deceiving, as is the case with any film that falls within the good-bad aesthetic. Just at a cursory glance, some of those negative reviews acknowledge how fun the movie is, but give it a low score nonetheless.

Once again, as I have found with many critics’ reviews of Gordon’s movies in the past, I saw many that compared “Fortress” to Gordon’s earlier works, specifically “Re-Animator.” “Fortress” is very clearly a different kind of movie than “Re-Animator,” without any connection to the horror genre or Lovecraft, and Gordon wasn’t even involved in writing on “Fortress.” So, why on Earth would it be anything like “Re-Animator,” outside of a handful of stylistic and casting choices? It boggles my mind how some critics can’t separate the past and the present for directors and writers. I guarantee that someone out there is writing a review of “Maps To The Stars” right now complaining about how it isn’t “Videodrome” or “Eastern Promises.” You can’t ignore the body of work of a creator when writing about a new feature, but basing an entire review on it is beyond unfair.

As far as actual criticisms go, I saw a fair number of complaints about Lambert’s acting abilities. Personally, I don’t find him that distracting in general, though his accent is always pretty heavy. I usually enjoy his performances when he pops up in things, and “Fortress” is no exception. He isn’t a dynamic actor by any means, but he is pretty solid at the few character types he plays.

fortress4There are some good imaginative sci-fi elements to “Fortress” that are based on real social issues of the time: issues like the privatization of prisons, social anxieties on overpopulation, the institution of one-child laws, the use of technology in surveillance wiping away privacy, the replacement of humans by more efficient robotic workers, etc.

As far as performances go in “Fortress,” it is impossible not to mention Jeffrey Combs. He is once again solid in his supporting role, and is nearly unrecognizable with his long hair, massive lenses, and hippy-ish dialect. Also deserving of commendation is Kurtwood Smith, who is one of the best movie villains out there, period. I’m surprised he hasn’t gotten more opportunities to show it off over the years. He is incredibly memorable in “Fortress,” almost as much so as his most highly regarded role in “RoboCop.” It is just hard not to love a creepy, evil prison warden trying to get in touch with his humanity.

fortress5 fortress2There are a couple of well-executed twists and fake-out in “Fortress” that make it particularly memorable in my opinion. I really like the twist of what the government does with the “extra” children conceived outside of the one child limit. Cyborg experimentation sort of ties into aspirations of transhumanism, which is alluded to at points through dialogue as a way of dealing with overpopulation: the goal is to create a non-sexual, immortal cyborg population that will be able to sustain on the planet. It is also fun to see how the cyborg played by Smith condescends to his computer, looking down on the entity that represents a part of him that he comes to loathe. He clearly desires to be more human, and takes the frustration out on his computer. Speaking of which, the computer gets a glorious act of revenge with an outstanding death for Smith.

The ending sequence, which was apparently omitted from some versions of the movie, also features some bit I really enjoyed. There is a little bit of “Maximum Overdrive” thrown in at the last minute, which leads to a spectacular final explosion and one of the cruelest fake-out non-deaths you can imagine for the conclusion of a movie. Lambert’s reaction shot to the explosion is also hilarious, but I unfortunately haven’t been able to dig up a clip of it.

This is one of the few Stuart Gordon movies that I had not seen before this retrospective, and I was pleasantly surprised by it. Most of what I had heard was that it failed to live up to his other, more memorable works. However, I think this deserves consideration towards the top of the list for his career. I feel about “Fortress” what I expected to feel about “Castle Freak,” which is the opposite of what I was led to believe before watching them. “Fortress” is an absolute blast of a movie with some great sci-fi and action elements, hammy performances, cheesy / squibby effects, and a fun concept at the core. I think this movie generally deserves a second look, because I found an awful lot to like about it.

If you are looking for a fun flick for a bad movie showcase, I think “Fortress” will certainly fit the bill to your satisfaction. I mean, it is a sci-fi prison break movie featuring Herbert West, Connor MacLeod, and Clarence Boddicker. What about that isn’t to love?

