Welcome to Psycho Drive-In’s 31 Days of Schlocktober celebration! This year we’ve decided to present the ABCs of Horror, with entries every day this month providing Director information, Best-of lists, Genre overviews, and Reviews of films and franchises, all in alphabetical order! Today brings us G is for Gordon! If there was a title for King of Low-Budget Horror, Stuart Gordon would unquestionably be in the running for it. Over the course of his career he’s directed horror, science fiction, comedy, and crime films, but if there’s one thing he’s most known for it’s his series of H.P. Lovecraft film adaptations. Lovecraft is always tricky to adapt to live-action, if only for the psychological nature of the stories and the otherworldly, practically indescribable horror elements, but Gordon figured out how to make it work by infusing the eldritch elements of the source stories with a healthy dose of sexploitation and gore. There’s no leaving anything to the imagination here. Before Stuart Gordon (and producing partner Brian Yuzna) took on Lovecraft in the Eighties, the author’s works had been brought to life four times (1963’s The Haunted Palace, 1965’s Die, Monster, Die!, 1967’s The Shuttered Room, and 1970’s The Dunwich Horror) in films that, while they have since achieved a cult status, lacked some of the features that make Lovecraft’s work so distinctive. It wasn’t until Gordon and Yuzna exploded onto the horror scene with the one-two punch of 1985’s Re-Animator and 1986’s From Beyond that the Lovecraft film floodgates gave way. Pretty much every Stuart Gordon movie is worth watching, particularly Dolls (1987) and the cult classic Robot Jox (1989), but for the purposes of this installment in our ABCs of Horror, we’re going to be sticking to his Lovecraft adaptations. And away we go! Re-Animator (1985) went through a number of iterations before finally ending up as a feature film, including plans for a stage production and a 13-episode TV series co-written by Dennis Paoli and William Norris. When they realized that there really wasn’t a market for television horror (back in the day), Gordon showed the script to film producer Brian Yuzna and history was made. The film updated Lovecraft’s original story “Herbert West, Re-Animator” to contemporary Chicago and Gordon hired Jeffrey Combs to play West. West is third-wheel to the romantic couple at the heart of the film, Dan (Bruce Abbott) and Megan (Barbara Crampton) and is the nemesis of Dr. Carl Hill (David Gale), who is intent on stealing his work. What work is that? Why, reanimating dead bodies, of course. The film was controversial with Lovecraft fans, some of whom felt the film took too many liberties with the source, especially with the inclusion of the overtly sexual elements. It was almost like they’d never imagined a severed head performing cunnilingus before! Despite complaints, the film is actually fairly true to the spirit of the source, which is one of Lovecraft’s more entertaining and pure pulp stories. The gore effects and the black comedy really helped to make Re-Animator an instant classic along the same lines as Evil Dead II and Return of the Living Dead. There are gross-out moments in this film that are shocking and hilariously entertaining to this day. I’ve watched Re-Animator so many times over the years, I can practically recite it from memory, and yet I still laugh and cringe every single time I watch it. Of all the films we’re covering in our ABCs of Horror, it may be the most rewatchable. It ended up spawning two sequels, Bride of Re-Animator (1990) and Beyond Re-Animator (2003), both directed by Yuzna and both failing to live up to the original (although Bride gives it the old college try). But more on that on Schlocktober 30th! And did I mention that there’s a musical stage adaptation, too? The film was released unrated, allowing Gordon to really do whatever he wanted with the story without having to censor himself and it was a huge success. Gordon and Paoli’s next Lovecraft collaboration, From Beyond (1986), would not be so lucky. Because From Beyond had to be released with an R-rating, they were already limited in what they could do, but then the MPAA cut the film to pieces. Luckily, the original uncut version is available and it is glorious. Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton return and in a story loosely based on the short story of the same name, telling the tale of scientists attempting to stimulate the pineal gland — which has the unintended side-effect of allowing those affected by the Resonator to see creatures that exist in another dimension. Unfortunately, the creatures can also see them. Combs plays Dr. Crawford Tillinghast, the assistant to the unhinged Dr. Edward Pretorius (Ted Sorel) who finds himself transported into the neighboring dimension, only to return as a misshapen monster. Did I mention that this other dimension is more pleasurable than our reality? Yeah, it’s practically orgasmic, and a little addictive, which leads to some of the first S&M gear I ever saw in a horror film. Crampton plays Tillinghast’s therapist who ends up not only helping him rebuild Pretorius’ Resonator, but also puts on some leather and gets freaky. And she’s not the only one who gets freaky. Pretty much every aspect of this story explodes off the freaky chart and From Beyond ended up being one of those films that you had to tell your friends about, if only so you could watch the looks on their faces the first time they were exposed to