From Beyond (1986)
The first of two H.P. Lovecraft adaptations on this list, From Beyond is a slimy, garish and throughly bonkers science fiction horror. Concerning an experiment in a run-down building, Gordon uses the low-budget trappings of what is essentially a one location shoot with four principle cast members and creates a tense, claustrophobic and really slimy nightmare. Featuring budget icons Jeffrey Combs, Barbara Crampton and Ken Soree, the film has a cast that can deliver all the requirements of stock genre characters while also providing offbeat and risky performances. How many quirky scientist characters do you know who end up bald and with a fleshy antenna? How many attractive bespectacled female psychologist characters do you know who end up being sexually relieved by a Shoggoth? How many brave, tough cop characters do you know who end up running round in a pair of tiny white briefs? Despite their generic beginnings these characters go to bizarre places and thanks to their brave performers it never feels too much.
Adapted primarily from Lovecraft's excellent short story A Shadow over Innsmouth (with only the set-up borrowed from the author's Dagon) Dagon is a criminally over-looked monster movie. A hapless couple find their yacht washed into a creepy sea-side fishing town. When his wife goes missing our hapless, and slightly nerdy, hero goes looking for her only to find the town filled with fish-god worshipping cultists all of which have started to take on the scaly physical characteristics of their chosen deity. As the sense of dread and threat intensifies and the deformities get fishier we soon discover something long forgotten swimming in our heroes past.
The production on this film is incredible. The crooked and sodden streets of this demented town are so wonderfully realised that every frame drips atmosphere. Whether it was a studio built set or location it's hard to imagine Gordon could have pointed the camera anywhere without getting an amazing shot.
That is not to say Gordon had it easy as again he is balancing tones deftly. The movie features frequent humour yet never at the expense of the threat. Even the presence of potentially hokey rubber tentacles don't subvert the genuine horror on display. These creatures mean business and the stakes are high. Against all odds this is a film that is both fun and horrific. It's also largely faithful to the source material, our hero's escape from his hotel room is an almost exact realisation of Lovecraft's own set-piece.
Dagon is a completely satisfying gothic monster movie and one that fully deserves more attention than it has had so far.
King of the Ants (2003)
Sounds like a fairly conventional erotic crime thriller doesn't it? This is Stuart Gordon remember which means there is nothing conventional about it. At all. Essentially a study of how the humanity can be beaten out of anyone, the movie features all the sex and violence you'd expect but also goes into some pretty unexpected places. It is therefore very difficult to talk about this film without utterly spoiling it so I thought I'd take some things out of context to see if the very mention of them is enough bait.
So this seemingly conventional thriller includes: male nudity, a lump on the head the size of a pineapple, both sets of gentiles on one person, Veron Wells, a demon that shits out of its forehead, George Wendt and golf.
That's all you're getting. Just go watch the son-of-a-bitch.
So there are three Stuart Gordon movies that will satisfy all your genre needs while also challenging you and, in many places, making you feel a little icky. And his filmography is brimming with movies like this. Always reliable, always entertaining but never safe.