Stuart Gordon Spotlight: “The Dentist”

The Dentist

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Welcome back to Misan[trope]y Movie Blog! Next up in the two week spotlight on writer/director Stuart Gordon is the 1996 endodontal driller thriller, “The Dentist.”

“The Dentist” was directed by frequent Stuart Gordon collaborator and producer Brian Yuzna, and is one of the few works that Stuart Gordon only wrote and did not direct. Once again, it was written in cooperation with his frequent writing partner Dennis Paoli, though the screenplay was later significantly re-worked and altered by a third writer, Charles Finch.

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This box art is the only one that I’ve seen that makes reference to Gordon and Paoli’s involvement

The music in “The Dentist” is, frankly, just god-damn ridiculous. It drifts from operatic belting to awful synthesizer arpeggios at break-neck speed, and seems to never relent throughout the whole movie. Just as with the cinematography, though, it seems to fit right in with the over-the-top performances and story, so that is hardly a complaint. Just listen to all of the musical madness going on in this scene, in which the background music shifts incoherently between being diagetic and non-diagetic (whether the characters can actually hear it or not). To set it up, Feinstone has been listening to opera in his office, when his unfaithful wife walks in to meet him. He then insists on taking a look at her teeth in his brand new, yet to be used operating room, with her not realizing his nefarious intentions:

The composer who was in charge of the score, Alan Howarth, was no rookie, either. He frequently collaborated with John Carpenter for music on films like “Big Trouble in Little China,” “Prince of Darkness,” “They Live,” and a number of the “Halloween” sequels, and additionally worked in the sound departments on films like “Army of Darkness,” “RoboCop 2,” and the first five “Star Trek” films. I have no idea what happened with “The Dentist,” but his more recent credits since that time are far less distinguished: for instance, they include some movie called “Evilution” and an IMDb Bottom 100 alumnus in “The Omega Code.”

Something that is impossible not to notice about “The Dentist” is the disorienting and at times nauseating cinematography. It is incredibly heavy-handed, but I have kind of grown to love it. Everything throughout the film is so way overdone, the bizarre shots more or less fit in with the rest of the production. Interestingly, the cinematography work had to be split between two men, because the initial director of photography (Dennis Maloney) had to withdraw part way through filming due to a family emergency. The final credit was given to Levie Isaacks, who came in as his relief.

The cast of “The Dentist” is led by Corbin Bernsen, in what is certainly his defining role. Ken Foree, who worked with Stuart Gordon on “From Beyond,” plays a police officer who ultimately catches onto the killer dentist’s trail. Linda Hoffman gets the honor of playing Bernsen’s long-suffering and unfaithful wife, who gets to ham up her material quite a bit in her own right. Last but not least, buried way down in the accessory cast is “The Avengers” member Mark Ruffalo, who plays a scummy talent agent who brings his model client in for a dental check up.

The story of “The Dentist” follows the progressive mental breakdown of one Dr. Feinstone, who, over the course of a day, is blackmailed by an IRS agent, discovers his wife’s infidelity, and finds that his favorite shirt has been ruined by a stain. This leads him to commit a string of murders over the course of his subsequent work-day at the dental office. These antics are somehow not discovered until after working hours have ended, and Feinstone has slipped away undetected. It is all pretty outlandish, to say the least.

dentist3The inspiration for “The Dentist” comes from the story of a real life serial killer dentist named Glennon Engleman. Interestingly, Corbin Bernsen played him in a television movie, “Beyond Suspicion,” years before the making of “The Dentist.” It may well have been a feather in his cap when it came to casting on the flick, for better or worse.

