Luke's List: The brutal and brilliant final films of Stuart Gordon, scary genius

Luciano Marano
lmarano@ptleader.com
Posted 9/30/20

Darn that decapitated doctor.

The infamous “head” scene in Stuart Gordon’s “Re-Animator” is the perfect example of how the writer/producer/director’s career was …

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Luke's List: The brutal and brilliant final films of Stuart Gordon, scary genius

The final films directed by Stuart Gordon: “Edmond” (2005) and “Stuck” (2007).
The final films directed by Stuart Gordon: “Edmond” (2005) and “Stuck” (2007).
Images courtesy of First Independent Pictures and Image Entertainment, respectively
Posted

Darn that decapitated doctor.

The infamous “head” scene in Stuart Gordon’s “Re-Animator” is the perfect example of how the writer/producer/director’s career was both made and obscured by the long, thin tentacled shadow of H.P. Lovecraft.

It was when adapting stories penned by that polarizing son of Providence, Rhode Island the renowned master of the macabre managed his most enduringly popular movies — the beloved “Re-Animator” in 1985, underrated “From Beyond” in 1986, uncomfortable “Castle Freak” in 1995, and surprisingly effective “Dagon” in 2001. He even did an episode of the Showtime anthology series, “Masters of Horror,” based on “The Dreams in the Witch House.” 

True, his filmography isn’t exactly lacking other noteworthy installments, including directing the incredibly creepy “Dolls” (1987); enjoyably campy “Space Truckers” (1996); 1991’s “The Pit and the Pendulum” (which rivals any of the more famous Poe flicks done by Roger Corman, for my money); as well as being the original writer and slated director of the prestige studio family comedy “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” (he was replaced due to illness).

But it is as the silver screen’s (so far) most accomplished adaptor of Lovecraft stories that Gordon, who died earlier this year at the age of 72, is first and foremost recalled. And that’s a pity, because as good as those movies are, his final two productions saw Gordon at the top of his game and doing his own thing, digging into much more realistic terrors, and achieving new heights of cinematic unease.

‘Edmond’ (2005)

Does anyone not like William H. Macy?

His character in “Shameless” and his wife’s involvement in the recent college entrance exam cheating scandal aside, the guy seems lovable, or at least genuinely sympathetic, both on and off screen. I mean just look at those soulful eyes. And he’s an ambassador for the United Cerebral Palsy Association and avid woodturner, too. The man plays the ukulele, for gosh sakes.

All of which only serves to make his mercurial and brutal portrayal of mid-breakdown New York City businessman Edmond Burke all the more horrifying in this violent drama, based on a play by David Mamet.

An ominous tarot reading sends disillusioned Edmond on a one-night bender of rage and escalating crime that begins with him leaving his wife and ends in grisly murder. He visits a strip club, gets kicked out, goes to a seedier club only to leave more sad and frustrated. He gets fleeced in a street card game and pawns his wedding ring for a knife.

Things only get worse from there. And all the while he devolves from your average mope to ranting lunatic to man-shaped mad dog, roving senselessly from one violent encounter to another, spouting his increasingly unhinged hate-filled personal philosophy to anyone in earshot.

It’s minimalistic nihilism (but, in the end, one could argue, weirdly hopeful). A troubled character study blended with blood-soaked, profanity-laden fatalism. The New York Times said Macy gives the “nerviest screen performance of his career,” and while some will love and others certainly will hate the film, it is undeniably unforgettable.

‘Stuck’ (2007)

On a short list of the most callous people who ever lived, Chante Jawan Mallard may not be the first name, but she’s certainly up there.

In 2001, at the age of 25, she was driving (allegedly intoxicated by a combo of marijuana, ecstasy and booze) and struck 37-year-old Gregory Glenn Biggs, a homeless man. The force of the impact lodged Biggs in her windshield, after which Mallard drove home, parked in her garage and left him, still alive, while she went inside and had sex with her boyfriend, saying nothing about the incident.

Biggs died in that garage, still stuck in the partially shattered windshield — two days later.

Mallard (a former nurse’s aide, ironically) got her friend and his cousin to dump the man’s body in a park and set her car on fire to disguise the evidence, but came to the attention of police when she was reported laughing about the murder at a party several months later.

Ultimately, Mallard was convicted and sentenced to 50 years imprisonment, and no less than three movies were made based on the sensational story, including this one, starring Mena Suvari behind the wheel and Stephen Rea as her hapless homeless victim.

Suvari is trash-tastic and wholly believable as Brandi, the Mallard character, who in this version works in a retirement home. Up for a promotion, she celebrates with a night of drinking and drugs before driving home, only to be interrupted by her fateful rendezvous with Rea, an actor of such skill he manages moments of genuine pathos and laugh-out-loud comedy throughout this morbid claustrophobic tale despite all the gore and tragedy. The resulting escalating battle between the two — she determined not to get caught, him determined to live and escape the garage — is at turns horrifying and hilarious.

“Stuck” is soaked with the darkest sort of absurdist humor — like the most graphic movie Hitchcock never made as written by Franz Kafka — and was the final film of Gordon’s illustrious career. It’s as if the guy had gone to the outer reaches of the cosmos and explored the unnamed, unspeakable horrors there, and those of alien dimensions and science gone awry, only to at last conclude the most terrifying thing is us and the things we do to each other.

Not exactly a revelation, perhaps, but few have depicted it so brilliantly, and even fewer artists so consistently created innovative and exciting work throughout so distinctive a career.

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