Remembering Stuart Gordon, a Re-Animator of the Horror Genre (Guest Blog)
”Stuart could have been Steven Spielberg if he’d had different budgets to work with,“ film professor and journalist Ray Greene writes
Ray GreeneGuest Writer | March 27, 2020 @ 10:32 AM
The nicest man I ever met in show business was also perhaps the most underrated movie director of his era. His name was Stuart Gordon, and if you know him at all you probably know him for his breakthrough horror film “Re-Animator” from 1985 — a cheeky, excessive, blackly comedic masterpiece of the ’80s horror renaissance loosely based on H. P. Lovecraft but mostly based on Stuart’s cheerful subversive streak.
“Re-Animator” is a kind of Frankenstein upgrade in the Grand Guignol manner, and the movie’s cultural imprint was large enough that it got mentioned in the Best Picture winner “American Beauty.” Lester, the mid-life agonistes character played by Kevin Spacey, has smoked a joint with a neighborhood kid and asks, “Did you ever see that movie where the body is walking around carrying its own head… and then the head goes down on that babe?”
Yep, that was “Re-Animator,” an important part of Stuart’s cult movie legacy, along with his other classic ’80s chophouse titles like “From Beyond” and “Robot Jox.” With his frequent collaborator Brian Yuzna, he also co-conceived “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids,” a blockbuster that he prepped and was about to direct until he got sidelined by a medical issue.
“Honey” was Stuart’s one clean shot at the A-list — the director who replaced him, Joe Johnston, is still on it — but if he had any regrets he never shared them. When I first met Stuart in 2006, the Disneyland ride “Honey I Shrunk the Audience” was still running, and I asked him if he was raking in the dough for conceiving the premise. He smiled wryly and said, “Ray, if there’s one lesson everyone in this business should learn it’s that nobody gets a piece of Disney.”
I met Stuart while teaching my film class at Loyola Marymount University, where he graciously and rapturously introduced a theater full of undergrads to the wonders of an alternative pantheon that places Fellini or Bergman or Kurosawa above Spielberg and Scorsese. It was the first hint I had that I was in the presence of a Renaissance man who was also a key figure in the Motion Picture Academy’s selection process for the (then) Foreign Language Film nominations.
Stuart and I hit it off immediately, partly because I was a big fan of some his old movies and could ask him questions like, “What was it like to work with Charles Band?” but mostly because Stuart was so bright, gentle and deeply interested. He was interested in me. He was interested in my students. He was genuinely interested in the world around him.
Stuart affirmed this for me when he asked to screen his new project “Stuck” as a work-in-progress for my class. “Stuck” is not a horror movie — not in the conventional sense. It’s a cat-and-mouse thriller about a middle-class woman (Mena Suvari) who accidentally hits a homeless pedestrian (Stephen Rhea) and then hides the car in her garage, with the gravely injured man literally stuck in her windshield. She then shuts the garage door and takes a taxi to work, hoping the homeless man will die — horribly, slowly — so that his death won’t hurt her upwardly mobile lifestyle.
It’s a small but riveting premise directed by a visual classicist, someone who chose his angles with meticulous exactness for what they express, and whose sense of editorial rhythm rivaled Hitchcock’s. Two decades into his career, Stuart was, in his way, as precise a stylist as the Coen brothers, on a bare fraction of the budgets.
Like a lot of the directors who grew up in the American ’60s, Stuart had a strong social conscience, although in his case it was informed primarily by a powerful sense of irony and a deep feeling for black comedy. “Stuck” is very much about the mindset of American haves toward American have-nots — the feeling that they’re disposable, especially if they get in the way of the relentless pursuit of middle-class materialism. Stuart had been inspired by a true story, but in real life the victim, Gregory Glen Biggs, died. Stuart rethought that outcome, and turned “Stuck” into a counter-factual narrative worthy of Quentin Tarantino — one of his favorite directors.