“The Dentist” was reportedly shot over the course of only 18 days, and cost only $2.5 million in total to make. Some of the cuts made to keep costs down included not having a story-board artist, excluding prop furniture from the budget,  and reusing the special effects props: notably the oversized mouth, which had interchangeable teeth to indicate different characters. Speaking of which, the designer of that effect, the highly acclaimed make-up effects artist Kevin Yagher, reportedly agreed to do his work on “The Dentist” as a favor, as he was reportedly far out of the production’s price range.

At one point, Corbin Bernsen’s character shoots and kills a neighbor’s dog. This incident leads to the police launching a formal investigation, which ultimately leads to his capture. During the sequence where the cops are investigating the crime scene, the dead dog shown is actually a stuffed goat, because apparently the production couldn’t come up with a convincing stuffed dog on that day of filming, but a goat was readily available. This is the kind of production story you just can’t make up.

The reception to “The Dentist” was overwhelmingly negative, with at least one reviewer uncertain if the movie was supposed to be a genre-mocking comedy or an earnest horror/thriller. The movie currently holds a 0% critic score on Rotten Tomatoes, alongside a 28% audience score. The IMDb rating is a bit higher with a 5.1, which I am going to believe is due to people now watching this as a good-bad flick in retrospect.

To put it mildly, Corbin Bernsen goes completely over the top and through the roof with his performance in this film. His dialogue is so venomous, faux-erudite, and delivered with such excessive, bitter intensity that it is absolutely hilarious. He meanders on about about the “filth” and “decay” in society with all of the focus, drive, and self-righteousness of a firebrand preacher railing against the foreign, vague evils of short-haired women and the godless undisciplined youth, and his content is equally as nonsensical as any backwoods testament you could dig up.  Most of the film consists of either Bernsen on one of these ranting tangents, or him slowly torturing people with poor dentistry practices (or, more often, a mixture of both). The entertainment value comes from both his performance, and from the clear bafflement of all of the accessory characters around him, who never seem to catch on to the fact that he’s losing his grip.

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"Nah, he seems fine to me. Why do you ask?" “Nah, he seems fine to me. Why do you ask?”

At one point towards the end of the film, a timid dental student stops Feinstone while he is viciously drilling at a tooth, noting that the patient is clearly in pain. Feinstone responds:

“Pain is an abstract emotion. It has to be managed, shaped, and disregarded as a distraction.”

The assistant allows him to carry on, but looks thoroughly disturbed and perplexed by the statement. This is almost the perfect encapsulation of the movie: meandering, lunatic dialogue by Bernsen, followed by perplexed reactions from the straight characters surrounding him, who ultimately do nothing to interfere.

On top of Bernsen’s performance, the accessory cast seems to constantly deliver out of the blue, non-sequitur lines that sound like they would come out of imperfect robotic facsimiles of humans, particularly whenever Bernsen isn’t on screen. Here is a segment of a conversation between the two cops on Feinstone’s trail, for instance:

Detective 1: “…[he’s] a regular James Bond!”

Detective 2, stiltedly: “A James Bond regular!”

Detective 1: *awkward sideways glance at Detective 2, silence*

I am pretty sure that Detective 2 (named “Sunshine,” by the way) would just straight-up fail a Turing test. How does that line (with that delivery) stay in this movie? Regardless of how it happened, I am glad it did, because these moments are absolutely golden.

Here is another segment of dialogue, where a mother is trying to make small talk with Bernsen’s Dr. Feinstone while he is working on her child’s teeth:

Mom: “There’s lot of money in dentistry?”

Feinstone, with a thousand yard stare: “I work hard….too hard to lose it all”

Mom: *confused silence*

I probably have a bit of an excessive fondness for this movie, as it was my first exposure to Stuart Gordon, but I honestly feel that it is the least-appreciated film he has worked on. I still rewatch it on a regular basis, and I still absolutely love it. Corbin Bernen’s performance is one of the most heavy-handed, ridiculous things I have seen in any movie, and it totally makes the film. Ken Foree adds some delightful flair, and gets to show off the comedic chops that you only see glimpses of in “From Beyond.” When you add in the bonkers score and cinematography, “The Dentist” becomes a truly magnificent achievement in awfulness.

dentist4“The Dentist” is without a doubt a fun, good-bad movie, and definitely deserves some more attention. If you are looking for an awful horror film to showcase to friends, “The Dentist” is one worth considering. I would go so far as to schedule another visit every six months or so, just to check in. You don’t want your memory to decay, after all.

