I grew up with a magazine called Famous Monsters. Forrest J. Ackerman was the editor, and the man so many of us monster lovers worshipped. I would save my allowance, and sometimes forego candy to purchase the latest magazine, and I had a stockpile of old issues in my closet. Needless to say, I loved horror movies at a young age, and never grew out of it.
Later in life, I would graduate to Fangoria magazine to keep up with the latest horror releases. From a young age, Boris Karloff best known for Frankenstein, Bela Lugosi the original Dracula, and Vincent Price (The Abominable Dr. Phibes, House of Wax (’53), The Fly (’86)) were the heroes I geeked out on. Universal supplied a number of great classics from the ‘30s to the early ‘50s; Frankenstein, Dracula, The Creature From the Black Lagoon, The Invisible Man.
In the early ‘50s, Hammer Studios picked up the mantle to fill the void with their brand of more gruesome and sensual horror. Christopher Lee would not only star in a series of Dracula movies, he could also be found in reboot versions of Frankenstein and The Mummy. Hammer would also be known for their racier vampire movies as well: The Vampire Lovers, Twins of Evil, Lust for a Vampire to name a few.
For me and many of my generation that loved thrillers and horror, it was not until the late ‘60s and on that directors other than Alfred Hitchcock really made us want to flock to the theaters. George A. Romero ushered in the original walking dead with Night of the Living Dead. Six years later, a young Tobe Hooper would up the game with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Not too much later another name would rear its head to give us chills and thrills, John Carpenter. Halloween, The Fog, The Thing would go down in the annals of horror. Soon to follow, Wes Craven with Last House on the Left, The Hills Have Eyes and A Nightmare on Elm Street.
While all these guys were out to scare the shit out of us, one man wanted to take it a step further. What if you could scare your audience and have them laugh at the same time? Perhaps even throw in some very racy, taboo moments as well. Stuart Gordon accomplished that and brought H.P. Lovecraft to the forefront of cinema screens with Re-Animator.
The film was not only a gorehound’s dream, it was outrageously funny with edge-of-your-seat thrills. A hospital worker and his girlfriend get involved with a bizarre medical student experimenting with re-animating dead tissue. What ensues is beyond your imagination, and Stuart Gordon devises a whole new meaning to “giving head” in hilarious form.
In 1985, Gordon became a hero of horror to so many of us. We continued to revel in his antics with H.P. Lovecraft’s From Beyond and Dagon, enjoyed his creepier entries with Dolls and King of the Ants as well as the low budget sci-fi epic that Guillermo del Toro might have ripped off, Robot Jox. There are scenes in that movie that appear to be lifted and placed in Pacific Rim.
Gordon was a multi-talent and a real mensch. A writer, producer, director who also started off as a stage actor. In 1968, he was arrested for obscenity for his staging of Peter Pan as a political satire. Oh, to have been an audience member then. Later, he and his wife Carolyn formed the Organic Theater and moved it from Madison, Wisconsin to Chicago. They would tour New York, L.A. and Europe with David Mamet’s Sexual Perversity in Chicago, have a ten year run in L.A. with the improv-based comedy, Bleacher Bums, and the hospital comedy, E/R which became a hit TV show produced by Norman Lear (All in the Family, Fried Green Tomatoes, Maude).
But, it was not until 1985 when Stuart joined Brian Yuzna and a micro budget film company, Empire Pictures, that his name became a cult hit. Re-Animator would be the first hit for the film company. From there he would make his string of hits for his fans: From Beyond, Dolls and such. But, the man was not just a horror maven. He went onto co-create the story Honey, I Shrunk the Kids for, of all companies, Disney!
He also continued to direct several award winning plays including The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit, Huckleberry Finn 1 and 2, a musical version of Re-Animator that received as many plaudits as The Evil Dead musical. I also had the opportunity in 2014 to review the last play he directed, Taste. A friend of mine, director/producer/editor Ben Rock produced the play and asked if I would consider reviewing it.
At the time I had never reviewed a play, only film and TV. But, my interest was peaked with Stuart Gordon at the helm. I almost want to say it was a treat, but the subject matter was so dicey – a man advertises that he wants to invite another man for dinner, but that other man is the meal and he’s fully aware of it! I can’t think of anyone else that could have pulled it off as well as Stuart did. The playhouse was packed and the production received a rousing standing ovation.
I believe it was several months later, I heard that a company was releasing Stuart Gordon’s Robot Jox on Blu-ray. I reached out to see if we could get Stuart over to The Movie Guys’ Showcast. Stuart was gracious enough to accept. We had the best time.
Some of the anecdotes he relayed off camera were eye-opening and he was not afraid to speak his mind. In no way was he bitter. Just straight forward about certain people in the industry. The cool thing about our meeting with him was that he was very down-to-earth.
Here was a legend in my eyes. I was giddy as a school girl and trying not to show it and the man talked to us as if we were sitting in his living room chatting with old friends. It was one of those rare moments in life that I will never forget. He even signed my special edition Blu of From Beyond. I have to thank the enormously talented Ben Rock for making it all possible.v
Stuart passed away in Van Nuys at 72 years old. His family stated they are heartbroken as are his numerous fans. He is survived by his wife, Carolyn, his three daughters Suzanna, Jillian and Margaret, his brother David, and his four grandchildren. On a lighter and obscure note that is typical Gordon, he was known for often murdering off his wife in several of his films. Rest in peace, Stuart.
featured image by Elizabeth Goodenough