Stuart became an annual presence in my class. And he saw his horror career revived, thanks to Mick Garris’ decision to make him part of the wrecking crew of esteemed directors behind the cult anthology show “Masters of Horror.” In 2005, he directed “H.P. Lovecraft’s The Dreams in the Witch House” for Garris, his final Lovecraft adaptation. Two years later, he “adapted” Edgar Alan Poe’s “The Black Cat” into a stunning biographical examination of Poe and his work. It’s largely thought of as the best single episode of “Masters of Horror,” and (along with his biographical Poe play “Nevermore”) it’s also my absolute favorite of all Stuart’s works.
In Stuart’s hands, “The Black Cat” becomes simultaneously a rumination on creative stagnation, an examination of the thin but necessary line between the horrors of living and the horrors of the imagination, and a celebration of an artist he felt a clear kinship with — a blood poet who aspired to be noticed for his deeper sensibilities, but who was largely thought of as a “brand.” Awarded a decent if tight budget, Stuart and his collaborators create a seething, mist-filled nightmare landscape that feels true both to the mid-19th century and to Poe’s tortured mindscape. It’s a tour de force, both for Stuart and for his longtime friend and collaborator Jeffrey Combs, who had starred in “Re-Animator” and gives an Oscar-caliber performance as Poe.
I showed “The Black Cat” several times to my class, including last Halloween when Stuart returned despite feeling ill. He just blossomed to see the students’ reception. That wide Cheshire-cat smile of his beamed like a spotlight, warm and bright. I helped him to the stage and we talked yet again about his career, his unique approach to Poe, his love of Fellini. As his humble, scholarly goodness spilled out like wine, it seemed to me that Stuart had come in for the same reason he always had — because he cared about tomorrow, which my students in some way represented to him.
There will be no more tomorrows for Stuart, who died this week at age 72 — a loss in this virus-driven era of melancholy that for me feels almost too big to bear. He was a great director, a brilliant man of the theater, an imaginative and eclectic writer, and a kind and decent man. With his brilliant and expressive visual abilities, Stuart could have been Steven Spielberg if he’d had different budgets to work with. But given Stuart’s strong impulse to confront and provoke his audiences as a primary tool for getting them to think, I doubt very much Spielberg ever could have been him.
Hollywood's Notable Deaths of 2020 (Photos)
Alex Trebek, Chadwick Boseman, Naya Rivera (Getty Images)
The former longtime commissioner of the NBA died Jan. 1 following a brain hemorrhage, according to a statement from current NBA Commissioner Adam Silver. He was 77.
Silvio Horta, creator of the ABC comedy series “Ugly Betty,” was found dead in a Miami motel room Jan. 7. He was 45.
The drummer and lyricist for the ’70s and ’80s Canadian rock band Rush, died on Jan. 7, according to the band’s Twitter account. He was 67.
Harry Hains, an actor and producer who had appeared on “American Horror Story: Hotel,” “The OA,” “Sneaky Pete” and “The Surface,” died on Jan. 7. He was 27.
The actor-screenwriter-director -- who co-created “Get Smart,” co-wrote “The Graduate” and co-directed the hit 1978 Warren Beatty film “Heaven Can Wait” -- died on Jan. 8 in Los Angeles. He was 89.
The actor, who played Vince Fontaine in “Grease” and also starred on the series “77 Sunset Strip” as the teen idol “Kookie,” died on Jan. 8. He was 87.
Ivan Passer -- a pioneering filmmaker in the Czech New Wave, a frequent collaborator with the late Milos Forman and the director of the 1981 film “Cutter’s Way” -- died on Jan. 9. He was 86.
Stan Kirsch, one of the stars of the syndicated '90s fantasy drama “Highlander: The Series,” died on Jan. 11. He was 51.
Rocky Johnson, a member of the WWE Hall of Fame and the father of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, died on Jan. 15 at the age of 75.