Stuart Gordon Spotlight: “Castle Freak”

Castle Freak

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Welcome back to Misan[trope]y Movie Blog! Today’s feature in the two-week spotlight on acclaimed horror writer/director Stuart Gordon is the 1995 direct-to-video flick, “Castle Freak.”

“Castle Freak” is yet another Stuart Gordon adaptation of an H. P. Lovecraft tale, something that I wasn’t aware of until I started reading into the background on the film. It is specifically based on the short story “The Outsider,” which was published in 1926 in the magazine Weird Tales, which frequently showcased Lovecraft’s works. As is the case with many of Gordon’s Lovecraft adaptations, it varies from the source material significantly, to the point of being almost unrecognizable in its final on-screen form.

Dennis Paoli once again shares writing credit with Gordon on “Castle Freak,” marking their fourth collaboration of an eventual eight (nine if you liberally include the much-maligned sequel to “The Dentist,” in which both men take character credits only).

“Castle Freak” was a production of Full Moon Features, a company started by Charles Band after the dissolution of Empire Pictures, which distributed the Stuart Gordon movies “Re-Animator,” “From Beyond,” “Dolls,” and “Robot Jox.” Full Moon is almost certainly best known for its handful of b-movie franchises, including “Puppet Master,” “Trancers,” “The Gingerdead Man,” “Demonic Toys,” and “Dollman.” However, it also produced Stuart Gordon’s first Edgar Allan Poe adaptation, “The Pit and The Pendulum.”

The cinematography on “Castle Freak” was provided by Mario Vulpiani, a man who can claim the IMDb Bottom 100 and Mystery Science Theater 3000 superhero movie “The Pumaman” on his list of over 70 distinguished cinematography credits.

As should be expected of a Charles Band produced Stuart Gordon movie, brother Richard Band once again provides the score for “Castle Freak,” as he did with “Re-Animator” and “From Beyond.” It would mark the last time that Richard Band music would grace a Stuart Gordon work until the short film “Dreams In The Witch House” was created for the Maters of Horror television program many years later.

As is usual of the director, Stuart Gordon chose to go with a familiar cast on “Castle Freak.” Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton both return once again, reuniting for the first time on screen since Stuart Gordon’s “From Beyond” nine years earlier. Jonathan Fuller plays the eerie title character, a whipping boy named Georgio. Fuller also had previous experience working with Stuart Gordon, specifically in his adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Pit and The Pendulum” four years prior to the production of “Castle Freak.” The rest of the cast seems to be mostly filled out by Italian actors, such as Elisabeth Kaza, Luca Zingaretti, and Massimo Sarchielli. These casting choices were almost certainly motivated as much by financial prudence as any desire for realism, given the Italian filming location and low budget of the production.

castlefreak6The effects on “Castle Freak” were provided by Optic Nerve Studios, a special effects outfit which has worked on such acclaimed films and as “Dracula: Dead and Loving It,” “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie,” Roger Corman’s unreleased “Fantastic Four,” and “Battlefield Earth.” In all seriousness, they have a number of solid credits to their name as well: namely “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” and “Babylon 5,” which earned the team an Emmy for their prowess. Their work here definitely carries a heavy load, as Fuller’s title character requires extensive, convincing makeup to be an effective presence on screen. In my opinion, they nailed it.

castlefreak5“Castle Freak” has gained somewhat of a reinvigorated following in recent years, at least partially due to the highly acclaimed internet show, “The Flop House Podcast,” which has featured in depth discussions on details of the film (particular about whether the title character rips off his own genitalia or not). The movie has become inexorably linked with the show in the minds of fans,  and it has gradually become a running gag for the hosts to recommend the movie at the end of the show.

