Interview With Stuart Gordon

So, a lot of your older films have been re-released on DVD recently over here and in the States. Have you noticed any of your films have been re-evaluated or any new audiences to your work?

Well, it’s interesting, you know. Hitchcock once said that his movies went from being flops to classics, and I think that’s happening to some of my films now. Movies that didn’t do all that well on their initial release are now being considered, y’know, classic films like Robot Jox, which was just released on Blu-Ray. So, I find that pretty gratifying.

From Beyond, which is my favourite, has really gone up in estimation recently.

Yeah, it’s great. I think if you sort of hang in there long enough, people appreciate what you’re doing.

And the thing with Hitchcock, all my favourite Hitchcock films, for the most part, are the ones that were flops. Like The Wrong Man is my favourite Hitchcock film by a mile.

Yeah, it’s a great film, and you know, even Vertigo was a flop and now it’s considered the greatest movie ever made. So yeah, sometimes, over time, people’s opinions change.

I want to ask you about your theatre work, which I think has had an influence on all your films and how they’re shot. How would you say your theatre experience contributed to your film making process?

Well, the thing about theatre is, it really taught me about how important the script is, and also how to work with actors. So, that really has served me well. Y’know, I never went to film school, so when I first started out, I had the very basic things like screen direction, which was something I had no idea of what that meant. I was lucky to have a really terrific director of photography, Mac Ahlberg, who would tell me, “Stuart, this won’t cut with what you’ve just shot”, and I would say “Well, of course it’ll cut, you just glue the film pieces together”. But, he taught me if someone’s on the left, they have to be on the left in the next shot, and so forth. I call him “The Professor” because he was the one who really taught me about how to make movies.

He’s a fantastic cinematographer. Fantastic work. Especially with such a low budget you guys were working with at that time.

Well, he’d been a director himself. He did a movie called I, A Woman which was a huge international hit in the 60s. But, I think he enjoyed being a cinematographer more than he enjoyed directing.

There’s a few like Haskell Wexler who’s a great director, but it’s mostly the cinematography work that’s made him cool, for example.

Yeah, that’s right. I mean, all roads sort of lead to directing, I think.

So, obviously throughout the years, you’ve done the theatre work along with the film and the TV stuff. What do you see as the creative disciplines that are different?

Well, I think theatre is the most demanding because you can’t stop and start over again. Everybody’s really got to be, y’know, on their best game. When you’re making a movie, you have the ability to do things over again. Although, I always say, as soon as you get it right, it’s over – when you make a movie. And the thing about movies that’s more difficult is you don’t have an audience there. So, you really don’t know what you’ve got for…well…sometimes it’ll take a year or two before you bring the audience in.

You’ve had a very long running fascination with Edgar Allen Poe and H. P. Lovecraft. What inspires you from those two writers, specifically?

They’re both amazing writers, and if it hadn’t have been for Poe, there’d have been no Lovecraft. Lovecraft started out kind of copying Poe’s work, and then he sort of went in his own direction. But, they’re just brilliant storytellers, and they’re very different. Poe is very romantic – his stories are all about women, and Lovecraft has no women in his stories. So, that’s kind of interesting.

Dolls is one of my favourites. It was almost like a fairy tale. How much have fairy tales inspired you? Especially for that film.

Well, yeah, that film….I love fairy tales, and when my kids were little I’d read them, and now I read to my grandchildren. A lot of them are very scary, and they’re always trying to tone them down when they make movies of them. I read this book called The Uses Of Enchantment by Bruno Bettelheim who was talking about how fairy tales should be scary, and that’s part of the instruction, to let children know that the world can be a very dangerous place. So, when I made Dolls, I thought “Why not go in that direction”. Instead of trying to pasteurise and homogenise the movies, let them be what they are. Let them be scary. So, the fairy tale I had in mind when I was working on Dolls was Hansel And Gretel, which is a very disturbing story about these parents who abandon their children in the woods, and then they get into even worse trouble when they find a witch who’s going to eat them. So, you know, it’s very dark stuff.

Have there been any Lovecraft stories you’ve wanted to do but never quite been able to quite crack?

Well, there’s a script that Dennis Paoli, who has been my co-writer on so many of them, and we did an adaptation of The Thing On The Doorstep 20 years ago that we’re still trying to get made. But, there are so many great Lovecraft stories, and the thing you should let people know is they’re all public domain, so they’re all available to other film makers. I just read today that Richard Stanley is going to be doing The Colour Out Of Space.

That was going to be my next question.

Yeah, that’s a story of his that has been adapted many times.

What do you think about Richard Stanley doing it?

I wish him well.

It’s not the easiest story to adapt.

No, although it’s a great story, and I kind of think Lovecraft’s stories always have a scientific basis to them. Y’know, if anything, I think of him as a science fiction writer more than a horror writer.

I do too.

