Stuart Gordon: A Career Retrospective

With the recent passing of famed filmmaker Stuart Gordon, it felt appropriate to pay tribute to one of the genre’s most notorious helmers with a look back at the talented writer/director’s long film career.  From cool cheddar fare (Robot Jox is still a guilty pleasure!) to flicks that changed the game (Re-Animator is a classic no matter how you slice it!) here is a loving look at the life and film work of all things Stuart Gordon.

It was never a surprise that the characters from Stuart Gordon’s films were so rich and grandiose in both character and subject matter – he and his wife Carolyn formed the Organic Theater Company in Chicago.  Among the list of plays that were performed most notable was the premiere of Sexual Perversity In Chicago, which launched the career of destined to win the Pulitzer Prize playwright David Mamet. Gordon’s eye for casting and shaping cool character actors definitely began there and continued as he branched out into the arena of film.

It was at this time that he joined with producer Brian Yuzna and Charles Band’s Empire Pictures (pre-Full Moon Features!) to bring one of famed author H.P. Lovecraft’s short stories titled Herbert West – Reanimator to life.  What followed was Re-Animator, a film so visceral, so effecting and so outrageous and fun that it became infamous before folks even saw it.  Chatter about a new underground film that went for broke in terms of blood, gore and gut-busting laughs involving a mad scientist who brings back dead folks by injecting them with a glowing “reagent” shocked the genre community, and with such a limited release the demand to see it far outweighed the delivery.  But those who saw it (hopefully in its unrated form!) witnessed a five-star horror opus that has never been outdone.

But for all the buckets of blood (at the time the amount used was a record!) and creepy carnage (where else can you see a head squeezed and then tossed against the wall with wild abandoned?!), it was the films’ tasty performances that ultimately made it stand out as a cult classic.  Bruce Abbott as the earnest Dean Cain, Barbara Crampton as the sweet Megan Halsey, David Gale as the maniacal Dr. Carl Hill (he loses his head – literally!) and especially the scene-stealing work by a young Jeffrey Combs as the films likable lead Herbert West all embodied the acting attention to detail that Gordon had shown he had an eye for since the early days.

After Re-Animator Gordon once again turned his sights to the written work of Lovecraft (a move that would continue for years to come!) and made the equally visually disturbing From Beyond, teaming up once again with Re-Animator stars Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton. It’s a salacious story of a group of scientists attempting to stimulate the pineal gland, and its monstrous results were only eclipsed by some of the most wondrously grotesque special make-up effects put on film – especially involving the monstrous mutated Dr. Edward Pretorious.  (His sliding face graced all posters and VHS boxes to full demented detail!)  Plus, he also went the way of Band’s Puppet Master series and made the demonic Dolls to boot.  (And yes they are creepy!)

Gordon’s next few projects were guilty pleasures amongst film fans and quite surprising considering Gordon’s affinity for horror fare.  The first was in the form of co-creating the story for the infamous Disney Rick Moranis hit Honey, I Shrunk The Kids (the guy who made Re-Animator wrote that flick!) and the second was a uber-cheesy but oh-so-satisfying Robot Jox.  The latter featured gamey but awesomely effective robot fights that harked back to the days of Ray Harryhausen and stop motion and had equally hammy performances and dialogue keeping the fun fromage factor high at all times.  (I dare anyone to watch lead Gary Graham scream the line “I’m gonna get in this thing, and I’m gonna kick your ass!” and not get chills!)

Gordon followed up with a nod to macabre scribe Edgar Allan Poe in the form of the Lance Henriksen helmed horror notable The Pit and the Pendulum and the prison break flick Fortress starring Highlander’s Christopher Lambert.  (He also had a hand in writing the Abel Ferrara updated Body Snatchers and the Corbin Bernsen ditty The Dentist at the time!) He then re-teamed with Combs and Crampton on Castle Freak and made a comedic departure with the sci-fi outing Space Truckers.

But it was around this time that Gordon began to mix more drama into his genre work via the Lovecraft flick Dagon, the crime thriller King of the Ants, and especially his pairing with David Mamet for the film version of Edmund starring William H. Macy.  A dark and often forgotten flick for which Mamet wrote the screenplay from his play, the film follows Macy’s character Edmund as he boldly heads out into New York’s underground in search of a life change.  Filled with language and ideas that are controversial to say the least, it nevertheless features a bold and bleak story anchored by a commanding turn by lead man Macy.  The pairing of Gordon and Macy proved so powerful that there were rumors that Gordon was writing a screenplay to follow up his iconic Re-Animator titled House of Re-Animator in which Comb’s Herbert West is called to the White House to reanimate the president to be played by Macy.  Unfortunately for fans, the film never came to fruition.

Gordon did thankfully return to the genre though with episodes in both Masters of Horror (two including one Lovecraft return and one Poe adaptation with Combs called The Black Cat!) and Fear Itself, plus a quirky little outing based on a true story of a woman who after driving home drunk hits a homeless man and leaves him embedded in her windshield to die called Stuck.  (With Mena Suvari and Stephen Rea respectively!)

But for most of us who remember the wild abandon of the ’80s, Stuart Gordon will always be synonymous with Re-Animator.  Making such a deep impression at a time when daring and bold films were flowing like wine, his theater of blood approach to Lovecraft’s material was like nothing fans had ever seen, and its impact remains intact to this day.  A true pioneer of the horror hallways, Stuart Gordon and his courageous creations will not be forgotten. RIP.


I'm a passionate and opinionated film critic/movie journalist with over 20 years of experience in writing about film - now exclusively for WhySoBlu.com. Previous sites include nine years at Starpulse.com where I created Forgotten Friday Flick back in 2011, before that as Senior Entertainment Editor for The213.net and 213 Magazine, as well as a staff writer for JoBlo.com. My other love is doing cool events for the regular guy with my company Flicks For Fans alongside my friend, partner and Joblo.com writer James "Jimmy O" Oster. Check us out at www.Facebook.com/FlicksForFans.

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