“Castle Freak” follows the story of a family on the rocks as they travel to Italy to check out a mysterious castle that was left to them via an unknown relative’s will. It turns out that the previous tenant, unbeknownst to anyone, kept a whipping boy in a dungeon of the castle. The maimed, feral, and surprisingly stealthy man quickly starts to cause havoc for the family, pushing them to a mental breaking point. Even without the presence of the eponymous “freak,” the family struggles with the hostility of the locals, as well as the latent tensions amongst themselves over a tragic accident years earlier.

“Castle Freak” is surprisingly a very straight movie, and could have perhaps used a little more tongue in cheek humor to lighten it up. Even a little more emphaticness from Combs could have helped, who is usually quick to provide that darkly comedic element without diluting the constructed horror atmosphere. Combs is pretty surprisingly subdued throughout the film, which seems like a waste after his “don’t expect it to tango” performance in “Re-Animator” and his hilarious brain-munching in “From Beyond.” His drunk acting is pretty great in “Castle Freak” at the very least, but it just isn’t quite enough to showcase his real capabilities to carry a film.

castlefreak4As I mentioned, there are some hard-core matrimonial tensions in this flick, and Crampton and Combs have to play at each others’ throats throughout the film. The source of their friction is slowly revealed throughout the story: Combs’s character caused the blindness of their daughter and the death of their young son in a horrific car accident, during which he was apparently driving intoxicated. They both do a good job with their roles, but it is a little strange to see two actors who are capable of extreme hammy-ness play an entire movie so straight. I kept expecting more memorable, over-the-top moments, and they never really came.

Something that isn’t quite a positive or a negative per se is the fact that “Castle Freak” is mostly a gross-out movie: the effects / makeup on Fuller is for the most part the extent of the horror in the film. Some people are more fond of this style than I am, but regardless, it is something worth knowing about the movie going into it. As I mentioned earlier, these practical effects are pretty good, and are certainly a strong point in the film. I think that just about anyone would wind up cringing at one point or another over the course of sitting through this film, which is a credit to both Fuller and the effects team.

castlefreak2Something I did quite like about the film is the inclusion of a main character who is blind. The audience naturally sees things she can’t, which builds tension and provides a sort of visual dramatic irony. I kind of wish that this was played with more in the movie, but it really only comes into play early on, while the daughter is still investigating the castle.

castlefreak3Overall, I think this is a weaker Stuart Gordon film, but it still certainly has value as a horror flick. Combs and Crampton are good here without any doubt, and have great chemistry with each other (even if it is discordant by design). Jonathan Fuller is outstandingly eerie as the “freak,” and the effects work do a lot to accentuate him. The film as a whole is better than your typical sci-fi or horror television movie by a long-shot if you ask me. That said, it isn’t in my upper tier of Stuart Gordon features by any means. There just isn’t enough “fun” value here, which is very unusual for Stuart Gordon. I think that comes from how straight and sober the film’s tone is in comparison to many of his other movies, like “Dolls” or “The Dentist”. Hell, “Castle Freak” even makes “From Beyond” look a little lighthearted, because at least Ken Foree adds some solid comic relief to the early acts of that flick. Nobody ever steps up to provide that in “Castle Freak,” which I think was a misstep.

In spite of all that, “Castle Freak” still gets a recommendation from me, though not a particularly strong one. This seems like a movie that should be more entertaining than it is, though it certainly isn’t boring or bad. I had pretty high expectations going into it given it’s recent cult status, and I was a little disappointed on the whole. If you go in with the caveat that this isn’t going to be a particularly “fun” horror watch, but rather a more straight horror flick, then you will probably be more satisfied with the experience.