Did you do something for television called “Bleacher Bums” (1979), back before “Re-Animator”?
I did. It was a play we had done for the Organic Theatre Company. It was done by a local PBS station in Chicago. I co-directed it with Pat Denny. It starred Joe Mantegna and Dennis Franz. It ended up winning an Emmy. It was based on real people – die-hard fans of the Chicago Cubs. Cubs fans are even more die-hard that Boston Red Sox fans. They’re still waiting for the Cubs to win! It was a group of people that Joe Mantegna had discovered – gamblers, blind guys that wanted to be play-by-play announcers, a cheerleader that would get the crowd to heckle players, and others. Each of the actors chose one of the characters to become. It became a very long-running play, and is still being produced. There was a second version done about two years ago. Showtime shot it.
“Fortress” (1993) seems to be around. