Fortress (1992)

A couple of movies I haven’t seen in many years… Fortress being the only Gordon film I saw in theaters, before I knew him as the Re-Animator guy. It sets up a decently convincing sci-fi dystopia, but no actors are “good” in this, not even Jeffrey Combs. Anyway it’s not taking itself too seriously so why should we?

The gang:

That 70s Dad runs a private prison where even an “unauthorized thought process” will get your guts electroshocked (“intestinated”) – after RoboCop, Kurtwood Smith was typecast as an evil boss in cyborg dystopias. Ex-soldier Christopher Lambert and his illegally pregnant hotwife arrive as prisoners, and while T7D macks on the wife (Loryn Locklin of Wes Craven’s Night Visions), Lambert teams up with his cellmates to escape – including timid nerd Combs, Lincoln Kilpatrick of The Omega Man, and Clifton Collins Jr. of Guillermo Del Toro’s Robot Jox remake Pacific Rim. Lambert has to fight a giant psycho (Vernon Wells of Mad Max 2 and some Joe Dante films)… Combs is killed while installing a virus into the mainframe by typing “install virus.exe” or something, which reminds me, isn’t there a new version of Blackhat coming out?

Unauthorized thought process:

Space Truckers (1996)

An even sillier movie – I don’t think sci-fi action plays to Gordon’s strengths – but Dennis Hopper is a huge upgrade over Lambert, bringing the charm he omitted from Witch Hunt. He’s a Millennium Falcon/Firefly-style independent space trucker, beefing with George Wendt over shipment prices, then accidentally gets involved in a plot to take over the world.

Our heroes in a porta-potty:

Hopper and hired hand Stephen Dorff take a load of killer robots, then get stuck in space while lusting after the same girl (Hopper’s Witch Hunt costar Debi Mazar), then attacked by their own murderbot cargo. Nice cynical ending, the guy plotting a hostile planetary takeover (Shane Rimmer, best known from Thunderbirds) is now President of Earth – the super-soldiers were just a backup plan should he not get elected. But his plan to eliminate witnesses backfires, and our guys flee after blowing up the president. I’d take a sequel, but this straight-to-video widescreen movie was never gonna get one.

Space pirates:

“West killed the corpse.”
“I see how that sounds.”

Academia Horror, an unbelievable horror-comedy that never winks. Even the music is very good, by Richard Band, little brother of Dollman vs. Demonic Toys director Charles.

We’ve got medical school dean Halsey, his student daughter Megan, and her boyfriend Dan… then there’s the boyfriend’s eccentric new roommate Herbert, and his archrival, brain surgeon Dr. Hill. Dan and the Dean (horror royalty Robert Sampson of City of the Living Dead and Netherworld) are fine, but the other three… Barbara Crampton, Jeffrey Combs, and David Gale as Hill… if I was in charge, I’d cast them in every movie.

Opens with Herbert losing his mentor, then Hill losing a patient, and the two face off in the morgue with conflicting beliefs about the nature of life, and I’d forgotten that Hill is also a hypnotist. The autistic West, not great at making friends, gets addicted to his own reagent. The first human he reanimates kills the Dean, so the Dean has to be reanimated – then locked up, since they come back fully mad. As for Hill, West just straight up kills him with a shovel (“plagiarist!”) then reanimates his severed head to prove his methods to the skeptical late doctor, but things… escalate.

The Addiction (1995)

A black and white (but mostly black) arthouse vampire movie. Being a big fan of talky French cinema and a moderate fan of avant-garde, non-narrative films, I always hesitate to use the word “pretentious,” but it kind of seemed pretentious. Maybe I’m just afraid of philosophy, and since the lead character is getting her PhD in philosophy, there was lots of Sartre and Heidegger and the like.

With Edie Falco, who I didn’t recognize with long hair:

It’s full of great ideas, though, and maybe it’s because I was weak and sick while watching, but I found it moving by the end. College student Lili Taylor (in that brief period between Short Cuts and I Shot Andy Warhol when she seemed like a movie star) is bitten in an alley then left alone. She get no underground vampire dance clubs or Lost Boys camraderie – she has to figure it out on her own. Clever metaphors to STD’s and drug use abound (she steals blood from homeless dudes using a syringe, ugh) along with the pondering about the nature of being. She does briefly (oh! too briefly) get a mentor in the form of Christopher Walken, second-billed for his three minutes of screen time.

With the teacher she’s about the seduce and then bite:

Lili graually infects classmates and professors, then holds a graduation party that turns into a bloodfeast. I think she dies from taking sacrament soon after, but she’s in the hospital all torn up so maybe she was dying anyway. Movie was “presented” by hip-hop/comedy producer Russell Simmons for some reason and written by Nicholas St. John, who wrote most of Ferrara’s previous movies but not Bad Lieutenant, his previous killer combo of horror and catholicism.

