Director Profile | A Tribute to Cult Horror Legend Stuart Gordon

In 1985, a low budget horror flick about a demented medical student attempting to bring the dead back to life caused a huge stir among B-movie lovers. No one was prepared for the cult importance that film would inevitably create. Earning the respect of horror lovers everywhere, it was called Re-Animator. It was directed by a H.P. Lovecraft obsessed genre enthusiast who would eventually inspire a wealth of aspiring filmmakers to create their own nightmares within the horror genre. That man was cult legend Stuart Gordon.

Before Re-Animator, Gordon’s film career was almost entirely non-existent with an early emphasis on theatre direction. This early work was polarizing to say the least with audiences deeming it ‘humiliating’ and ‘disturbing’ as Gordon set out to challenge his theatregoers. The most notable example of this was 1968’s The Game Show, a play intended to evoke overwhelming emotional reactions from its viewers acting as an attack on apathy. This drive to force his audiences into uncomfortable but profound situations that would provoke strong responses eventually led Gordon down the dark dimly lit alleyways of horror filmmaking.

Gordon’s debut Re-Animator was groundbreaking because his no holds barred approach to exploitation was not what many horror fans or critics expected. Originally a H.P. Lovecraft story entitled ‘Herbert West – Reanimator’, Gordon’s adaptation was considered a betrayal to Lovecraft obsessives but a sleazy, entertaining triumph to everyone else.

To quote Andrew Migliore and John Strysik’s A Guide To The Cinema Of H.P. Lovecraft; Gordon’s Re-Animator was seen as a ‘desecration’ among Lovecraft readers with the author’s fans believing their ‘hero would never write such obvious exploitation’. Truthfully, ‘Herbert West – Reanimator’s’ very existence was deeply rooted in the darker, sleazier side of Lovecraft’s output and Gordon nailed the cinematic envisionment of Herbert West and his lunacy perfectly.

After Re-Animator’s success, Gordon delved further into Lovecraftian horror, something which would define his hugely influential career. 1986 saw him deliver the incredible From Beyond, a personal favourite of mine. Once again horror fans and critics praised Gordon’s deliciously entertaining Lovecraft short story adaptation while the writer’s readers condemned it as another seedy abomination. While Gordon found it tough to connect with the large majority of Lovecraft diehards, he didn’t let them deter him as he sought to bring the nightmarish stories that consumed him as a youth to life for all to interpret how they wished.

After From Beyond, however, Gordon broadened to many different incarnations of horror, comedy and science fiction before returning to H.P. Lovecraft’s worlds in 2001. Gordon’s directorial efforts during this time were almost schizophrenic in design. 1987 saw creepy horror Dolls send shivers down spines while 1989 saw a complete shift in direction with a writing credit for Rick Moranis starring comedy hit Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.

Until 2001, Gordon directed, produced and wrote on a number of diverse projects. The most notable of these among horror fans is probably Abel Ferrara’s Body Snatchers (1993) and the direct-to-video Castle Freak (1995). But it was only a matter of time before Gordon returned to the cosmic horror of Lovecraft.

In 2001, Gordon attempted to bring the hugely influential Lovecraft novella The Shadow Over Innsmouth to the big screen with Dagon. Due to budget constraints, the project was a tough nut to crack for Gordon. Working alongside Brian Yuzna – who also had an obsession with Lovecraft and helped produce Re-Animator, From Beyond and the majority of Gordon’s movies – the director attempted to bring his vision to light. But in order to accomplish this, Gordon would have to change a number of details in Lovecraft’s original story.

Dagon was a Spanish production made under Yuzna’s production company Fantastic Factory. With it came the most significant of Gordon’s changes to the source. The iconic setting of Innsmouth was redubbed ‘Imboca’ and that led to a newfound focus on Spanish mythology.

Again, this change enraged many Lovecraft readers. Yet Gordon’s heart was in the right place and the film won over numerous horror fans and critics. Dagon was as low budget as they come with some seriously questionable CGI effects but deep down, Gordon provided another extremely faithful adaptation of Lovecraft’s work. It wasn’t groundbreaking by any means but it saw the cult figure returning to the focal point that made him such a beloved name.

After Dagon, Gordon was rightfully chosen as one of the directors picked by fellow cult horror director Mick Garris to contribute to the much-loved TV anthology series Masters of Horror, working alongside the likes of Dario Argento, John Carpenter and Tobe Hooper. Of course, Gordon completely embraced this with open arms and delivered one final cinematic farewell to Lovecraft with episode ‘H.P. Lovecraft’s Dreams in the Witch House’.

Gordon’s entry was the second episode of Masters of Horror and with it the filmmaker set about updating Lovecraft’s story for a more modern generation. Given its existence as a short episode of TV, much of the source was changed. But once again, Gordon managed to deliver an extremely faithful rendering of Lovecraft’s work for horror fans to dissect and ultimately digest lovingly.

Gordon did contribute once again to Masters of Horror in the second season with ‘The Black Cat’, an adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s story (the director previously adapted Poe’s The Pit and The Pendulum in 1991). But ‘Dreams in the Witch House’ was Gordon’s final emotional farewell to the author that shaped his fears.

What followed from Masters of Horror was a superb collaboration with the enigmatic David Mamet for the brilliant Edmond (2005) and one of Gordon’s strongest and more underrated flicks in 2007 with Stuck. Finally in 2008, the director worked alongside Mick Garris and a plethora of cult horror directors once again to provide the great little episode ‘Eater’ for the horror TV series Fear Itself.

stuart gordon
Stuart Gordon Source

 

It’s only fitting that Gordon’s final vision on camera would be an experience firmly rooted in horror where it all began back in 1985. Returning to the stage in a far more reserved capacity and removing himself from the limelight of filmmaking, Gordon gave us stage plays Re-Animator: The Musical in 2011 and Taste in 2014 as parting pieces to cherish the career of a truly iconic genre director.

Stuart Gordon’s work inspired countless people. The very mention of Re-Animator or From Beyond among the horror community will spark affectionate discussion and approving head nods of respect from every direction. Before the filmmaker there wasn’t anyone focused on bringing numerous Lovecraft inspired nightmares to life but Stuart Gordon felt that needed to change. His hugely impactful focus on Lovecraftian horror introduced many aspiring horror obsessives to the wild cosmic terror of H.P. Lovecraft, myself included.

It is very rare that any director can helm multiple genres of film and theatre and have their immediate impact remain completely undeniable 35 years later but Gordon achieved this masterfully.

Stuart Gordon, you truly were a master of horror and we salute you.

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