Gordon, a beloved fixture of Los Angeles’ genre cinema world, died Tuesday in Van Nuys.
“His wife and children are heartbroken at the loss of Stuart, and we are grateful for all the love and support that has been shown us by his fans and his followers,” his family told The Times on Tuesday night. They said Gordon’s cause of death was multiple organ failure.
Gordon made his film debut with 1985’s “Re-Animator,” a horror comedy cult classic starring Jeffrey Combs as Dr. Herbert West, a medical student obsessed with raising the dead.
Born in Chicago, he was also a veteran stage director with a background in experimental theater, and a co-creator, with collaborators Brian Yuzna and Ed Naha, of the 1989 Disney family hit “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.”
In his student days at the University of Wisconsin, Gordon created the Screw Theater, staging an antiwar rendition of “Peter Pan” in 1968 that ended in nudity and arrests relating to obscenity for himself and his future wife. The charges didn’t stick but the radical streak did. Together they went on to establish the Organic Theater Company in Chicago, which premiered “Bleacher Bums” and David Mamet’s “Sexual Perversity in Chicago.”
Gordon’s films spanned horror, sci-fi, comedy and drama genres that probed dark human curiosities. He frequently adapted H.P. Lovecraft, turning the author’s stories into 1995’s “Castle Freak” and 2001’s “Dagon.”
Following “Re-Animator,” he adapted another Lovecraft mad-science tale, “From Beyond,” about researchers whose experiments turn interdimensional, with horrific results.
In his 1985 review, Times film critic Kevin Thomas described “Re-Animator” as “a real throat-grabber” and “simply the best, funniest Grand Guignol horror picture to come along in ages.”
“Winner of a special critics’ prize at Cannes,” Thomas continued, “it could become a classic of the genre like ‘Night of the Living Dead’ or ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ and enjoy a long life as a cult film.”
A year later, The Times’ Patrick Goldstein said that “From Beyond” “takes us back to the glory days of low-budget screamers, when slimy monsters ruled the dimly lit attics of crumbling mansions, terrifying victims old enough to carry a driver’s license.”
Edgar Allan Poe was another major influence translated anew in Gordon’s film and stage work, from “The Pit and the Pendulum” (1991) to his later one-man play “Nevermore ... An Evening with Edgar Allan Poe,” starring Combs.
In film and on stage, he exhibited a flair for the outré.
For “Taste,” the 2014 play he directed at L.A.'s Sacred Fools Theater based on a true incidence of stranger-than-fiction cannibalism, he sent a wafting fragrance of onions into the audience that left an indelible sense memory. He described it to Variety as both a play and a cooking show. “But not one you’d see on the Food Network.”
Gordon’s wide-ranging filmography includes “Dolls” (1987), “Robot Jox” (1990), “Fortress” (1992), “Space Truckers” (1996) and “The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit” (1998), adapted by Ray Bradbury from his own play.
He directed 2003 indie crime thriller “King of the Ants” and the 2005 drama “Edmond,” based on the play by Mamet, starring William H. Macy as a dissatisfied businessman who makes extreme choices to change his own destiny.
Gordon’s last film, the 2007 thriller “Stuck,” starred Mena Suvari and Stephen Rea in the nightmarish story of a twisted hit-and-run inspired by real events.
Reimagining his first film for the stage, Gordon co-wrote the book for “Re-Animator: The Musical,” which he also directed, leading a merry band of cast and crew in exhilarating theatrics that left lucky audience members doused in fake blood.
An enormous talent, vibrant & boundary breaking, his work was in a class by itself. He created countless moments on film which were at once, funny, scary, daring & smart. He gave me my career. I lost a dear friend. I’m heartbroken. No words can do him justice. RIP Stuart Gordon— Barbara Crampton (@barbaracrampton) March 25, 2020
To many fans and fellow filmmakers, Gordon was a master of horror and a maestro with heart. He is remembered for his iconoclast spirit as well as his generosity to a generation of younger independent horror filmmakers who grew up on his ‘80s cult classics, many of whom count him as a longtime mentor.
They remember fond lunches in Los Angeles, movie dates and the warmth he and wife Carolyn would extend to younger directors who were just starting out.
Barbara Crampton, whose career launched with her early co-starring roles in “Re-Animator” and “From Beyond,” saluted Gordon on social media.
“An enormous talent, vibrant and boundary-breaking, his work was in a class by himself,” she wrote on Twitter. “He gave me my career. I lost a dear friend. I’m heartbroken. No words can do him justice.”
To know Stuart Gordon was to love Stuart Gordon. One of the true Masters of Horror and a wonderful, wonderful man. He was brilliant, funny, and always at the top of his game. So hard to say goodbye. We love you and miss you, Stuart. pic.twitter.com/hXZNOmH9D6— Mick Garris & The Post Mortem Podcast (@MickGarrisPM) March 25, 2020
Speaking with The Times for a special ode to horror cinema in 2017, Gordon remembered falling in love with the genre as a boy. His parents had forbidden him from watching scary movies.
But he couldn’t resist sneaking into a showing of William Castle’s 1959 classic “The Tingler” just in time for a scene that scared him, literally, out of his seat.
“That was the beginning of realizing that was the secret,” he said. “To let the audience’s imagination do all the work.”
The director, who resided in Valley Glen, is survived by his wife and collaborator, Carolyn Purdy-Gordon; daughters Suzanna, Jillian and Margaret Gordon; his brother, David George Gordon; and his four grandchildren.