it. It’s anarchic horror filmmaking at its finest and while not as re-watchable as Re-Animator, it’s something that everybody should be exposed to at least once. Castle Freak (1995) is the third time around for the Combs/Crampton combo, as Gordon once again teams up with screenwriter Paoli to craft an atmospheric — and disturbingly gory — horror film based on Lovecraft’s brilliant short story, “The Outsider.” Whereas the source material focuses entirely on the first-person narration of the Outsider himself, Paoli and Gordon relegate the misshapen creature to being a mostly straight-up lurking monster. He’s human, but deformed and demented after 40-odd years in chains and daily whippings by his insane mother, Dutchess D’Orsino (Helen Stirling). When she dies, things look bleak for what, in the beginning anyway, seems to be our tragic hero. However, once the credits roll we find that the real story is going to follow the tragic breakdown of the Reilly family. Combs is John and Crampton is Susan; a husband and wife whose marriage has collapsed in on itself after his drunken car accident that killed their young son JJ (Alessandro Sebastian Satta) and blinded their older daughter Rebecca (Jessica Dollarhide). It turns out John is the long-lost last living relative of the Dutchess and has, therefore, inherited her Italian castle (and the freak that goes along with it). The events that follow, as John attempts to catalog the castle’s riches so they can sell it and get back to America, are horrifying. The titular Castle Freak escapes, and knowing nothing about life as a human being, learns everything he needs to know about the world by secretly watching John drunkenly have sex with a prostitute. Unfortunately, as far as he can tell, John’s biting her — not licking and kissing her — which does not bode well for said prostitute when CF captures her and drags her down to his private dungeon. Castle Freak lacks the insanity of Re-Animator and From Beyond, but makes up for it with a more mature approach to storytelling, punctuated by truly repulsive acts of cannibalism graphically displayed without pulling any punches. It’s often overlooked by fans of Lovecraft, which isn’t entirely justified, given the fleeting connection to Lovecraft’s actual writings — referenced in the film with one brief scene — but is a very respectable entry in both Gordon’s oeuvre and in Lovecraft film in general. Gordon and Paoli would next return to the world of Lovecraft adaptation in 2001 with Dagon, a Spanish production based on “The Shadow over Innsmouth.” Unfortunately Combs and Crampton are nowhere to be found in this one. This time Gordon found a Combs-type who actually does a fine job living up to the legacy. Ezra Godden (who will return to Gordon and Lovecraft in “Dreams in the Witch-House” discussed below) plays Paul Marsh, who has just hit the bigtime in the stock market, and to celebrate is vacationing off the coast of Spain with his girlfriend Barbara (Raquel Meroño) and their friends Vicki (Birgit Bofarull) and Howard (Brendan Price). After a shipwreck and a useless attempt to find help in the nearby coastal village of Imcbocca (a play on the name Innsmouth), the bulk of the film is a lengthy chase scene as Paul flees the hideously deformed villagers before finally being captured and thrown into a cage with Barbara, Vicki, and Ezequiel (Francisco Rabal) — the definitely drunken and possibly insane source of all our exposition, which should be familiar if you’ve read “The Shadow over Innsmouth.” The screenplay for this one was actually written in the 80s, but Gordon and Paoli couldn’t get the film launched. It wasn’t until old friend Brian Yuzna founded the Fantastic Factory division of Filmax that they were able to team-up once more and get Dagon made. The film is definitely the most faithful of Gordon’s Lovecraft films to the source materials in both theme and execution. It’s also the least exploitative, with practically no nudity until the end and virtually no gore. Most of the effects remain practical, except for a couple of awkwardly obvious CG shots. In fact, the effects are so practical that during the big “Everything is in Flames” climax, it looked like Godden might have been in actual danger on the set. Gordon’s latest dip into the Lovecraftian pool was for the TV series Masters of Horror, where he and Paoli again teamed up, this time to adapt “Dreams in the Witch House” (2005). It’s another worthy installment in Gordon’s Lovecraft series of works, with Ezra Godden returning to play Walter Gilman, a scientist looking for cheap room and board who stumbles upon something awful. It’s such a short piece, I won’t spoil it with any more detail than that, but it’s definitely worth a look for both the Lovecraft and Stuart Gordon completists. Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related 2 Responses ABCs of Horror Day 30: Y is for Yuzna - Psycho Drive-In November 10, 2014 […] for 1985’s Re-Animator — which launched his ongoing collaboration with writer/director Stuart Gordon — right up to his last collaboration with Japanese special effects guru Screaming Mad George […] Log in to Reply ABCs of Horror 2016 Day 4: C is for Jeffrey Combs - Psycho Drive-In October 4, 2016 […] I sang Combs’ praises the last time we did our ABCs of Horror when talking about the films of Stuart Gordon and Brian Yuzna (which covered everything mentioned above except Necronomicon, Lurking Fear, […] Log in to Reply Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.