Why Stuart Gordon Chose To Adapt Re-Animator For His First Movie

Whenever I think of Stuart Gordon's "Re-animator," I think of severed heads. Dr. Hill and his noggin made a distinct impression on me the very first time I watched the film. There are so many things to love about this story that revolves around a mad Dr.Frankenstein-esque scientist named Herbert West, but one of my absolute favorite things is the way Gordon manages to inject the goofiest, crassest humor into an already bizarre film. Hill and his head provide some of the best examples of the kind of humor and perversity that animate (pun only slightly intended) the entire movie. "Re-animator" is not a film for everyone, but for much of the horror community, it is a classic that simply cannot be missed.

Based on the H.P. Lovecraft story, "Herbert West — Reanimator," the film tells the tale of a mad scientist who has created a serum that reanimates dead bodies. The only problem is, after reanimation, the dead tend to not be too keen on being alive again. They exhibit violent tendencies and are uncontrollable. While the serum does technically bring them back to life, they are a far cry from the people they were before they died. West, however, does not care. Feeling he is on the verge of a breakthrough, he infiltrates the local hospital morgue and injects cadavers with the reagent serum to study them. What follows is a wonderful mash-up of hijinx and gore so ridiculous you can't help but love it. 

"Re-animator" is so unashamedly gross that it's hard to imagine it as Gordon's first feature. He came from a theater background that was decidedly un-horror. His early career begs the question, how did such a crazy horror story become the first feature film of this new movie director, especially when he was more involved with experimental, art-house type plays rather than the bloody world of severed heads and feral, reanimated house pets? 

How Stuart Gordon got ahead in movies

To be frank, the short answer is money. In an interview with Paste, Stuart Gordon explained how horror was the most obvious genre for his first feature if he wanted to have a shot at making a movie. "A friend of mine suggested that I do a horror film, explaining that it was the easiest thing to raise money for and the easiest way for investors to get their money back, no matter how terribly it turned out," he said. While he had some trouble convincing his company to allow him to film a horror movie in their theater ("They did think we should be doing an art film and refused to allow me to do a horror film there."), he did not let go of the horror genre and continued to look for the right story to adapt.

Finally, after talking with a friend who suggested he read Lovecraft's story about mad scientist Herbert West, his interest was piqued. He told Paste he had been "complain[ing] that all anyone wanted to make was vampire movies, and [he] wanted somebody to make a "Frankenstein" movie." After reading the story, he knew he had his film. And really, what is "Re-animator" if not just a crazy, albeit modified, re-telling of "Frankenstein"?

Shortly after reading "Herbert West — Reanimator," Gordon set about trying to adapt it, but before it became the movie we all know and love, it had a very different start.   

From TV screen to movie screen

In the early days of bringing "Re-animator" to life, Stuart Gordon envisioned the script as a TV adaptation rather than a feature film. He explained to Paste that he tried to get public television to pick up "Re-Animator" as a series, "but they were just not interested in it." If it had been made as a show, it would have been a six-part miniseries that followed the six individual stories that Lovecraft wrote about Herbert West. "We tried doing it as half-hour episodes, then an hour, but we couldn't get it going for television," explained Gordon. The series was also going to be based in the same period as the original stories, a choice that would have drastically changed the way the story feels. Still, it might have been an interesting watch. Since Gordon couldn't get anyone to take the script for television, he had to look elsewhere. Enter Brian Yuzna.

Filmmaker Brian Yuzna was given the "Re-animator" script and felt the story lent itself better to film. He was between projects, so he decided to take it on with Gordon. What resulted is the crazy, bloody 96 minutes of fun that is beloved by genre fans everywhere. Yuzna went on to work with Gordon on many of his later films such as "From Beyond," "Dolls," and both of the sequels to "Re-animator." Gordon became a name synonymous with the horror genre, and fans could not possibly imagine the genre without his particular blend of gore and comedy. The world may have lost a great horror director in 2020, but his movies, just like Herbert West's bodies, remain animated and very much alive in the hearts of horror fans.