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.”
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