With the release of his two best known films, Re-Animator (1985) and From Beyond (1986), both of which are blood-soaked low-budget extravaganzas based on the work of horror writer H.P. Lovecraft, filmmaker Stuart Gordon gained a cult following as one of his generation's most creative horror directors. Though aficionados can appreciate his facility and willingness to use plenty of gut-wrenchingly gory special effects, it is the perverse humorous twists that he adds to his tales that have made him a favorite among connoisseurs.
A native of Chicago, Gordon grew up with a passion for art that led him to enroll in the Lane Technical High School as an art major. After graduation, he spent six months working as a commercial artist before enrolling at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. There, he became interested in theater and, though he started out on stage in a production of Marat/Sade, Gordon's interests led him behind the curtain where he wrote, directed, and produced plays.
From the beginning, Gordon showed little interest in staging the ordinary or routine. Dissatisfied with college theater, he moved off-campus to launch the Organic Theater, making his debut with a controversial (it was rumored to contain nudity) rendering of Richard III that was shut down by concerned police. Such early obstacles did nothing to prevent him from continuing to test the limits of theater and many of his adaptations of classical plays featured graphic simulated acts of rape, murder, and mutilation. He liked to involve audiences in his work and devised several creative ways of doing so, including a production of Hamlet in which audience members sat on rolling bleachers. Among the Organic Theater's most popular productions was Sexual Perversity in Chicago, the play that established writer David Mamet. Actually, the piece was comprised of two short Mamet plays that Gordon combined.
Gordon's entry into feature films resulted from the success of a filmed version of another Organic Theater hit, Bleacher Bums. The show won a local Emmy for best direction in Chicago. His first television show, E/R (not to be confused with the 1990s medical drama ER) starred Elliot Gould. A humorous look at a busy hospital emergency room, it was produced by Norman Lear's company. The show only aired for a few months. Gordon next tried interesting networks in a series based on an obscure Lovecraft tale, Herbert West -- Reanimator, but found no takers. It was friend and colleague Brian Yuzna who convinced Gordon that the story was better suited to the big screen. Though he had no experience with film, Gordon set out to make Re-Animator. Utilizing his commercial art background and his large bag of theatrical tricks in lieu of expensive optical special effects, he created a creepy, comical, and outrageous film that, though only loosely based on Lovecraft's original, was surprisingly effective. It was an international hit, earning acclaim and a critic's award at the Cannes Film Festival and the honor of being the first horror film to be included in the London Film Festival. Though he technically completed the low-budget horror-comedy The Dolls (released in 1987) first, it is his second Lovecraft-based film From Beyond (1986) that is credited as Gordon's second film. While generally considered less outrageous, it also generated a cult following.
Gordon's subsequent output has been of uneven quality and encompasses sci-fi and fantasy. In addition to creating loose adaptations of horror classics, Gordon was also interested in creating films oriented towards children. With help from Yuzna and screenwriter Ed Naha, he collaborated on an idea for a film in which a group of kids are accidentally shrunk down to insect size and stranded in their own backyard, which suddenly becomes a wilderness of giant grass and monstrous bugs. The project had actually begun when Gordon fell ill and had to stop. Though it was originally to be called Teeny Weenies, the film was retitled Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (1989) and was completed by the effects director for Industrial Light and Magic, Joe Johnston. Gordon was executive producer for the sequel Honey, I Blew up the Kid (1992). Some of Gordon's other notable films include Robot Jox (1989), a loose but chilling adaptation of Edgar Allen Poe's The Pit and the Pendulum in 1991, and the Australia-produced Fortress (1993). In 1998, Stuart Gordon offered a magical film version of Ray Bradbury's The Man in the Wonderful Ice Cream Suit. Thirty years before, he had staged the story as a play. Gordon took the works of H.P. Lovecraft to the screen in 2005 for Showtime's Dreams in the Witch-House, an episode of Showtime's Masters of Horror series, and the same year directed Edmond, an adaptation of David Mamet's play following a man whose impulsive decision to visit a fortune teller begins an unexpected and dangerous series of events. Gordon co-wrote, produced, and directed 2007's disturbing psychological thriller Stuck.