Stuart Gordon, the filmmaker behind cult horror classics like Re-Animator, From Beyond, Castle Freak, Robot Jox, and more, has died at the age of 72. Gordon’s career began in theatre, a path that lead him to found the Screw Theatre and then the avant-garde Organic Theater Company. His life in film began with Re-Animator, an H.P. Lovecraft adaptation Gordon first intended to bring to the stage, then to television, before making it into a feature film. The results were well-received, and launched Gordon into an eclectic filmmaking career.
There will never be another filmmaker like Stuart Gordon. Gordon got his start with theatre, first founding the Screw Threatre in the 1960s at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. When his productions proved too controversial, Gordon cut ties and moved on to found The Organic Theatre Company with his wife, Carolyn Purdy-Gordon. Gordon’s productions were known for pushing the envelope – a 1968 production of Peter Pan actually got Gordon and Purdy-Gordon arrested for obscenity.
After expressing interest in making a new Frankenstein film, Gordon was introduced to H.P. Lovecraft’s story “Herbert West–Reanimator.” Gordon first intended to adapt Lovecraft’s tale into a play – and then a 13-episode TV series. Gordon was eventually introduced to producer Brian Yuzna, and soon became convinced that Re-Animator had a better chance of being a film than a TV show.
Starring Bruce Abbott, Barbara Crampton, and a scene-stealing Jeffrey Combs, Re-Animator opened in 1985, and ended up being well-received by audiences and critics alike. Both Roger Ebert and Pauline Kael gave the film positive reviews. Ebert caught it at the Cannes Film Festival, and wrote: “In its own way, on its own terms, in its corrupt genre, this movie worked as well as any other movie in the festival.” And Kael stated: “This horror film about a medical student with a fluorescent greenish-yellow serum that restores the dead to hideous, unpredictable activity is close to being a silly ghoulie classic—the bloodier it gets, the funnier it is.”
Gordon would follow-up Re-Animator with another Lovecraft adaptation – the ooey, gooey From Beyond in 1986, which reunited Combs and Crampton. From there, the director helmed titles like Dolls, Robot Jox, The Pit and the Pendulum, Castle Freak, and more. His final feature was 2007’s Stuck. Gordon also penned screenplays for The Dentist and Body Snatchers. Gordon also brought the idea of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids to Disney, and was originally set to direct. However, he had to drop out of the film due to illness, and was replaced by Joe Johnston.
Known for horror that blended over-the-top special effects, dark humor, and the surreal, Gordon’s work stood completely on its own. “The thing about horror is that it deals with issues that we don’t really want to talk about—starting with the most basic idea, which is death,” Gordon said. “All horror films deal with death, which is a topic that most people don’t usually discuss. To have the ability to discuss or explore things that society wants to avoid is what makes the horror industry a very great and powerful thing.”
IndieWire asked Larry Fessenden, actor/producer/filmmaker and founder of indie production outfit Glass Eye Pix to remember fellow filmmaker and long-time playwright Stuart Gordon, best known for his trademark horror offerings “Re-Animator,” “Dagon,” and “From Beyond.” On Tuesday, Gordon died at at age 72.
Like many horror fans of my generation, I saw “Re-Animator” in the theater on the big screen. It was a revelation, so bold and sassy and that Barbara Crampton, whew! The practical effects had such exuberance talking severed head in a medical tray anyone? you could sense his history in experimental theater by the way he staged gore gags. “Re-Animator” put filmmaker Stuart Gordon squarely in the company of iconic horror auteurs John Carpenter and George Romero, and it began his life-long affinity for H.P. Lovecraft adaptations. His follow-up film was another Lovecraft story, “From Beyond” and it did not disappoint. Gordon would go on to put “Dagon” on the big screen and a couple more Lovecraft tales on the small screen too, for the aptly named series, “Masters of Horror.”
I believe his last Lovecraft adaptation was for our own “Tales from Beyond the Pale” episode “The Hound” for which he “got the band back together,” writing with Denis Paoli, music by Richard Band, and a cast including Crampton, Ezra Godden, and Chris McKenna. It is a tribute to Stuart's warmth and character that these collaborators would show up to work on a low-budget production like “Tales.”
My partner in “Tales,” Glenn McQuaid, served as in-studio producer and eventually as Stuart's sound designer. Stuart ran the production with great humor and professionalism and was very stern with Glenn, pushing him until the sound scape was just how he wanted it. It was a wonderful experience to see how Stuart worked, he was demanding, gregarious, and firm, even in overseeing a humble radio play. In fact, we were in talks to do a second radio play from a tale by Stephen King.
Stuart and I had been corresponding since 2010, trying to put together a couple films for him to direct. I found this period very invigorating, as the idea of working with a man of his grace and stature was very affirming. He felt that Glass Eye Pix would be able to deliver a quality production on a budget. It is heartbreaking to re-read the old e-mails now, and to recall the phone calls where we really did think we could make something together.
At the time the most recent movie I had seen of his was “Stuck,” a remarkable flick that I consider among his best work. He also directed “Eater” for “Fear Itself,” which felt like a companion piece to my own episode from that series, “Skin and...