To be honest, the picture on the VHS cover for Re-Animator didn’t grab me. A geeky scientist-dude wielding a syringe of glowing green fluid made it look like the movie was made for about twenty-three bucks. If I weren’t such a horror movie whore, I would have walked on by. However, what caught me was the caption :
Herbert West has a very good head on his shoulders – And another one in a dish on his desk!
I turned the cover over and was treated to a picture of a headless body carrying said head in a tray. Sold! I must have missed the news about what looked to be a cheapo take on Frankenstein. I didn’t get every issue of Fangoria, so it was easy to be in the dark about the latest horror flicks to come down the pike. I had just started college and gore was the word of the day, every day. I watched it home, alone, and my mind was blown.
That bit of ’80s skull-fuckery can’t compare to the shock I felt when I heard that the director of Re-Animator and some of my favorite ’80s horror movies, the legendary Stuart Gordon, had passed away on March 24th. I feel like I’d just heard him on Shock Waves or Mick Garris’s podcast and he sounded great. You could tell he was a man who truly loved the genre. There was a twinkle in his voice when he spoke about his and other horror movies. His wonderful, irreverent sense of humor is interspersed in all of his movies, along with his daring to push the boundaries of sex in cinema.
So, yeah, I’ve been thinking a lot about Stuart Gordon’s influence on my life, and especially how near and dear the one-two punch of Re-Animator and From Beyond warmed the cockles of my cold, black heart.
Getting back to Re-Animator—that first viewing was like, wow! I couldn’t believe what I had just seen. Dr. West (the utterly delightful Jeffrey Combs) battling the undead cat was a scream. The cute blonde med school co-ed (Barbara Crampton) a total dream. Shit, I loved zombies, but never thought I’d see them kicking the living crap out of a couple of eggheads in a morgue. It was like watching the WWF (now the WWE, a place I worked across the street from for sixteen years). And don’t get me started on how Re-Animator changed the game on the phrase, “getting a little head.” A nude Barbara Crampton tied to a table, squirming to avoid cunnilingus from a severed head was…well…emotionally confusing. Should my pants have been getting tight? Did I need to see a priest? Screw it. Rewind and watch it again. Re-Animator instantly became one of my all time favorites. The blending of horror and comedy had never been stitched together like that before…but that was only the beginning.
I dug Lovecraft, but his stodgy writing style tended to lose me. Gordon’s interpretation of his work gave me a whole new appreciation for the man. I knew this wasn’t pure Lovecraft, but if this was what his stories could inspire, I wanted more.
Months later I rented Re-Animator for probably the tenth time (you had to reserve it at least a week in advance because it was highly in demand) and showed it to my new girlfriend, a babe well above my pay grade. She loved it, enjoying the campiness and sex-infused gore. I knew I’d found my wife.
When Stuart’s next Lovecraft film came out, From Beyond, I was ready, immediately seeking it out at the video store. I spotted that cover with half the face of Dr. Pretorius stretching like taffy and nearly wept with glee. My girlfriend and I (same girl from before…I still haven’t let her escape) grabbed it and checked it out. We usually hung out at her house because her parents were going through a divorce and had the apartment to ourselves. For whatever reason, we took it back to my house.
Sitting on the couch, we were immediately thrust into a world of mad science and impossibly horrible theories as to what lived and thrived in every molecule of air around us. First of all, seeing Combs and Crampton reunited was a rush in itself. Adding the dude from Dawn of the Dead (Ken Foree, who would hit on my wife in front of me at a horror con many years later—I forgive ya, Ken) was the icing on the cake. This time I didn’t have to feel quite so confused when Crampton donned her S&M gear. And now she was the one to get all sexy time with someone in a less than arousing state.
The driving force of the movie is the assertion by Dr. Pretorius that stimulation of the pineal gland would open up a kind of third eye, allowing one to see the creatures thriving around and through us in the multi-dimensional space we all share. The only problem is, they can see you, too. And boyo, those air maggots are pretty nasty. Throw in some bondage and lust, riding a giant worm like it’s Friday night at the rodeo and some truly gross body horror and you got yourself a winner in my book. The very idea dreamt up by Lovecraft still give mes the willies. If you dig the movie, I highly suggest you read the short story.
Right when the doctor (Carolyn Purdy-Gordon, Stuart’s wife at the time), finds a bald Combs munching on brains, my wife suddenly got up and went out the front door. I found her out there dry heaving. It was the one and only time I ever saw a horror movie do that to her, and she’s sat through Martyrs, all three Human Centipedes and Cannibal Holocaust. Once her stomach settled down, we did likewise on the couch and finished the movie.
Man, I thought Re-Animator was the balls. From Beyond edged its way past it to the top spot. But it was close. Still is. Both are comfort movies for me, but they are more than that. They’re pivotal movies from a decade of exceptional horror. Stuart Gordon was, to us in the know, a master of the genre. His name should be right there with Tobe Hooper, George Romero, Wes Craven and John Carpenter. It’s sad that only Carpenter remains above ground. Christ, I feel old.
I wish I had gotten a chance to meet Stuart Gordon and thank him for two of the brightest lights of my horror-loving life. I think all of his movies are super. Not a clunker in the bunch. Dolls is an impossibly sweet film with some truly terrible ass-hat characters getting what they deserve. Castle Freak gave us a third go-around with Combs and Crampton, a duo I can never get enough of. But nothing, like Combs and Crampton, tops the team up of Re-Animator and From Beyond. Stuart Gordon may be gone, but I’ll have those movies until I join him in the great From Beyond.
Now if you’ll pardon me, I have to massage my pineal gland. Yeah, that’s what we’ll call it.
Hunter Shea is the product of a misspent childhood watching scary movies, reading forbidden books and wishing Bigfoot would walk past his house. He doesn’t just write about the paranormal—he actively seeks out the things that scare the hell out of people and experiences them for himself. You can follow his madness at huntershea.com.