And in that story, I think he’s kind of talking about radiation, the idea that this meteor hits this farmland and contaminates everything, including the people who live there. So, again, very much ahead of its time.

I know you tried to raise funds for Nevermore, the Edgar Allen Poe biopic that you did as a stage play. What do you think of Kickstarter and Crowdfunding, and all that stuff?

I’m very disenchanted with it. We were not able to raise our budget. We raised a good amount of money – I think over a hundred thousand dollars, but we were trying to raise three hundred and fifty. So, we ended up with nothing. I think there’s a feeling when you do a Kickstarter or Crowdfunding thing that you’re holding your hat in your hand, and you’re asking people for spare change…and I don’t think that’s a good way to go.

I know Terry Gilliam – people have told him to do it, but he’s always said no for exactly the same reason.

I’m a big fan of Terry’s, and I’m hoping he’s going to be able to finally get that Don Quixote movie made.

Yeah, it looks like Amazon is putting up the money, but John Hurt’s ill, so I don’t know what the situation is yet.

He’s always running into trouble like that, y’know. I think the last guy had problems sitting on a horse.

And the money has fallen through, I think, three times or something ridiculous at this point.

And he’s such a great film maker, it’s really a shame. I’d love to see another Terry Gilliam movie.

Did you see his last one?

Y’know…I did not. I should see it.

It’s very good. It’s very low budget, but it’s obviously super imaginative and the closest thing he’s done to Brazil in a long time.

Cool. Well, i’ll take a look at it. I think it was originally a play, wasn’t it? That he had directed?

He did Faust as an opera.

But I think this other one, this new movie……

No, this guy wrote a script for him, and basically the guy was a fan, and he wrote a script that was all bits and bobs inspired by his films. He liked the script, so he made it.

Oh, cool.

It was very Brazil-esque.

What’s the name of it again?

The Zero Theorem.

Yeah, i’ll look for it. I met Terry way back when, and he was about to do Baron Munchausen, and he’s a very likeable fellow. He’s one of those people you meet for five minutes, and you feel like you’ve known him all your life.

I’ve met him a couple of times too. He’s a lovely person.

Yeah, he’s great.

I met him when Tideland came out, and I told him how much I loved it, and very few people liked that film, sadly, and I thought it was one of his best films, actually.

Well, the thing about Terry is that his films are so….y’know….nobody else could be making them. He’s a film maker who has such a clear stamp, and he should be making movies. There are so many film makers out there unable to get movies made now. Which I think is sad.

That brings me to my next question, which is what do you think of the current state of the film industry, and what is the situation for film makers like yourself, and what changes would you like made?

Well, it’s a whole new world. I think the thing that has been happening with digital is that it’s as big a change now as when sound movies began. It’s like everyone’s starting over again. When we made Re-Animator way back in 1984, it was a low budget movie and it cost $800,000. Now, you could make ten movies for that. People have got the technology to make movies very inexpensively, and there’s so many movies being made, and they’re being sold for nothing. So, the economics are not good. It’s kind of like what happened to the music industry. The same way these rock musicians were not getting any royalties anymore, and they had to go out on tour to earn a living. It’s kind of the same for me. Now, I do theatre because it….

It pays the rent.

Yeah, yeah. And, I can’t really make a living making movies anymore.

Unless you’re making Terminator 5 or Transformers, or whatever.

Yeah, those huge, gigantic behemoths. But, I don’t see myself doing any of those.

So, I wanted to ask you what you think of the current state of the horror genre at the moment. What do you see and what do you relate to current social trends?

I think the most exciting thing to me is that there are so many women directors now. Really excellent ones. I just saw this movie, Goodnight Mommy, which Veronika Franz directed, and it’s very, very good. And you’ve got movies like The Babadook with a woman director. Horror has become much more of a….y’know…it used to be kind of a guy’s thing, and that’s not true any longer.

You did a film with Dennis Hopper, so I have to ask….Do you have any good Dennis Hopper stories that you can share?

Well, Dennis Hopper was…….it was interesting…the thing I found out about Dennis Hopper is that his first take was always the best. Each take he would get worse and worse.

I can imagine that, actually. I can see how that would work with him.

Yeah, ‘cos he’s very spontaneous, and if everybody else isn’t ready for that first take – you’re in trouble. I remember shooting something with him and I said “Let’s do another take”, and he said “Why ?”. And I told him, “I think I need to see more of this”, and he said, “I did it. It’s there.” So I said, “Well, I didn’t see it”, and he said “That’s because you’re all the way over there and the camera’s right here in my face”. Then, when I looked at it in the dailies, he was absolutely right. It was there. So, I learned from him how small you can be as an actor and have it be very effective on screen.

I wanted to ask you about Fortress, one of the films that blends horror and science fiction, as does obviously the Lovecraft stuff. Do you have any preference for one genre, and do you find a blend of the two to be especially powerful in the area which you work?