With some girl she just bit:

Body Snatchers (1993)

Watched this on a whim since it was on netflix streaming, not expecting much from Ferrara’s studio horror remake (the movie he forgot about when criticizing Werner Herzog for remaking Bad Lieutenant), but it was great – excellently creepy and so stylishly shot – one of the few times throwing a big-budget thriller remake at an artistic filmmaker has paid off (sorry, The Departed). Paid off for me anyway – if IMDB is to be believed, it was a royal bomb in theaters. In competition at Cannes though, beaten unfairly by The Piano (and fairly by Farewell My Concubine). Third of four Body Snatchers movies. I knew about the Kevin McCarthy and the Nicole Kidman, but not about the one with Donald Sutherland and Leonard Nimoy.

All Things Horror points out: “Sure, it’s not perfect. There’s a bit of annoying narration that seems completely unnecessary, some unfortunate blue screen, a goofy big explosion-filled ending,” all valid points. I’d like to add that the scene where suspicious doctor Forest Whitaker is driven to suicide by approaching aliens was pretty over the top, and if I didn’t already know Whitaker is a great actor, I would not have guessed it from this scene.

Awesome move setting the story on an army base, a location where everybody is trained to act like a pod person anyhow. R. Lee Ermey is looking good with his little mustache as the local general. Young Marti (Gabrielle Anwar of Flying Virus and iMurders) reluctantly moves onto the base with her boring dad (he’s so boring) Terry Kinney (founding member of Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theater), evil stepmother Meg Tilly (Psycho II) and observant little stepbrother. Marti immediately stars hanging out with a couple bad influences: hot, emotionless chopper pilot Tim (Billy Wirth of The Lost Boys) and general’s daughter Jen (Christine Elise of Child’s Play 2). Once the snatching starts, Tim’s post-traumatic stress disorder proves extremely useful in blending in with the aliens. Particularly creepy was the wide-mouthed pointing scream the baddies used as an alarm once the base had been mostly snatched.

Soon after that starts, Marti’s dad goes in search of help. And suddenly Guy Pearce is on an airplane? Then some Lebanese guys welcome Don Cheadle to Toronto?? Oh man, netflix has started playing the movie Traitor instead, probably to make a funny movie-snatchers joke. It’s hilarious, but I had to go rent a proper DVD of Body Snatchers and watch the last half hour a few nights later.

Writing assistance by both Stuart Gordon and Larry Cohen – along with Ferrara that’s an entire unholy trinity of 80’s cult filmmakers. No wonder I liked it.

“Nothing worse than a horror movie geek.”

My three-year quest to see every Jacques Rivette film is slowly ongoing, my five-or-six-year quest to see every Luis Bunuel film proceeds at one title per year, but I thought it was best to push those cinematic luminaries aside and watch everything by Stuart Gordon, creator of classic 80’s horrors Re-Animator and From Beyond. Why is that? Because during SHOCKtober it’s nice to have someone you can rely on. While I admit there was nothing special about Daughter of Darkness, his Masters of Horror episodes have always been good, and this one, from the quickly-cancelled and rumored-to-be-crappy season 3 (aka Fear Itself) was excellent.


Starts out promising, setting a creepy horror mood off the bat, with a shadowy, rattle-shaking voodoo prisoner Dwayne (horror regular Stephen Hart) loaded into a police station jail cell for the night, the station lights flickering so badly that I’m thinking the episode’s budget didn’t include lighting and sets.


Our protagonist, eager rookie Bannerman (Mad Men star Elisabeth Moss) is a horror fan, turned on by proximity to Dwayne, wants to hear more about his crimes. I figured it’d go in a more Silence of the Lambs direction here, but there’s no time for quiet spooky conversations about fava beans – Dwayne “escapes” by possessing the bodies of the other cops, saving her for last. Interesting horror tactic – we don’t see any killings, just find bodies left behind, like the ending of Halloween, hidden all over the place. Bannerman is trapped in the locked station with a cannibal psycho killer and is definitely going to be eaten, so she eats rat poison, so when he catches up and takes a bite out of her neck, it kills them both.

It’s not like Gordon to have such a shocking, depressing ending, but it works. Anyway he didn’t write the episode – the guys behind WTF story The Washingtonians did. Nicely done, extremely tense little flick (maybe a tad underlit) with a great supporting cast. Witness:

Stephen Lee, star of Dolls over 20 years ago and still kinda looking the same

Russell Hornsby, whom I loved as the boyfriend in Stuck

Nick Sobotka, star of The Wire season 2.

Why, right after watching the classic original Dracula, would I waste time on a cheapo 80’s made-for-TV vampire thriller? Because it’s one of only two unseen titles on Stuart Gordon’s filmography, and SHOCKtober seems like a good excuse to tackle the last of them.

It’s a rare film indeed which stars Mia Sara (Ferris Bueller’s girlfriend) – looks like after Ferris Bueller it was mostly this and Timecop. She shows up… somewhere… Romania? I shouldn’t have waited three weeks before writing this. I’ve fallen behind, you see. The question comes up often, “watch movies or write about movies?” and watching them wins. So three weeks ago I watched a crappy vampire movie starring Mia Sara… in what country did it even take place? Let’s say Romania.