Terry Jones, a beloved member of the Monty Python comedy troupe who directed many of its classic films, died Jan. 21. He was 77.
Former “Bachelorette” contestant Tyler Gwozdz, who appeared on the 2019 season of the reality series, died Jan. 22 of a suspected drug overdose at age 29.
Retired NBA star Kobe Bryant was killed Jan. 26 in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, Calif., that killed four others. He was 41.
Kirk Douglas -- the prolific actor and producer whose “Spartacus” is credited with helping to end the Hollywood blacklist, patriarch of a successful entertainment dynasty and one of the last surviving stars of Hollywood’s golden age -- died Feb. 5 at age 103.
F.X. Feeney, a film historian, screenwriter and longtime film critic for LA Weekly, died on Feb. 5 after suffering several strokes over the previous few days. He was 66.
Kevin Conway, known for his roles in films like “Gettysburg” and ‘Thirteen Days,” died on Feb. 5 of a heart attack. He was 77.
Veteran character actor Orson Bean, a regular on shows like “To Tell the Truth” and “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman” and star of “Being John Malkovich,” died the night of Feb. 7 at age 91 after he was struck and killed by a car in Los Angeles.
Raphael Coleman, who starred as Eric in the 2005 Emma Thompson movie “Nanny McPhee" and went on to devote himself to environmental activism, died suddenly on Feb. 7 at the age of 25.
Robert Conrad, who was the star of the '60s TV series “Wild Wild West,” died from heart failure on Feb. 8 at the age of 84.
Paula Kelly, an Emmy-nominated actress known for TV series like “Night Court” and films like “Sweet Charity” and “The Andromeda Strain,” died on Feb. 8 in Whittier, California. She was 77.
Joseph Vilsmaier, a German director and cinematographer behind the acclaimed 1993 World War II drama “Stalingrad" died “peacefully” at his home in Bavaria on Feb. 11. He was 81.
Daniel Lee Martin
Daniel Lee Martin, country singer and host of “Brotherhood Outdoors,” was found dead in his Pasco County, Florida, home on Feb. 14 of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound. He was 54.
Caroline Flack, former host of “Love Island,” died at the age of 40 on Feb. 15. A lawyer for the family told BBC that Flack died by suicide.
Nikita Pearl Waligwa
Nikita Pearl Waligwa, the young actress seen in the 2016 Disney film “Queen of Katwe,” died on Feb. 15, according to the Ugandan newspaper The Daily Monitor. Waligwa, who was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2016, was 15.
Jason Davis, best known as the voice of Mikey Blumberg on Disney Channel’s “Recess,” died on Feb. 16. He was 35.
Ja’net Dubois, who starred on the CBS sitcom “Good Times” and wrote and performed the theme song to "The Jeffersons," passed away on Feb. 18. She was 74.
Katherine Johnson, a pioneering mathematician and NASA employee who was pivotal in America’s space race and was portrayed by Taraji P. Henson in the film “Hidden Figures,” died on Feb. 24. She was 101.
Dieter Laser, the German actor best known for his role as the deranged doctor in “The Human Centipede,” died on Feb. 29. He was 78.
"Inside the Actors Studio" host James Lipton passed away on March 2 after a battle with bladder cancer. He was 93.
Max von Sydow
"The Exorcist" star Max von Sydow died on March 8 at the age of 90.
Lorenzo Brino, a former child star in the family drama “7th Heaven,” died in a car accident on March 9, San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department said.
Beatrice, who played the beloved French bulldog Stella on the last seven seasons of “Modern Family,” died March 9 shortly after the cast shot the series finale.
Stuart Whitman, a star of Westerns like “The Comancheros” and the war movie “The Longest Day,” died in his home March 16, his son told TMZ. Whitman was 92.
Lyle Waggoner, an actor known for starring on “The Carol Burnett Show” and the '70s “Wonder Woman” TV series, died March 17 at age 84.
