Tom Jolliffe double bills Re-Animator and From Beyond in honour of the late great Stuart Gordon…
With sad news that another legend of film has departed this mortal coil, it seems apt to pay tribute to a horror icon. Stuart Gordon was known for a number of classic horror and sci-fi films. Fans have long adored his work and he’s made a number of cult classic films ranging from Robot Jox to Space Truckers and Dolls. My earliest introduction to Gordon’s work was in the enjoyable sci-fi actioner, Fortress with Christopher Lambert. It’s a film that has so many cult worthy elements and is a hell of a lot of B movie fun. Additionally he’s become well known for his adaptations of classic horror fiction, with The Pit and the Pendulum (based on Edgar Allen Poe’s short story) but his career will be most heavily defined by his two HP Lovecraft adaptations, From Beyond and Re-Animator.
Aiding Gordon in these classics is a core that are essential in both. Leading man Jeffrey Combs became a cult horror icon for a number of films in the 80’s but not least for these two Lovecraft adaptations. Producer Brian Yuzna (who also wrote From Beyond) and popular Scream Queen, Barbara Crampton are also on board both films. It’s a perfect combination for a double bill.
A lot of the most popular 80’s horror had more than a dash of comedy it should be said. Evil Dead 2 remains one of the most popular (even Sam Raimi’s first was pretty funny, and further, Army of Darkness, the third in the trilogy was great fun). Raimi’s iconic series of course owed more than a tip of the cap to Lovecraft. Peter Jackson also marked his beginnings in irreverent horror comedy.
Re-Animator is another classic 80’s horror, that’s funny (intentionally) and has some gloriously imaginative old school practical effects. Combs will forever be associated as a mad scientist toying with nature. Here as Dr West he begins experimenting on re-animating dead tissue. Inevitably things of course go awry with West also having to contend with a rival seeking to steal credit.
Like Bruce Campbell, but the kind of geekier version, there’s a consistent and engaging manic energy with Combs and he’s always great to watch. Bruce Abbott and Barbara Crampton who become unwittingly involved in raising the dead are both excellent. Crampton has always been an immensely popular horror icon, and for good reason.
Gordon’s visual style really adds to proceedings. He’s never particularly mentioned in the same breath as Raimi or Jackson for example, but given his track record back in the peak years of 80’s horror, he should have more standing in the pantheon of Horror icons. Likewise, Brian Yuzna’s involvement is key and he’d later emerge as an iconic horror director in his own right too (helming the sequel, as well as the bat shit and brilliant, Society). The visual fx in this considering the meagre budget are fantastic.
The following year from Re-Animator, Gordon, Yuzna, Crampton and Combs all reformed to make From Beyond. It was based on another H.P Lovecraft short, but in what may seem odd, it covers a few similar themes to Re-Animator, and that had probably been successful enough already to greenlight a sequel (it would eventually come in 1990). Still, it seemed odd to re-team everyone and do a different film rather than get straight to a sequel, but hey…it’s a good thing they did as From Beyond was another great film.
Like Re-Animator there’s plenty of macabre and gruesome humour. Combs does on edge mania again as the underling to a professor who seemingly dies during an experiment gone wrong. The experiment in question is a machine called the receptor, allowing the user to see beyond their perception of reality, and to see dark spirits/creatures. This film had a significantly higher budget than Re-Animator and in the sheer elaborate nature of the animatronics and visual fx, it shows. There are some absolutely brilliant creations in this. Fans of old school horror and grotesque creature designs will love it.
The film overall isn’t quite as engaging overall as Re-Animator, but it’s still a thoroughly engaging 80’s horror. Combs and Crampton are great, whilst it’s also enjoyable to see Ken Foree (another horror icon best known for Dawn Of The Dead) appearing.
That being said, this still ranks higher than the subsequent Re-Animator sequels. Like a lot of the best darkly comic horrors of the period it’s also a lightening brisk run-time and gets right into the thick of the action. Much of the success lies in Gordon’s ability to keep a tight pace, combined with his visual style and never without a macabre humour that suits the gruesome FX and its game cast to a tee. There’s something about the best horror directors, in showing the grotesque, but doing so with so much glee. Some of the visual ‘gags’ are fantastic, and played partially for discomforting humour, but like a Raimi, or Jackson, it was something Gordon could always do with aplomb. These set piece moments were always memorable.
What are you favourite Stuart Gordon film? Lets us know in the comments below or on our Twitter page @flickeringmyth…
Tom Jolliffe is an award winning screenwriter and passionate cinephile. He has a number of films out on DVD/VOD around the world and several releases due in 2020, including The Witches Of Amityville Academy (starring Emmy winner, Kira Reed Lorsch) and Tooth Fairy: The Root of Evil. Find more info at the best personal site you’ll ever see…https://www.instagram.com/jolliffeproductions/