Ferris’s girlfriend and her enchanted necklace:

Friendly cab driver Max, “Americans and me, we kill many nazis,” drives her around as she seeks her long-lost father. She has a dramatic encounter with Anthony Perkins (in between Psychos 3 and 4) who says her father is dead, which clearly means Perkins is her father. Writer Andrew Laskos apparently didn’t think we’d figure that one out.

Perkins and Grigori:

Oh, but I said it was a vampire movie and I mentioned Romania. Yes, Perkins is a good vampire, and Mia’s love interest Grigori (Robert Reynolds of Howling 6: The Freaks) is a bad vampire. The former wants to protect her, while the latter wants to have sex with her and create a race of super half-vampire babies like Blade or Ultraviolet.

Anthony Perkins, sunburned vampire:

There’s a vampire war (a very minor one), Perkins is left in the sun, Mia rescues him, he saves her from Grigori killing them both, oh and the cab driver from before turns out to be a vampire crony. The movie apparently thought it now needed to rescue the derailed romantic subplot, so it pairs Mia up with an American ambassador (current Heroes star Jack Coleman), who has only been grudgingly nice to Mia for the entire flick.

“Shut up, I’m your new love interest!”

Wonder if this was Stuart Gordon’s sole interesting contribution or if this was in the script… the vampires don’t have fanged teeth, they have little toothy mouths in the tips of their tongues, like the girl’s breasts in Trapped Ashes.


Movie looks very made-for-TV, which it was. Gordon must’ve needed work after Dolls, and fortunately (in the long run) didn’t get himself tied up in the Puppet Master series.

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

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?

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

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

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

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.


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:

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.”


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!

Late into SHOCKtober (Oct. 18th), I have finally unpacked my office enough to uncover the disc holding season two of “Masters of Horror”. Katy’s little brother is joining me for the celebratory kickoff screening, so I choose episode eleven, Stuart Gordon’s entry. It’s been a Gordon-filled month and his stuff is always either effective (“Dagon”) or entertaining (“Dolls”) or more usually both (“From Beyond”). Disappointingly, what we’ve got here is a slow-moving period piece that failed to impress or entertain.

The movie is supposedly based on Poe’s “The Black Cat”, but it’s actually an “Edgar Allen Poe In Love”, where we watch Poe’s visions and dreams that inspire him to write “The Black Cat”. Poe fans on the IMDB comment board enthusiastically rave about all the references to Poe’s life and stories scattered throughout the movie. Sort of a condensed look at Poe, implying that Gordon and usual co-writer Dennis Paoli will not be exploring each Poe work in-depth (this is the second after “Pit and the Pendulum”) as they have been doing for HP Lovecraft (seven films and counting).

Never heard of most of these actors and the only thing that turns up on IMDB is that half of them have been in the “Highlander” series for some reason. MoH trademark eye-gouging is here, but no nudity and I suppose an enthusiastic Jeffrey Combs will have to be our token celebrity casting.





Part three of my Stuart Gordon run during Shocktober 2007. Never thought I’d rent Dolls, but here I am. This movie predates Puppet Master by two years, Dollman and Demonic Toys by four and five years. Of course, stuff like Devil Doll has been around forever, but I used to see the box art for Dolls and assume it was a Puppet Master ripoff… guess not.

This is a gory horror movie for little kids. I’ll bet it didn’t do very well. A doll-loving little girl with an active imagination has a neglectful father and a wicked stepmother. Their car breaks down outside a huge house in the country owned by an elderly dollmaker couple. Coincidentally, a big doll-loving man-child and two brit-punk hitchhikers he picked up are in the same situation. Who will survive the night? Hint: only those who are pure of heart, treat children with respect, love dolls and don’t attempt to steal from the elderly.

Disturbingly, instead of (or in addition to?) outright killing people, the dolls capture them and turn them into new dolls, with awful little apple mummy heads behind their gentle ceramic faces. There are some doll-sized stabbings and shootings, but sadly no Puppet-Master blowtorches or drill-heads. Story really does play out like a children’s tale, which is just confusing. Kinda cool movie overall, cute and short.

The writer of this thing later co-wrote Honey I Shrunk The Kids with Gordon and Yuzna, and is now writing those badly-animated christian movies.

One britpunk girl starred in A-Ha’s “Take On Me” video. The manchild played the Big Bopper in La Bamba and costarred in Gordon’s Pit and the Pendulum. Gabriel the old man played Toulon in four of the Puppet Master films (heh, typecast as a murderous puppetmaker). The stepmother, awesome at being a completely horrible person, is the electroshock-giving evil doctor in From Beyond who gets her brain sucked out her eye socket by Jeffrey Combs. And the bad dad appeared in the Charles Band-written classic Terrorvision.

Movie starts the same way as Dagon… family vacation threatened by a suspiciously sudden thunderstorm.