Based on the story of the Texas woman who hit a homeless man who wedged, still alive, in her windshield and instead of helping him she parked in the garage and let him die over a period of a few days, then went to jail when the story broke. Only now, in Stuart Gordon’s hands, the man escapes from the car and gets his bloody revenge! I had high hopes, and this movie did not let me down.

Seconds before the accident
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Mena Suvari (the object of desire in American Beauty) is a partying nurse at an old folks’ home with a cheating drug-dealer boyfriend (Russell Hornsby of Edmond) and a horrible, manipulative boss (Carolyn Purdy-Gordon in her eighth S.G. picture). Stephen Rae (V For Vendetta and every Neil Jordan movie) is a hard-luck dude who can’t get a job and just got kicked out of his apartment. Anyone watching this has seen the film poster or video box and knows what’s coming when Rae is looking for a place to sleep at 3AM while Mena is driving home alone on liquor and ecstacy.

There’s some web-controvery over Mena’s cornrows – apparently the true-story driver was black, so why not cast a black actress?
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But instead of turning this into a David Mamet psychological drama with our two characters conversing in the garage, Gordon expands the part of the original story that horrified people, which is not the accident but the fact that she did not try to help him, the lack of compassion. He spreads that lack of compassion Edmond-like across the city, showing all the people who could have helped poor Rae but did not: a cop who wouldn’t turn around and look at the car, the 911 operator who doesn’t try too hard to locate the garage (Jeffrey Combs audio-cameo), the next-door neighbors who wouldn’t get involved for fear of cops showing up and deporting them, the dude whose dog comes out of the garage covered in blood but he only worries about his clothes getting dirty, and of course the landlord and the employment-agency drone who help Rae into this position in the first place. But most of all we’ve got the woman from the newspaper story herself, who looked a dying man in the eye and opted not to help him. This is portrayed not just by Mena Suvari, who hits Rae with a plank of wood to shut him up and finally tries to burn her garage down to cover up the crime, but by her boyfriend, sent to assassinate Rae after getting challenged on his tough-talking, ending up defeated by a ballpoint pen to the eye. Gordon’s brand of horror is going in an intriguing new direction, keeping the suspense and the outrageousness and applying them to real-life situations, like the urban crime-horror of early Abel Ferrara.

He actually doesn’t drop the match – the girl lights her own stupid self on fire
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Unusually great acting for a Stuart Gordon picture – I especially liked Russell Hornsby as the awful boyfriend, always trying to cover his ass, a perfect match for Suvari’s character. Plenty of gory bits – a windshield wiper in Rae’s side, the ballpoint pen, a broken leg with a bone sticking out, and the dog, oh jesus the dog! I tried to get Katy to watch this with me, but it’s a good thing she didn’t.

Russell finally offers to smother the dude with a pillow
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Gordon: “that’s the world we are living in now. People are very selfish and afraid.”

Speaking of selfishness, the DVD is missing ten minutes of the movie and has no special features, so it’s sort of an anti-special-edition DVD. That is no fun.

Purdy-Gordon with co-worker Tanya
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Finally it is SHOCKtober and I can watch Stuart Gordon movies again. This one is prep for Stuck, which should come out on video next week. It’s similar to Dagon in many ways: pretty good classic-lit-inspired story, foreign/period setting with cheap-but-good production values, spots of humor, sexual transgression… They’re fun movies to watch with some great characters, but our leads are bland, straightforward, naive dopes. It’s not like I’m rooting for Lance Henriksen, but I can’t bring myself to root for the baker and his wife either.

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Set during the Spanish Inquisition in 1492 (when Columbus sailed the ocean blue), Lance stars as an evil monk who claims to be extremely religious but tosses the church aside when it interferes with his plan, a man who tortures people for confessions and insists what he’s doing is right. If the movie was released today, it’d be attacked for all the heavy-handed GW Bush comparisons. Lance is surrounded by his cronies: Stephen Lee (the toy-loving dude in Dolls), crazed torturer Mark Margolis (a Darren Aronofsky regular) and by-the-books Jeffrey Combs, and together they torture and kill a woman whose character name sounds like Contessa Alfred Molina (played by the director’s wife Carolyn) and one who claims to be an actual witch (played by the creeeepy hotel woman from In the Mouth of Madness).

Jeffrey Combs:
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Thrust into this lunacy are a baker and his wife. The baker (also in Gordon’s Castle Freak) is a regular boring dude who can inexplicably take out three knights in full armor using only a spoon, and the wife (her only other role is in a rarely-seen Raul Julia movie) is honest and religious and doesn’t trust the Inquisition. She’s arrested and accused of witchery after she protests a public execution scene, but evil Lance falls for her and tries to get her by alternately threatening to torture her/her husband and offering to release her/her husband. He cuts her tongue out, she escapes by faking death (with help of the real witch – who swallows gunpowder so her body will explode and her bones impale the crowd during her burning at the stake, which I don’t think would really work), the couple escape and Lance dies (torture-free) in his own spike pit beneath the pendulum. Oh, and in the middle there’s a visit from a cardinal (Oliver Reed from The Brood, The Devils and Burnt Offerings!), but Lance locks him up inside a wall a la Poe’s “Cask of Amontillado.”

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Lance is fun to watch as the monstrous monk. Lots of loving care is paid to torture equipment. Movie’s action scenes are weak, but overall I liked the thing. Happy Shocktober, everyone!