Maggie Griffin, Kathy Griffin’s mother and co-star of her Bravo reality series “Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List,” died March 17 at age 99.
Country music legend Kenny Rogers passed away on March 20 at the age of 81. According to a statement, he died of natural causes.
Tony-winning playwright Terrence McNally died on March 24 of complications from the coronavirus. He was 81.
Bill Withers, the singer of classics like “Lean On Me” and “Ain’t No Sunshine,” died on March 30 at the age of 81.
Jeff Grosso, the legendary skateboarder who hosted Vans’ “Loveletters to Skating” video series, died March 31 in Costa Mesa, Calif. He was 51.
Adam Schlesinger, the lead singer-songwriter of the rock band Fountains of Wayne and a music producer and composer on “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” died on April 1 due to complications from the coronavirus.
Ellis Marsalis Jr.
Ellis Marsalis Jr., New Orleans jazz legend and father of Wynton and Branford Marsalis, died from COVID-19 complications on April 1. He was 85.
Ed Farmer, an MLB player-turned-White Sox radio announcer, died April 1. He was 70.
Eddie Large, one-half of the comedy duo Little and Large, died April 2 after contracting coronavirus while hospitalized for heart failure. He was 78.
Patricia Bosworth, a stage and screen actress who also penned celebrity biographies, died April 2 from complications of the coronavirus. She was 86.
Honor Blackman, the British actress best known for her roles in "Goldfinger" and “The Avengers” series, died at the age of 94, her family announced on April 6.
Actor Brian Dennehy, a Tony and Golden Globe-winning actor, passed away on April 15 of natural causes. He was 81.
Irrfan Khan, the Indian actor who bolstered his fame beyond Bollywood with roles in English-language hits like “Slumdog Millionaire” and “Life of Pi,” died April 29 in Mumbai at age 53.
Sam Lloyd, best known for his role as downtrodden lawyer Ted Buckland on “Scrubs,” died on April 30. He was 56.
Legendary NFL coach Don Shula passed away on May 4 at the age of 90.
Brian Howe, the lead singer for the British rock supergroup Bad Company and a former vocalist for Ted Nugent, died on May 6. He was 66.
Longtime music executive Andre Harrell, who founded the hip-hop label Uptown Records and mentored Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs, died on May 7 at age 59.
Magician Roy Horn, best known as half of the legendary Siegfried & Roy magic and animal act in Las Vegas, died on May 8 from complications due to coronavirus.
Little Richard, the singer and pianist who became a rock pioneer with his high-energy musicianship and boundary-pushing personality, died on May 9 at age 87 from unspecified causes.
Jerry Stiller, the Emmy-nominated comedy legend of TV sitcoms “Seinfeld” and “King of Queens,” passed away on May 11. He was 92.
Phyllis George, a former Miss America winner who went on to become one of the first female broadcasters covering the NFL — and later, the First Lady of Kentucky — died on May 14 at the age of 70.
Comedic actor Fred Willard, best known for his roles in "Spinal Tap" and "Modern Family," passed away on May 15 at the age of 86.
Director and producer Lynn Shelton, who helmed independent films like "Humpday" and "Sword of Trust," died on May 16 from a previously undisclosed blood disorder. She was 54.
Ken Osmond, best known for his role as Eddie Haskell on “Leave It to Beaver,” died on May 18 at the age of 76.
Chris Trousdale, a former member of the boy band Dream Street, died on June 2. His former bandmate, Jesse McCartney, said he died "due to complications from COVID-19." He was 34.
Bonnie Pointer, a member of the iconic R&B group The Pointer Sisters, passed away on June 8. She was 69.
"Lord of the Rings" star Ian Holm passed away on June 19. He was 88.
Joel Schumacher, director of films like “St. Elmo’s Fire,” “The Client” and “A Time to Kill,” died on June 22 after a long battle with cancer. He was 80.
Legendary entertainer Carl Reiner, perhaps best known as the creator of “The Dick Van Dyke Show," died on June 29. He was 98.
