Stuart Gordon of “Re-Animator”

by Vittorio Carli

 

 Stuart Gordon is a well respected theater director and horror film auteur who originally came from Chicago.  He is especially well known and loved for his many H. P. Lovecraft film adaptations (my favorite is Dagon).  Two of his best Lovecraft derived films played at the Music Box Massacre on October 10 at the Music Box Theatre in Chicago (The brilliantly demented “Re-Animator”  and the visually impressive, “From Beyond.”)  Gordon answered questions from the audience and Rusty Nails after the films were screened. I did this phone interview with Gordon on Thursday, October 8.  He is a man of few words but many talents.
 
How did you get started as a director?
 
Well, I made little films as a teenager for many years. Then, I eventually started directing plays at University of Wisconsin.
 
Didn’t you run into censorship problems with one of the plays you did there?
 
Yes, this was during the Vietnam War era. We did a version of Peter Pan that was against the war. I changed the locale to the ’68 Democratic Convention, and Mayor Daley was Captain Hook. We mostly kept James Berry’s words. We were arrested for having nudity in the play, but there were other things about it that they probably didn’t like.
 
 
Who are some of your main influences as a film maker?
 
Well I have always loved the works of Alfred Hitchcock, Federico Fellini, Stanley Kubrick, and Roman Polanski. In fact right before I did “Re-Animator,” I watched ‘Rosemary’s Baby” at least a dozen times.
 
 
What attracts you about doing Lovecraft adaptations? Were you a fan of his work before you adapted his films?

 
Yes, I admire his work immensely.  His stories are imaginative, unique, and well thought out.  He was way ahead of his time, and he started a literary revolution.
 
When I was watching “Re-Animator” the other day, I noticed how similar the opening number was to Bernard Hermann’s score for “Psycho.”  Was that intentional?
 
Well, Charles Band was the composer that I worked with in that film, and he is a great talent. He meant it to be homage to Herrmann’s work, not a rip-off. Originally we put the line “with apologies to Bernard Herrmann” in at the end of the film, but it was cut.  People always give Band grief over that.
 
Can you discuss your work with the Organic Theater and Warped?
 
We did some plays in Chicago that were influenced by superhero comics such as Thor and Dr. Strange. We did a trilogy of productions with the Body Politic in Chicago.

 How does film making compare with directing plays?
 
Well they are similar.  Theater is more difficult because you can’t go back and completely redevelop it or do it over.  But you get an immediate response in theater.  It might take years before you actually find out whether a film was a success.
 
 
You’ve worked with Barbara Crampton and Jeffrey Combs quite a bit. What qualities do they possess that make them attractive as actors?
 
Well they are completely fearless, and they are willing to do anything for the sake of a film.  Combs is a chameleon, and he can play virtually any type of character. He is doing a live stage play in which he plays Edgar Allan Poe. It is called “Nevermore,” and I am directing it.
 
I read that “Dagon,” which is about fish people, was difficult to finance because it was not about a familiar horror subject such as vampires. Do you think that studios and horror filmmakers tend to stick too much with safe and familiar genre material?
 
Well, I had originally intended “Dagon” to be my follow-up to “Re-Animator,” but it took 15 years to get it made. It is much harder to sell films with less familiar subjects, and of course the business is all about the money.

 

“Dagon” was shot in Spain. How does doing a film in Europe compare with directing a film in the United States?
 
Well… (laughing) the food that they gave us was much better in Europe. That’s the big difference. I had no problem working in Europe.
 

 I thought that Macarena Gomez was quite stunning and dynamic in “Dagon. Where did you find her? 
 
Well, she just walked in one day, and we were all knocked out by her. She’s a fine actress, and that was her first major role. She has since become a major film actress in Spain.

 Would you ever like to make a really big budget film or do you prefer the freedom that small films offer?
 
Well, I do have some ideas for films that would work better with big budgets, so I am not opposed to making a big budget film on principle, but you do end up giving up some freedom to do what you want when there is more money at stake.
 
In one of the VHS cuts that I saw of “Re-Animator” they censored the molestation scene involving the living head? Have you had other run-ins with censors?
 
Well it’s interesting how much the censorship differs from country to country. In Britain they cut out that whole “Re-Animator” scene involving the head.  Initially, the whole film was banned in Germany, and in Japan they cover up all the full frontal nudity.
 
 
How did your involvement in the Masters of Horror TV series come about?
Well it all started when a bunch of directors known for doing horror films were having dinner together. The group consisted of me, Mick Garris, John Carpenter, Tobe Hooper, Larry Cohen, Don Coscarelli, Joe Dante, Guillermo Del Toro, John Landis, and Bill Malone. Garris came up with the idea that we should all do a project together. I ended up doing two episodes of the Showtime series. The best aspect was that we could do anything we wanted as long as the episodes came in on budget.
 
 
I saw your film, “Stuck” at the Chicago International Film Festival, and I thought it was quite riveting.  The film is not the type of movie that your fans might have expected. Are there any genres that you haven’t done that you would like to try?
 
Well I wrote a romantic comedy script about the production of the Peter Pan show we had discussed earlier.  It’s called “68,” and I am still trying to get it made.
 
 
 
What can you tell me about your future project, “House of Re-Animator?”
 
Well, that’s not ever going to happen. The movie was supposed to parody the Bush administration complete with a reanimated Dick Cheney. But the parody would not work now that that era is over. But I am very glad that part of our history is over.
 
 
 
 
 
 What are some other future projects that you are going to work on?
 
Well I really don’t want to discuss them until I am sure that they will happen.

 

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