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Under Scrutiny: Stuart Gordon's "Edmond"

It's not easy to pinpoint the magic ingredient that gives Stuart Gordon's films that little extra push. All of them might have been terrible in the wrong hands. As it is, a few can be counted among the most important horror films of the last three decades. Is it his ability to translate Lovecraft to the big screen that accounts for most of Gordon's appeal? Is it the crafty balance of horror and humor dominating some of his work that pulls us in again and again? Or is it to the fruitful collaborating he's done with screenwriter Dennis Paoli that we owe thanks? As it turns out, none of the above is the golden key, yet all of these happy circumstances and more have resulted in some seriously compelling horror flicks.

But asking why Gordon's body of work is well above average on the whole is not nearly as intriguing as asking why his 2005 film, "Edmond," is not. He's strayed from the horror genre before, and with some fantastic results ("Robot Jox," "Space Truckers," "King of the Ants"), so there's no easy answer there. He's hit pay dirt with big-name actors and small, so we can't blame William H. Macy. Sooner or later our attention must turn to screenwriter David Mamet.

I'll take this opportunity to admit that I have not listened to Gordon's or Mamet's commentary tracks on the DVD (it's got to be something pretty damn special to make me pay attention to those things anymore). Maybe the two of them explain that the intent with "Edmond" was to create a hyper-exaggerated urban reality in which sex for money, violence and other manifestations of depravity become not just entertaining but cautionary. Maybe they go on to justify the cartoonish dialogue and disconnected actions of the film's antihero. Frankly, my dear, I don't give a shit. A film should be able to stand on its own two feet, and I want the real Stuart Gordon back. It's as if he was taken hostage by Mamet and his ham-fisted script.

But I really don't mean for this to be a review of the film. I just want to make the point that "Edmond" is not representative of Gordon's work. The first sign of this comes when the title character, after having already received a Post-it note with "1:15" written on it, finds himself drawn to a fortune teller whose address happens to be 115. Only an amnesiac would miss the connection, but Gordon finds it necesary to have Macy dig the note out of his pocket and flip it in the camera's direction after we see a closeup of the building's address. It's a move that looks about as natural as a Playboy playmate reading Heidegger on a leather sofa in the nude. Maybe it's that hyper-exaggerated reality rearing its ugly head again. Or maybe Gordon is smart enough to know that the audience for this kind of film is going to need to be hit over the head with such details. Either excuse is beneath a director of his caliber.

The future looks bright, however. Not only do we have Gordon's second "Masters of Horror" entry for Showtime to look forward to in 2007 (Poe's "The Black Cat"), according to the IMDb, but this year is also expected to see the release of "Stuck," a gritty-sounding thriller. Also announced for the not-too-distant future is "House of Re-Animator"! We must not despair.--Pete Mesling

Posted by Pete on February 18, 2007 8:18 PM
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