The actor, who appeared in several Sam Raimi films including “Evil Dead II,” “Darkman” and “Spider-Man 2,” died on June 30 at the age of 68.
Ronald L. Schwary
Ronald L. Schwary, Oscar-winning producer of Robert Redford’s 1980 drama “Ordinary People,” died on July 2 at age 76, his family announced.
Longtime TV news anchor Hugh Downs passed away on July 2 at the age of 99.
Earl Camerson, one of the first Black actors to be cast in major roles in British films, died at the age of 102 on July 3. His first role was in the 1951 film "Pool of London."
Tony Award-nominated actor Nick Cordero died on July 5 due to complications from coronavirus. He was 41.
Mary Kay Letourneau
The Seattle-area middle school teacher -- who became infamous in 1997 after raping one of her students, serving a lengthy prison sentence, then marrying the student after her release from prison -- died on July 6 following a battle with cancer. She was 58.
Oscar-winning Italian composer Ennio Morricone died on July 6 at age 91, his lawyer told the New York Times. Morricone became famous for his melodic scores for 1960s Westerns like “The Good, The Bad and the Ugly” and “Once Upon a Time in the West.” He drew on his work in so-called spaghetti Westerns for Quentin Tarantino’s 2015 Western “The Hateful Eight,” which earned the composer his first Academy Award after five previous nominations and an honorary award in 2007.
Charlie Daniels, a country music and Southern rock legend known for his song “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” died on July 6. He was 83.
Atlanta rapper Lil Marlo (né Rudolph Johnson), best known for his 2017 hit “2 the Hard Way" with Lil Baby, was shot and killed in his native Atlanta on July 12, the Fulton County Medical Examiner’s office said. He was 30.
Actress Kelly Preston, who starred in such films as "Twins" and "Jerry Maguire," died on July 12 after a two-year battle with breast cancer. The star, who had three children with husband John Travolta, was 57.
Former "Glee" star Naya Rivera was found dead on July 13 after going missing the week prior while out on a boat with her son in Ventura County, Calif. She was 33.
Grant Imahara, the engineer and roboticist who helped test some of the world’s most famous rumors on the iconic Discovery Channel series “Mythbusters,” died on July 13 at the age of 49.
The dancer and actress, who appeared in classic television shows like “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” and “Twin Peaks,” died on July 14 at the age of 55.
John Lewis, the civil rights icon who played a key role in some of the most important battles of the era, died on July 17 following a battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 80.
Longtime morning television host and five-time Emmy-winner Regis Philbin died July 25 of natural causes. He was 88.
The British guitarist, who co-founded the seminal rock band Fleetwood Mac, died at age 73 on July 25.
Olivia de Havilland
Olivia de Havilland, an Oscar-winning actress best known for her role as the timid but strong Melanie in the 1939 classic “Gone With the Wind,” died July 26 of natural causes. She was 104.
Herman Cain, a former GOP presidential candidate and business czar, died on July 30 from complications of the coronavirus. He was 74.
Wilford Brimley, a beloved character actor who starred in such film as “Cocoon” and “The Natural,” died on Aug. 1 at age 85.
Sumner Redstone, a movie theater owner’s son who became one of the most powerful moguls in Hollywood history, died on Aug. 11 at the age of 97.
Diana Rigg, who was best known for her roles as Lady Olenna Tyrell on “Game of Thrones” and Emma Peel in the 1960s TV series “The Avengers,” died Sept. 10 at her home in the U.K. following a battle with cancer. She was 82.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the celebrated Supreme Court Justice and feminist icon, died due to complications from metastatic pancreas cancer on Sept. 18. She was 87.
Michael Lonsdale, the actor who played the iconic villain Hugo Drax in 1979’s James Bond movie “Moonraker” and starred in 1973’s “The Day of the Jackal,” died on Sept. 21 at age 89.
