In the 1950s, EC Comics published the hugely controversial and influential horror-anthology series Tales From The Crypt. The stories within its pages were shockingly morbid — replete with gruesome axe murders, rotting corpses and endings far more cynical than any other comics lining the shelves at the time. Yet at their core, they were morality tales; each issue followed the misdeeds of some thief, abusive spouse, murderer or plain-awful person until they received a brutal comeuppance in the final panels.
That satisfying formula translated nicely as an HBO series in 1989, further upping the blood-and-guts quota. A couple decent Tales From The Crypt films even cropped up over the years. None of them, however, were as socially trenchant or unnerving as 2007’s Stuck — a cautionary tale that may not officially carry the Tales From The Crypt name, but nevertheless embodies its spirit.
Stuck lifts its clever premise from a real-life tragedy that occurred in 2001, when 25-year-old Chante Mallard struck middle-aged and homeless Gregory Biggs with her car, leaving him critically injured and lodged in a windshield. Panicked, Mallard drove the entire way home with the man pinned to her vehicle, and then left him to bleed out in her garage. It took Biggs two days to finally die.
Director Stuart Gordon (Re-Animator) turns that true crime into one of the most accomplished works of his career — a horror film with proud B-movie roots, trademark Gordon gore and gnarly practical effects. But Stuck actually has something to say about humanity’s indifference over others’ suffering. It’s typically easier to ignore a person’s cries for help than take action.
Mena Suvari (American Beauty) plays Brandi, a corn-rowed nursing-home attendant who balances the stress of her job by frequenting nightclubs and popping Ecstasy (supplied from her drug-dealing boyfriend). She doesn’t seem to possess any ambition beyond gritting her teeth through the grueling workday in anticipation of that night’s party.
Tom (Stephen Rea), meanwhile, is already having one of the worst days of his miserable existence. His unemployment checks have dried up, he’s been evicted from his apartment and his only sleeping arrangement is a park bench. Pushing around a shopping cart containing his few remaining possessions, Tom has swiftly arrived at rock bottom.
By the time the hit-and-run occurs, both characters have been established skillfully enough to give Tom’s predicament (trapped and bleeding out in a stranger’s garage) an added sense of desperation. Brandi’s selfishness is clear from the outset, so her decision to flee the crime scene with Tom in tow feels believable.
After Brandi tells her boyfriend the accident’s victim was a homeless guy (failing to mention that said guy is still stuck to the front of her car), he responds by saying “Shit, you have nothing to worry about then … Anyone can do anything to anyone and get away with it. Just look who’s in the White House right now.” Though over a decade old, the amoral world depicted in Stuck reflects a bleak sentiment still felt in today’s America: When a president can exploit minorities and the lower-class without consequence, who cares about some random bum?
If this all sounds like joyless torture-porn, fear not. Stuck is a delirious and tightly-wound thriller, following Tom’s desperate escape attempts while Brandi’s life quickly unravels as the result of her actions. A liberal amount of dark humor is also thrown in the mix; take the sequence where Brandi’s thoughts during sex are interrupted with visions of Tom’s mangled face. Mistaking Brandi’s terrified scream for an ear-piercing climax, the aforementioned boyfriend lets out a triumphant cheer.
Stuck really lets its freak flag fly in the last act, increasing the claustrophobic tension and reveling in the uncomfortably close examination of Tom’s wounds; escaping captivity with a windshield wiper puncturing your kidney is no small task. Everything erupts in an outrageously satisfying climax, where Gordon just can’t hide his love for over-the-top violence any longer; here the film finally acknowledges that, yes, this is from the same dude who made From Beyond in 1986. You know, the one with slimy trans-dimensional creatures and people getting their brains sucked out through their eye sockets. Considering Gordon hasn’t directed a single feature in the 12 years since Stuck’s release, it would be nice to have him back again.
NO SLEEP OCTOBER 2019
Pop Skull – Richard Propes