It’s a tough time all over the world, but it just got a bit tougher for fans of horror and the independent spirit. As many outlets are reporting, director Stuart Gordon has passed away at the age of 72.
Gordon was a true trailblazer in many creative endeavors. He founded the Organic Theater Company in Madison, WI, with his wife Carolyn Purdy-Gordon and the eventually moved to Chicago. This company did some legitimately counterculture and fight-the-man productions. With Organic, Gordon directed 37 different productions. These included premieres of David Mamet’s Sexual Perversity in Chicago, which became the movie About Last Night; Bleacher Bums, which Gordon developed with Joe Mantegna; the comedy E/R which became a short-lived sitcom of the same name; and the sci-fi play series Warp!, which became a comic book.
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But it wasn’t until the mid-80s when Stuart Gordon would become a legend to horror fans. Working with producer Brian Yuzna and writer Dennis Paoli, Gordon directed Re-Animator in 1985. Re-Animator was based on a just-okay serialized novella from H.P. Lovecraft; Paoli and Gordon modernized it, added slapstick and deadpan humor, and stuffed it full of sex and gore. It’s one of the most important horror films of the ’80s, and is maybe, along with Evil Dead II and Return of the Living Dead, the best examples of horror-comedy of the era.
Without this movie, it’s highly likely a great many people would have never heard of Lovecraft. Gordon helped to bring the pulp writer to prominence in the horror nerd community, though he always had a following. It’s certainly the reason I knew who Lovecraft was; Gordon put Lovecraft’s name above the title of Re-Animator, making the author the star and, I’d argue, creating a “brand” of Lovecraft. This was solidified in 1986 with Gordon’s follow-up, From Beyond, again with much of the same cast and crew. Though From Beyond is much less out-and-out comedic, it upped the psycho-sexual themes and included some truly classic (and gelatinous) gore and creature effects.
Coming from the theatre, Gordon always put the story and the character first, never going flashy with his direction if it wasn’t motivated by the material. Like another horror legend, George A. Romero, Gordon never reached the status he perhaps deserved and never wanted to pigeon-hole himself. Following his first two Lovecraft movies, while producer Yuzna made more adaptations and a sequel to Re-Animator, Gordon branched out. His 1987 movie Dolls was a Gothic, creepy house riff with stop-motion dolls, and his 1989 movie Robot Jox, while not great, was incredibly ambitious with its massive mech battles. He was also one of the creators of the Honey I Shrunk the Kids franchise.
Gordon would, of course, return to Lovecraft properly throughout his career. In 1995, he directed the direct-to-video movie Castle Freak, an oblique adaptation of Lovecraft’s “The Outsider”. In 2001, Gordon gave the world Dagon, perhaps the best adaptation to date of “The Shadow Over Innsmouth,” one of Lovecraft’s best and scariest stories. For the Masters of Horror Showtime series in the early mid-2000s, Gordon directed “Dreams in the Witch House” for season one, and “The Black Cat,” for season two, bringing in his love for another literary horror legend, Edgar Allan Poe.
In recent years, Gordon directed acclaimed theatre productions of “Nevermore…An Evening with Edgar Allen Poe,” starring Re-Animator‘s Jeffrey Combs as Poe, and the award-winning Re-Animator: The Musical, for which he also wrote the book. He also directed the film of David Mamet’s Edmond, and the supremely upsetting dark comedy/thriller Stuck.
Stuart Gordon had an amazingly eclectic career and for young horror filmmakers, he served as a pillar of the power of ingenuity and creativity. He helped re-popularize one of the most influential writers in the genre and he has, only until very recently, been the only director to properly adapt Lovecraft. He was and is a legend, and his legacy will, like Herbert West’s creations, live forever.
Featured Image: Shout! Factory