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By KJ Doughton | July 17, 2002

With his burly frame, graying beard, and jolly, welcoming manner, filmmaker Stuart Gordon could almost be mistaken for Santa Claus.

Or rather, Santa Claws.

After all, this is the director who gave us “Re-Animator” (1985), a film featuring a severed head attempting to get intimate with a shackled female love interest. He also conjured forth “From Beyond” (1986), where snake-like, phallic pineal glands sprout from foreheads, and scientists melt into puddles of gelatinous slime like the Wicked Witch of the West. Then there’s Dagon (2001), Gordon’s most recent foray into fear, where unknowing visitors are tormented by macabre, scaly fish people with human sacrifice on their minds, in a Spanish seaside village.

Seattle’s Grand Illusion Theater is the latest tour stop on the cult director’s trek to promote Dagon, and the compact, funky art house tucked into a University District corner is a fitting shrine to his films. A block south of the earthy cinema rests a candlelit decor shop called Gargoyles, full of gothic, stone statues that conjure forth the doomy vibe of a Transylvanian cemetery. The theater itself hosts a cramped, claustrophobic screening room about the size of a funeral parlor, and its wooden ceiling is punctuated by square, symmetrical engravings… almost like the lid of a stylish coffin.

It’s eleven o’clock p.m., and Gordon’s admirers have filtered in from the “U” District’s dark streets to claim most of The Grand Illusion’s seats and attend Dagon’s northwest premiere. Some are donned in black capes and white pancake makeup, as if decked out for Ozzfest 2002. Others sport more benign, college student fashions, listening attentively as the director introduces his latest stylish descent into movie madness. As with “Re-Animator,” “From Beyond,” and “Castle Freak” (1995) before it, Dagon takes its premise from the celebrated author H.P. Lovecraft. This scream scribe tormented readers with his sinister, unsavory melting pot of sea demons and over-the-edge scientists before Stephen King was even a ghastly glint in his papa’s eye.

“This one was literally fifteen years in the making,” Gordon laughs, enthusiasm beaming from his expressive, crinkled eyes. “We’d take the premise to studios, and they’d tell us that it was just too damn weird. ‘Make the fish people into werewolves’, they would say, ‘and we’ll greenlight it tomorrow’.”

Although the horror icon’s speech is intensely articulate and controlled, he appears relaxed and approachable, more like a teddy bear than one of the crazed mad doctors that inhabit his ghoulish projects. The only thing remotely maniacal about the man is his devilish sense of humor. “When I started this movie,” he explains, pointing to his hairless, Kojak-style bean, “I had hair. That’s how long it’s taken to get it made.”

He explains to the Puget Sound crowd that Anacortes, a nearby tourist town that acts as gateway to the San Juan Islands, was considered as a shooting location for Dagon…and beyond.

Get the interview in part two of STUART GORDON: BODY OF WORK>>>

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