I had the opportunity to speak briefly with legendary filmmaker Stuart Gordon on the eve of the release of his new film, the psychological suspense / comedy / horror hybrid Stuck (due out in limited release on 5/30/08).
The film plays as a fast-paced, tightly-wound sick joke, all the more disturbing as its tale of a down-on-his luck everyman (Stephen Rea) who winds up lodged in the windshield of a young nurse's (Mena Suvari) car and left for dead inside her garage is drawn from reality. As much about its characters' culturally-imposed lots in life as it is the clinical horrors of Rea's predicament, it showcases Gordon's ever-evolving command of genre forms and two stellar peformances from Rea and Suvari.
Gordon is also contributing an episode to NBC's summer season series "Fear Itself", a revised version of Showtime's "Masters of Horror".
Collin: It’s a real pleasure to speak with you. One of our contributors, Blake Ethridge, interviewed you when the film screened at Sitges.
Stuart: I remember – I remember meeting Blake.
Collin: Back then Stuck was just starting out on the festival circuit. With its release scheduled for the end of this month (5/30), what are your impressions of the film now? Have audiences responded the way you had anticipated? Are they taking something from the experience that’s surprising to you?
Stuart: I’m surprised at how participatory the movie is - that audiences seem to want to yell at the screen. They get very vocal, and that was kind of a surprise for me – a happy one.
Collin: I watched the screener that was sent over with my wife, and we were constantly goading the characters on or frustrated by their actions.
Collin: One of the things that struck me about the film was, at its heart, it seemed very angry. There are moments of comedy and suspense, there’s a light touch when appropriate, but it seems that the characters are all disadvantaged in some way, and they find themselves in situations they can’t manage to pull themselves out of because of who and what they are.
Collin: They wind up destroying their lives, other peoples’ lives. There’s a tragic quality. Did you see this when you first happened on the story that inspired the film, or was it something you and John Strysik arrived at while developing the script?
Stuart: Well, I think these are incredibly angry times. People are – when you’re away from America and you come back, you can feel it. People seem like they’re ready to kill each other here. I think there’s a real dog-eat-dog thing going on. I think it has to do with the direction our country’s going – people are unhappy about the war, now they’re unhappy about the price of gas, all sorts of things, and it’s really gotten to be a thing where people are only in it for themselves. I think that’s what the story was always about – the idea that people are willing to do anything to succeed, at the expense of everyone else.
Collin: The characters – Mena Suvari’s character – she’s not that clear-cut of a villain, even at the end of the picture. She gets her comeuppance, but it takes a while for her to really snap and really give in to that truly dark side.
Stuart: I think that’s what so great about Mena’s performance. She really brings a humanity to the character and she doesn’t make her into a monster. We can understand and feel for her – we’ve all done things like that. Not to this extreme.
Stuart: But we’ve all done terrible things we’ve tried to cover up. Made a mistake and covered it up with a million others because we’re trying to save face.
Collin: Going back to Mena – not just her, actually – your films have always featured very brave performances.
Stuart: (laughs) Yeah.
Collin: You ask your actors to do some things that really border on taboo. How do you know, when you’re casting a project, that you’ve found someone who will buy into your vision? It’s an extreme vision.
Stuart: It’s true. And I’ve been very lucky to have, as you say, some heroically brave actors work with me. Mena and I had a chance to work together briefly on my last film, Edmund, and we enjoyed the experience so much that when I heard she was interested in playing this role I just jumped at the opportunity.
Collin: Speaking of Edmund, Stuck follows a recent trend for you that started with Kind of the Ants where you’re playing in a much more realistic environment. Not just in terms of subject matter but characters. You’ve experienced artistic success moving between genres in the past so I don’t mean to imply it’s an aberration, but I’m curious - why this particular three film swing and why now?
Stuart: I think as I’ve gotten older I’ve realized reality is much stranger than anything you can come up with on your own. The horrors that people really do are far more extreme than anything you can do in a monster movie. I’ve been drawn to these stories because real life has just become much more interesting to me. Not to say I’m going to abandon Lovecraft – my next project, I’m hoping, will be a Lovecraft project.
Collin: You seem to be someone who’s a fan of film and film history, especially within the genre, so I was wondering if you took any special pleasure in seeing the Amicus name above Stuck?
Stuart: Oh, absolutely. I love all the old Amicus films. To be connected with Amicus and be a part of its rebirth is a great pleasure.
Collin: Moving on to some things you have coming up, I’d like to ask a little about your participation in NBC’s “Fear Itself”. Coming from the initial concept that the show was meant to be this no-holds-barred environment to now, where it’s taking over “ER”’s time slot for the summer--
Collin: --what’s it been like directing this go-round? What adjustments did you have to make?
Stuart: It was very different. It felt completely different, actually. As you said, we had unlimited freedom on “Masters of Horror” with Showtime. What I was intrigued with was I kept thinking back to the old series like “The Twilight Zone” or “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” which used to really generate terrific suspense and scares while at the same time were able to be show on primetime TV. That was really the challenge this time around – to see how far we could go without having the people from Standards and Practices pounding on our heads.
Collin: You mentioned briefly your new Lovecraft project – The Thing on the Doorstep - is it still coming up next for you?
Stuart: I think so. We’re casting, we’re hoping we’ll be in production this fall.
Collin: Lovecraft has really bedeviled a lot of filmmakers, but you’ve had a great deal of success adapting his work. Do you approach it in any special way that you think helps make it click on-screen?
Stuart: I think the trick is to pick the right stories. A lot of his work is incredibly internal, and would be very hard to adapt into a film, but there are plenty of stories that I think are very easy and lend themselves to film, those that are more action-oriented. There are a quite a few of them. Lovecraft’s work is a real treasure trove – there are so many wonderful stories.
Collin: Congratulations on Stuck and good luck with The Thing on the Doorstep - we’re looking forward to it and wish you continued success.
Stuart: It was a pleasure talking with you. Thank you!
Thanks to Stuart Gordon!