Yeah, I love science fiction, and they cross over, y’know….as I said, I think Lovecraft is science fiction.

As is Poe. I think he wrote a lot of science fiction as well.

Yeah, he did some as well. But, the thing that’s wonderful about science fiction is you get to create a whole new world, usually. And that’s always exciting. So, the world of Fortress takes place in a world that’s sort of inspired by what’s happening in China with them trying to control the population by limiting the number of children you’re allowed to have. And when I did Robot Jox, it was set in a world after a nuclear war, and trying to imagine what would happen as people are trying to rebuild things. So, it’s always fun to say “what if this happened”, or “what if that happened”, and science fiction allows you to really act that out.

I read that you were originally going to direct Honey, I Shrunk The Kids, and it was supposed to be a much darker film. Can you tell me what your idea of that was, and your experience of working on that?

Well, it wasn’t all that much darker, although my approach to it would’ve been a little more serious. If you imagine, I was thinking about using Ravel’s Daphnis And Chloe as the music for it, because I wanted the world when they get shrunk and they’re walking amidst all these giant blades of grass and flowers…I wanted it to be absolutely magical. Y’know, take it a little more seriously. But, the script was essentially the same script that I was going to direct. I think they made it a little more comedic, making the scientist a little more Rube Goldberg-esque, but they followed my storyboards. Essentially, all the preparation I did on the film is in it.

What films have you seen recently, old or new, that you’ve enjoyed?

Well, like I said, I really enjoyed Goodnight Mommy. That movie, I thought, was great. And I saw another movie called Honeymoon which I enjoyed a lot, and which I thought was very Lovecraft-ian. And there’s a movie called The Nightmare, which is a documentary about people who have night terrors – and that movie is really terrifying.

I know there was a Bollywood re-make of Stuck. Did you see it?

I did see it, and y’know, it was very close to our film. Although, they did put a couple of musical numbers into it, being a Bollywood movie. Which I enjoyed. I thought they did a pretty good job with it.

I know you’re in Tales Of Halloween, which is something you’ve been involved with
Yeah, I’m essentially an extra in one of the stories. Axelle Carolyn’s segment. I appear with Mick Garris.

What do you think about anthology films in general?

I really like them. I wish they would make more of them. I’m glad to see they’re back, although they’re making the segments ten minutes long now. It’d be nice if they would make them a little longer so you could do more.

I think what happened was Grindhouse was such a big flop that it kind of put a stop to it for a bit.

I dunno. I’ve always liked anthologies. There are some great ones. One of the things that was great was being able to work on Masters Of Horror, which was sort of like doing an anthology, and be able to take any story you wanted and do it in a hour, with so much freedom. It really was a wonderful experience, and I have to thank Mick Garris for putting that together.

I’ve only seen the first one you did, but it was a very good episode. And I’ve just one question left, and then we’re done. I understand your next project is going to be a film of the play Taste, which you did on the stage, Can you tell me anything about it?

Well, I can tell you about the play. At this stage there are no plans to do it as a film, so that’s incorrect.

Ah, it’s just what is said as being in development on IMDB.

But you can’t believe everything you read on IMDB. I don’t know where they got that. But, Taste as a play was an amazing experience. We had people passing out in the audience during the show. It was so strong. It’s really an amazing script written by a fellow called Benjamin Brand, and it’s based on the story of the German guy who puts an ad on the internet looking for someone to kill and eat – and the play, it shows in real time what happens when the two of them get together.

I actually have a question about Edmond. What was it like making a film about such an unlikeable person?

Well, the thing about Edmond was I had the great fortune to work with William H. Macy, and he somehow managed to make Edmond likeable. He made us care about him. Y’know, Edmond has got a lot of problems, but I think it’s a very honest film about an American man in a mid-life crisis. And Macy, rather than making him into this sort of crazy guy, made him a sympathetic fellow, I think. That’s one of the great gifts Macy has. He’s really able to put himself into these strange people and make us care about them.

I know you did some liner notes for The Swimmer which is also obviously a mid-life crisis film. Are there any other mid-life crisis films you like?

Well, maybe it’s because I’ve been having a mid-life crisis of my own….maybe that’s what. But actually, I love The Swimmer from the first time I saw it in my twenties. It just sort of stays with you and haunts you. I think of it as a ghost story, kind of. What’s interesting, working on those liner notes, I wrote them before I saw the documentary that’s included with the DVD, which explains how the original director had been fired, and the editor had kind of re-arranged the movie. So, a lot of the things I talk about in my notes are incorrect, actually.

That’s it, and thanks so much for your time.

Some of Stuart Gordon’s film are available from 88 Films such as Castle Freak and The Pit and the Pendulum.

The rest are available on Amazon such as DollsFrom Beyond and of course Re-Animator along with many others.

I want to give a special thanks to Darren for doing the transcription.

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