Dubbed "The Queen of Technicolor," Rhonda Fleming -- who starred in Alfred Hitchcock's "Spellbound" and opposite Bing Crosby in "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court" -- died in mid-October at the age of 97.
The game show host, known for hosting "Name That Tune," "You Don't Say" and "Password Plus," died Oct. 11. He was 93.
The actress, who appeared in films like "Edward Scissorhands" and "Erin Brockovich" but was best known for playing the housekeeper Berta on “Two and a Half Men,” died on Oct. 12. She was 77.
Ferrell died on Monday, Oct. 12, due to complications following a cardiac arrest
MLB Hall of Famer and broadcast commentator Joe Morgan died Oct. 12 after suffering from polyneuropathy. He was 77 years old.
Ed, the brother of Bill Murray, inspired the hit film "Caddyshack" by introducing his family to the game of golf. Ed Murray died Nov. 25 at age 67.
The actor behind Darth Vader's mask died Nov. 29. He was 85.
David Lander, the actor who played Squiggy on the “Happy Days” spin-off “Laverne & Shirley,” died on Dec. 4 due to complications from multiple sclerosis. He was 73.
Tommy 'Tiny' Lister
Former wrestler and actor Tommy "Tiny" Lister, best known for his role in the "Friday" movies, died on Dec. 10. He was 62.
John le Carré
Famed British author John le Carré, whose books include “The Spy Who Came in From the Cold” and “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” died on Dec. 13 after battling pneumonia. He was 89.
The Tony-winning actor and dancer most known for directing choreography in the 1996 "Chicago" musical and as protégée of Bob Fosse, died Dec. 14 in Washington state. She was 71.
Werden was a Hollywood publicist for 35 years and the Oscars' publicity lead from 1975 to 1993. He also was a unit publicist on over 40 movies, including "Pennies From Heaven" and the original "Superman" films. He died at his home in Los Angeles on Dec. 15. He was 94 years old.
The London-based actor was best known for appearing in the original “Tales of the City” miniseries in 1993. He died on Dec. 16 at the age of 55.
The prolific animator, writer, artist and songwriter whose work included "Spongebob," "The Simpsons," "Hey Arnold" and "The Fairly OddParents," died on Dec. 22 from undisclosed causes. He was 59.
The Tony Award-nominated Broadway actress and singer died on Dec. 23 at age 59 following a battle with ALS.
The professional wrestler with both WWE and All Elite Wrestling was best known under his ring names Brodie Lee and Luke Harper. He died on Dec. 26 from undisclosed causes at age 41.
The Baseball Hall of Fame pitcher best known for playing 20 seasons with the Atlanta Braves died on Dec. 26 after a battle with cancer. He was 81.
The seventh-generation fisherman was a regular on Discovery’s “Deadliest Catch” series, appearing as a deck boss on 78 episodes over seven seasons. He died on Dec. 27 at age 33, though no cause of death was given.
@NickMcGlashan via Twitter
The co-creator of classic TV series including “Columbo” and “Murder, She Wrote" died on Dec. 27 at age 87. His cause of death was congestive heart failure, his widow told Deadline.
The New Jersey high school principal was the subject of the 1989 biopic “Lean on Me” starring Morgan Freeman. Clark died on Dec. 29 at the age of 82.
The legendary fashion designer and entrepreneur died on Dec. 29 at age 98. He was known for futuristic designs like the bubble dress.
The public relations heavyweight died on Dec. 29 at age 88. His past clients included Donald Trump, George Steinbrenner and the Yankees, Columbia University and the Metropolitan Opera. His cause of death was not immediately revealed.
The last surviving member of the 1950s singing trio The McGuire Sisters died on Dec. 29 at the age of 89. No cause of death was immediately given.
Adolfo "Shabba-Doo" Quinones
The pioneering hip-hop dancer and star of the film “Breakin'" died on Dec. 30 at age 65. His cause of death was not immediately released.