Fantasia 2010: A Conversation With Stuart Gordon And Jeffrey Combs.

Todd Brown, Founder and Editor
[Our thanks to Alexandre Fontaine Rousseau & Mathieu Li-Goyette of Panorama Cinema for the following interview.]

We had the chance to meet Stuart Gordon and Jeffrey Combs, both of them in Montréal to celebrate the 25th anniversary of their classic Re-Animator and to present their new play Nevermore : An Evening with Edgar Allan Poe. Relaxed, funny, the director and his actor were kind enough to answer our questions about the art of adapting H.P. Lovecraft for the big screen, the influence of theater on their filmed work and being a « genre auteur ».

Panorama-cinema : It's the 25th anniversary of Re-Animator. How does it feel to have created a movie that has become such a cult hit?

Stuart Gordon : I'm amazed that people are still watching it, quite honestly. Most films... you sort of forget about them probably ten minutes after you've seen them. But the idea that people are still enjoying this movie is, quite honestly, fantastic.

Jeffrey Combs : And I always think back to when we were shooting it... I never imagined that it would...

Stuart Gordon : You didn't think that anyone would go see it! (laughs)

Jeffrey Combs : No I didn't think that! I just thought, you know... If someone had told me then : "Twenty-five years from now this movie will still have a cult following". I wouldn't even have been able to comprehend that. "Come on, really?"

Stuart Gordon : Well, Jeffrey was not a fan of horror films. I have to spill the beans here... As a matter of fact, there is a scene in it where he takes a bonesaw and goes through the corpse (disgusted reaction by Jeffrey) and he comes up with his arm covered in blood and he shakes the blood off. That's really Jeffrey.

Jeffrey Combs : I hate that shit! (laughs)

Panorama-cinéma : From the moment you made Re-Animator, how did you get to do From Beyond?

Jeffrey Combs : Well, that was pretty quick, wasn't it?

Stuart Gordon : What happened was that after the success of Re-Animator they gave me a deal to do three more movies, and they said they wanted one of them to be a Lovecraft. Originally I wanted to do Dagon as the second film, but our distributor said : "People turning into fish? I don't think so." And he actually said : "You have to do another story." So From Beyond was the one that we chose, which I think is a very good choice because it is a very cinematic idea.

Panorama-cinéma : Lovecraft is an author that doesn't describe...

Jeffrey Combs : Yeah. There's no action, it's just atmosphere...

Panorama-cinéma : Yeah, most of the times it's just "too horrible to be described", but then your movies are just full-on gory!

Stuart Gordon : Although it's funny. Sometimes Lovecraft does describe things in such great detail that you still don't know what he's talking about. He'll describe this thing that's got wings and tentacles... and you're going : "What the hell is this?" (laughs)

Panorama-cinéma : You always come back to two masters, Poe and Lovecraft, who are two masters of the unseen while cinema and theater are in a way arts of what we can see. How did you approach the adaptation of these work in Re-Animator and From Beyond or The Black Cat and Nevermore which you are going to present this week-end?

Stuart Gordon : Well, the thing about Lovecraft, I think, is choosing the right stories. Because there are some stories that are very internal and would be very hard to adapt. But there are other stories, like Re-Animator, which are full of action - non-stop action. And if you pick the right story it makes it a lot easier.

It's also true that without Poe there would be no Lovecraft. Lovecraft was a huge admirer of Poe and actually even imitated Poe's style often in his early writings. But Poe is all about the senses, all about making you as a reader experience something. There is something in our play, where he says that everything should be done for a single effect when he writes a story : that it's either to make you laugh, cry, or to scare you. Every word contributes to that effect.

Panorama-cinéma : You both have a background in theater. How did you use that when you went to film? There is something about these films, like the over-the-top acting... (laughs)

Jeffrey Combs : Thank you so much!

Panorama-cinéma : But that performance is one of my all-time favorites! But there is something that is uncommon in the whole vibe of the performances in those movies.

Stuart Gordon : That's true.

Jeffrey Combs : It's true, but I didn't go into it thinking about a style or how to do it other than just to just play the scene. There are high high stakes here and really important things going on!

Panorama-cinéma : The most important things!

Jeffrey Combs : Yeah, the most important things : life, death, the living, dying, living again! So, I mean, this sort of calls for someone who's got a fire in the belly. You can't sit back and mumble and be laid back about it.

Stuart Gordon : I think it also has to do with the character of Herbert West. He's a larger than life kind of person. He's so driven, and Jeffrey really captures that. As soon as he walked into the audition I knew this was the guy, and it's funny because in the Lovecraft story West is described as a blond... he doesn't look anything the way Jeffrey does. But Jeffrey had the attitude and really captured the spirit of Herbert West.

