Why Stuart Gordon Was an Unsung Hero of Horror

The horror community was devastated to learn that filmmaker Stuart Gordon passed away earlier this week at the age of 72. Gordon might not have had the same recognition as genre filmmakers like John Carpenter, Wes Craven, or George Romero, but, as evidenced by directors Edgar Wright and Guillermo del Toro both taking to Twitter to mourn the loss of the figure, it's clear that he brought a singular perspective to the genre world. As a feature-film director, his filmography might not be as extensive as some of his peers, though the outpouring of support for the filmmaker's family and friends confirms how big of an impact Gordon had with his films.

Back in the '80s, there were few horror subgenres as successful as the slasher, as all you needed for such a film was a few grisly deaths, some nudity, and a somewhat creative plot to win over audiences. Despite crafting a slasher coming with an almost guaranteed success, Gordon did something somewhat unthinkable: he delivered audiences an adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft's beloved short story Herbert West–Reanimator. Simply called "Re-Animator," the 1985 film follows West and his quest to push science to new heights by creating a serum to revive the dead.

To those unfamiliar with a film, bringing the dead back to life doesn't sound too far fetched of an idea for the genre, but Re-Animator is an experience unlike anything one could expect. Within the first five minutes, a man's head bulges so much that his eyes pop out of their sockets, while one of the film's most memorable sequences sees a decapitated figure holding his own head as he attempts to perform a sexual act on a victim. These details might all sound gruesome and disturbing (which they are), but there's a slapstick humor to the entire endeavor, thanks in large part to the mad scientist component of the narrative, most notably in a scene in which two researchers attempt to bring a cat back to life.

The success of Re-Animator allowed Stuart to once again bring the worlds of Lovecraft to life with From Beyond in 1986, which continued to explore the furthest reaches of what could be accomplished through science. In this film, a scientist creates a device that taps into another dimension, bringing a number of unearthly creatures into our world while also igniting a series of bizarre mutations in people within range of the device.

The Lovecraft adaptations didn't stop there, as Gordon also delivered the 1995 film Castle Freak, inspired by the story The Outsider, and also 2001's Dagon, inspired by The Shadow over Innsmouth. A common trend among all these adaptations is a bizarre and grotesque blend of horror, science fiction, comedy, and sex, setting Gordon's work in a category all its own. Despite Lovecraft being one of the most famous figures in horror literature, there have been shockingly few adaptations of his work, with many considering Gordon's efforts to be the most effective. While they might admittedly deviate from the source material, Gordon's ambition as a filmmaker made him fearless in his attempts to deliver the spirit of Lovecraft, if not embracing all narrative beats. As if his cinematic achievements weren't enough, he also had an impressive theatrical career, which includes delivering the stage production of Re-Animator: The Musical.

While genre fans have Gordon to thank for bringing Lovecraft stories to life, we also have him to thank for Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton becoming seminal figures in the genre world. Thanks to starring together in Re-Animator, From Beyond, and Castle Freak, the pair would go on to become iconic figures in the world of outsider cinema for decades, with Combs going on to star in films like The Frighteners, I Still Know What You Did Last Summer, and Would You Rather, as well as the TV series, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, while Crampton would go on to star in You're Next, We Are Still Here, and Beyond the Gates. If you've enjoyed their work in any of their films, it's thanks in large part to Gordon's affinity for their abilities, in addition to their admiration of him as a director resulting in them taking such memorable roles.

One glance at social media in the wake of Gordon's passing will show you countless stories of collaborators and fans expressing how large a figure he was in life and how much joy he brought to every encounter. The filmmaker's work, which also includes films like Robot Jox, Dolls, and Space Truckers, in addition to having written Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, might not have earned the commercial success of other filmmakers of his time, but his impact on filmmakers has been immeasurable. Much like musical acts who only earn underground success but influence countless generations of musicians, Gordon himself might no longer be with us, but it's clear that his legacy will inspire audiences to tackle projects that might scare away their peers and breed generations of fans who can greet one another with, "Cat dead, details later," like a secret handshake among weirdos whose tastes fall far from the norm.

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As we mourn the passing of such an important figure in the genre world, his efforts will remain timeless indefinitely.

Which of Gordon's films are your favorite? Let us know in the comments below or contact Patrick Cavanaugh directly on Twitter to talk all things horror and Star Wars!

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