Empty Threat of the Season
"That will be quite enough of that!"
Jeffrey Combs' Dr. Tillinghast
to Ted Sorel's Pretorious
From the Director's Cut (1986)
Rating: 3 1/2 Stars
D: Stuart Gordon. Jeffrey Combs, Barbara Crampton, Ken Foree, Ted Sorel, Carolyn Purdy-Gordon, Bunny Summers, Bruce McGuire. 85 mins. (MGM Home Entertainment) 9/07
Director/co-writer Gordon's second H.P. Lovecraft outing with scenarist Dennis Paoli and producer Brian Yuzna toplines Combs (Re-Animator's Herbert West) as Dr. Crawford Tillinghast, victim of perverted pineal gland experiments perpetrated by mad medico Dr. Pretorius (Sorel, later of Basket Case 2). Ever-capable fellow Re-Animator alum Crampton again costars, this time as svelte blond shrink Dr. Katherine McMichaels, who, along with former footballer-turned-cop Bubba Brownlee (Dawn of the Dead grad Foree), battles slimy, ill-tempered fourth-dimension demons conjured by Pretorius' sinister "Resonator." While it doesn't quite equal Re-Animator's shock value, From Beyond packs plenty of perverse punch in its own right, mixing elements of the original Alien, William Castle's The Tingler, and even The Brainiac with typically twisted Lovecraftian lunacy and the director's own patented wild style. Though executed with a limited budget on spare sets, the film benefits from boundless creativity, Mac Ahlberg's agile cinematography and top-notch thesps, with a particularly nasty turn by the director's spouse Purdy-Gordon as the Nurse Ratched-like Dr. Bloch. MGM's new edition lovingly restores the gore excised by the MPAA prior to From Beyond's original theatrical release, adding extra kick to Gordon's potent hallucinatory cocktail. Bonus materials include an interview with the genial, articulate director, who traces the film's genesis from conception to final cut, along with a chat with composer Richard (Brother of producer Charles) Band, who contributes, as he did for Re-Animator, a pitch-perfect score, plus storyboard comparisons and a highly entertaining and informative filmmakers' audio commentary. The last-mentioned took yours truly back to the indelible evening he spent in October '86 with Messrs. Gordon and Paoli discussing the film while wearing Empire Pictures' plastic promotional pineal gland headgear, a souvenir we still trot out every Halloween.
~ The Phantom
Master of Horror: Stuart Gordon
As Told to Calum Waddell
Stuart Gordon may be most famous for directing the 1985 cult smash Re-Animator, but his genre cred goes much wider with such impressive efforts as Dagon (VS #43), the seriously underrated King of the Ants (VS #51), the upcoming Stuck (which we caught at Cannes and could well be the horror film of the year) and From Beyond. The last-mentioned movie has finally been unleashed in an uncut form for fans of a filmmaker who has every right to call himself a "Master of Horror." We caught up with Stuart Gordon to talk about his vast and varied career.
CALUM WADDELL Fans have wanted to see an uncut version of From Beyond ever since its truncated theatrical and video release. How did the DVD finally come to happen?
STUART GORDON I got a call from MGM, who now own the rights to From Beyond, and they told me they had just found something in their vaults. Then they asked me to come down and take a look at it. So I went down to the cutting room and there was a can of film that they had found, which had a little note pinned to it that read, "This is for the video version of From Beyond." Inside were all of the clips that the MPAA had made us take out of the movie. So we discovered them all. I thought they were lost. When people asked me if there would ever be a restored version of From Beyond, I would say no, because the material, as far as I knew, was lost and yet here it all was. It was wonderful.
CW It was rumored the DVD would be out in 2006. What happened?
SG It was supposed to come out last Halloween and I did a lot of restoring the film and putting back the shots that the MPAA had taken out. It was actually screened on a hi-def channel called Monsters HD and then it just kind of sat there. I think part of it has to do with the fact that MGM got taken over by Sony and got caught up in this corporate bureaucratic bullshit.
CW You had a lot of problems with that movie when it was first released, didn't you?
SG We had the worst trouble! They cut about three-and-a-half minutes out of it. One of these cut sequences involved a woman being tortured and at the time I thought it was too extreme to show, so I cut it out of the movie myself. There was this horrifying moment where she realizes that she has a pierced tongue. It's amazing how times change!
CW Were you always a fan of Lovecraft?
SG Yes, I was, ever since I was a teenager when I began reading him. I thought he was great and I'm still a huge fan of his. There are still stories of his that I read and think would make a great movie; it is like a treasure chest of material.
CW Out of all the "Masters of Horror," I would say that your career perhaps most closely resembles Tobe Hooper, in that both yourself and Tobe made an instant classic at the start and have been synonymous with it ever since. What have been the difficulties in escaping from the shadow of Re-Animator?
SG First I should say it is a wonderful thing because it got us both started and we have been working ever since thanks to the success of these first movies. But it also becomes negative because every executive thinks that everything else you do is going to be exactly like Re-Animator. That was one of the reasons I didn't want to do the sequels; I don't want to get that pigeonholed. I like doing horror films but I like doing other things as well, so it is a mixed blessing, I guess.
CW How did the Masters of Horror TV series begin?