Jeffrey Combs : I've said this before but audiences love characters that do not compromise, from Dirty Harry to Herbert West to innumerable heroes. They're the people that stand there and do it their way. Because we all have to compromise everyday you know : sit down next to a crying baby on an airplane or let our boss berate us when all we really wanna say is "fuck off". But not you, Stu... (laughs)

Panorama-cinéma : He seems like a good boss.

Stuart Gordon : There's been a couple of times when he's told me that actually.

Jeffrey Combs : But there is something that audiences connect to there, with this character that goes where they can't go and does what they can't do even if it means chaos. At least he's consistently uncompromising. That's one of the fascinations, I think, with Herbert West.

Panorama-cinéma : The way you describe this character reminds me of Edmond. From David Mamet to Lovecraft there might seem to be a huge gap but they to have their similarities.

Stuart Gordon : That's a good point. Lovecraft once described his world by saying : "Man lives on an island of ignorance surrounded by forces beyond his control". I think that could also describe Edmond.

Jeffrey Combs : Or my career. (laughs)

Panorama-cinéma : Poe and Lovecraft were always writing about the alienation of their contemporary times. In many ways, you explored this within Edmond and then Stuck. Do you think you've achieved a way of expressing these emotions in your own style or in your own world?

Stuart Gordon : It's true that last few movies I've done have been about real life, not these sort of fantastical worlds. I've started to believe that, really, real life is much more scary than anything you could imagine. (laughs)

Panorama-cinéma : Do you think that being a genre auteur has been a problem in your career? Has it helped you? You've often done straight-to-video movies...

Stuart Gordon : It's funny. Sometimes it's been a great help and if it weren't for the success of those films I wouldn't be making movies at all, so I can't really complain. I love genre films. But sometimes... One of the projects I've been trying to get made for a while is a romantic comedy, and it's a little hard for people to get their heads around that.


Panorama-cinéma : When did the idea of Nevermore come to you? Was it during the filming of The Black Cat? Was it some sort of prequel to it?

Stuart Gordon : It was. It is actually a prequel, in terms of the events portrayed which take place about three years before the events in Nevermore. But it was really hanging on the set with Jeffrey, when he was Poe, that I really started believing that I was with Poe.

Jeffrey Combs : Acting is believing.

Stuart Gordon : The thing about Jeffrey Combs is when he gets into character he's not Jeffrey Combs anymore. He just becomes another person. It doesn't look like him, it doesn't sound like him. He is Poe.

This was such a strong feeling that I thought : wouldn't it be great to share this with a live audience... to be able to spend time, to be in the same room, to be breathing the same air, as Edgar Allan Poe.

Panorama-cinéma : Yeah, because that is the concept of the play. That it is not a play but rather you doing a reading as Poe...

Jeffrey Combs : It's a reenactment of a recital that Poe would do in his life.

Stuart Gordon : But, of course, it being Poe it... goes wrong.

Panorama-cinéma : About The Black Cat and your work on the Masters of Horror series. Do you see a difference between shooting for television and cinema or is it basically the same thing?

Stuart Gordon : It's pretty much the same to me.

Panorama-cinéma : Did you do Nevermore on stage because you couldn't film it?

Jeffrey Combs : We haven't really even thought of that.

Stuart Gordon : I think there is something about experiencing a live event that is even stronger than movies. I think theater is more powerful than film. When you're in an audience and watching something unfolding right in front of your eyes it's really really strong. That was the reason we chose to do Nevermore as a play. I don't think it would have the impact that it does as a film.

Panorama-cinéma : Is it your first return to theater?

Stuart Gordon : No. I do theater now and then. Jeffrey and I both started in the theater. I love it and I still go back to it from time to time.

Panorama-cinéma : I know that you talked about making House of Re-Animator, which I heard was supposed to be a story about the Bush administration.

Stuart Gordon : It was, and it would have been great. We had William H. Macy to play Bush which would have been hilarious and we had all of the people from Re-Animator returning : Bruce Abbott, Barbara Crampton... And it looked like a slam-dunk. I mean, how could you not make this movie? The answer was that people were afraid to finance it because they didn't want to get into trouble with the Bush administration. And now it seems kind of pointless...

Panorama-cinéma : Yeah, but then again politics are a problem with or without Bush.

Stuart Gordon : I know and I think it's possible that at some point we'll revisit that idea.

Interview by Alexandre Fontaine Rousseau & Mathieu Li-Goyette. Transcription by Alexandre Fontaine Rousseau.
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