By David Dent
It’s an oft-overused phrase but seeing Stuart Gordon’s ‘H.P Lovecraft’s Re-Animator,’ on the first day it opened in UK cinemas back in 1985, was a genuine game-changer.
Gordon’s film had a wild concept (an adaptation of one of Lovecraft’s lesser-known short stories ‘Herbert West – Reanimator’), credible characters (Jeffrey Combs’ West being a mordant standout), creative and over the top effects and an inspired score by Richard Band which plundered as much as it created. Its success was in part due to the risk taken by Band’s brother Charles’ Empire Pictures, for whom the movie was a big hit, and the involvement of producer Brian Yuzna, with whom Gordon would enjoy a successful professional partnership.
What was particularly surprising was that ‘Re-Animator’ was Gordon’s first feature (excepting an earlier 1979 TV movie) and as such is also one of the most startling debut movies from a director in any genre. Gordon was just shy of 40 years of age when he made it – his background was in experimental countercultural theatre – and the film fizzes with a wit and inventiveness that you’d expect from a director half this age. Like Sam Raimi, for example, who would reshape his first feature into the comedy-horror ‘Evil Dead II’ in 1987. Just saying.
Gordon’s winning mix of laughs, gore and kinkiness was repeated in the following year’s ‘From Beyond.’ Again adapted from a Lovecraft short story and, like ‘Re-Animator,’ and written for the screen by Gordon and Yuzna, the movie brought back both Crampton and Combs for a story about the creation of a machine which allows those hooked up to see beyond reality. ‘From Beyond’ repeated many of its predecessor’s high points – lush score, inventive gore, er kinky bits – but still remained fresh.
But Gordon was more than a one-trick pony. Perhaps realising the limitations of being tied to formula, after the goofy ‘Dolls,’ (which these days is valued more as an 80s nostalgia piece than a classic in its own right, but would go on to inspire Empire’s ludicrous ‘Puppet Master’ franchise) he co-created ‘Honey, I Shrunk the Kids’ in 1989 alongside Yuzna and writer Ed Naha. An enormously successful movie for Disney studios – it spawned two sequels, a TV series and a theme park attraction – this was the springboard for a range of varied projects, including the Transformers toys influenced ‘Robot Jox’ (1989), the sci fi comedy ‘Space Truckers’ (1996) and an equally all ages adaptation of a Ray Bradbury short story, ‘The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit’ (1998).
Gordon returned to Lovecraft in 1995 with ‘Castle Freak,’ an adaptation of the story ‘The Outsider,’ and put two of Lovecraft’s tales together for 2001’s ‘Dagon’, a much-overlooked movie about an ancient sea god.
Gordon’s most memorable work spawned two sequels: ‘Bride of Re-Animator’ (1990) and ‘Beyond Re-Animator’ (2003), both directed by Yuzna, but he managed to get back to his stage roots and reclaim his creation with a stage version called ‘Re-Animator: The Musical,’ based on a book co-written by Gordon in 2011.
Stuart Gordon will be much missed both as a controversial theatrical director and as a filmmaker and, according to those who knew him, a supportive and creative force who was always fun to work with. He leaves behind a legacy of films which carry the force of that fun and creativity with them.