SG How it started was that Mick Garris organized a dinner for us a couple of years ago and there had been a documentary made by Universal called The Masters of Horror. It interviewed each of us and we didn't get a chance to meet each other, so Mick said, "Let's all have dinner together." It was one of the funniest dinners and everyone showed up. It was at a restaurant out in the Valley and Guillermo del Toro was there and there were some people at the next table and someone brought out a birthday cake to them. So Guillermo started singing "Happy Birthday" to them and he got us all to join in and when we finished Guillermo said, "The Masters of Horror wish you a happy birthday!" Right afterwards he said, "We did pretty good-maybe we should do a Christmas album." So we kept getting together every couple of months and new people would come each time. David Cronenberg came along once, Bryan Singer and Rob Zombie and it expanded and got crazier and crazier. Out of that came the idea of doing a series of movies and it evolved from there. It turned out everyone had a pet project that they wanted to do, so here was the opportunity. We always have fun when we get together.
CW Your next movie, Stuck, is based on the true story of a hit-and-run accident. Does this indicate, after Edmond and King of the Ants, your continuing desire to make more realistic, less fantasy-based pictures?
SG Yeah, I think that is true. I think it comes from realizing that the things that happen in real life are much more disturbing. Stuck is still pretty bloody, though. I mean, this guy who gets run over-the top half of his body goes through the windshield, he is impaled on a window wiper and his legs are broken!
CW Were you disappointed that Edmond didn't have a wider, and longer, theatrical stint?
SG Well, yeah, it got a very limited theatrical release and it got excellent reviews but, unfortunately, the company that released it didn't have the money to promote it. I think it could have done a lot better than it did theatrically, but it came out on DVD and did fantastic business.
CW How involved was [writer] David Mamet in the filming of Edmond?
SG He was very involved. He came to the set to talk about it and he is an old friend of mine. Back in Chicago, I produced and directed the very first professional production of his work, a play called Sexual Perversity in Chicago.
CW And the movie version was called About Last Night.
SG Yeah, it became About Last Night, which was kind of a Hollywood version of it. So I knew David from the beginning and it was great to work with him again. The script was just so great; it was one of those scripts where the more you read it, the more you get out of it-it is very rich.
CW A film of yours that went unnoticed by the mainstream was King of the Ants, which I adored. Were you upset that it did not get a theatrical run?
SG Yeah, I was a little disappointed that it didn't get a cinema release.
CW But it got great reviews.
SG Yeah, it got great reviews and I should be glad that people are seeing it in any form. I wanted to make that film for so long.
CW Do you have a favorite of your movies? Maybe one that has gone underappreciated?
SG I really don't. It is kind of like asking someone who their favorite kid is! I like them all for different reasons.
CW Although when I first I spoke to you, you told me that you wish more people would check out your family film, The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit.
SG Right. Now this was a movie that was based on a story by Ray Bradbury and I had done a production of it many years ago for a theatre company in Chicago and Joe Mantegna was in the original production. I stayed friends with Ray Bradbury ever since. Ray and I had spoken about doing it as a film and it turned out that Roy Disney was a big fan of the story and he had seen the play, so we were able to get Disney to produce it. It is the story of five down-and-out Mexican-Americans who spend their last 20 dollars buying a white suit, which they share. And it turns out that when they wear the suit, their dreams come true-and it is not clear whether the suit itself is magical or if their image of themselves is improved when they wear it. So it has a wonderful pathos and is really great fun.
CW I saw Dagon again recently and I was shocked by how extreme some of it was-even by your standards. Did you have any problems with the ratings board?
SG Well, I definitely agree with you-there are some moments that are pretty extreme. But, amazingly enough, I was never asked to make a single cut in the entire film. I don't know, maybe they weren't paying attention or something, I cannot say. I'm not going to complain but I did not have to do anything.
CW Presumably Dagon was a difficult film to sell to financiers.
SG Oh yeah, that movie was hard to get produced! It was not so much the gore that bothered people, it was the concept of the film itself. Brian Yuzna and I were trying to get that film made for 16 years and every time we would say it was about people turning into fishes, they would laugh and that would be the end of the meeting.
CW It took me more than one viewing to really appreciate Dagon. It went over my head the first time, but now it's a film of yours that I find myself going back to.
SG Well, thank you. That is how I judge if a movie is really good, you know-if I want to see it again. It is pretty crazy; I mean, the concept is really nuts, but Lovecraft makes it believable somehow.
CW Finally, what do you remember about the making of Castle Freak? It's another movie of yours that I hold very highly.
SG I was really happy with Castle Freak. Actually, back when I was shooting Castle Freak, we were in this little town in Italy and in this town was one of the biggest discos in Europe. And this young town priest, a Polish priest, was getting into trouble because he was going down there and he was being called "The Disco Priest." I met him and what he said was, "You have to go where the problems are." There were all these problems going on, like drug dealers and fights, and he would hang out at the disco because that is where he felt he was needed. But there was this article in the newspaper about him and he got into trouble and he was called to the Vatican to see the Pope. I saw him the morning that he was leaving and he told me, "I am going to be seeing the Pope this afternoon-is there anything that you would like me to say to him?" I was thinking of something and finally I said, "Well, ask him to bless our movie." So he goes off to the Vatican and I saw him later that night and it turned out that the Pope-after he explained what his position was-actually patted him on the back and did not punish him at all. Then he said to me, "By the way, the Pope brought you this." And he gave me a bottle of Polish vodka. So I thought, "Wow, this is kind of a nice present from the Pope!"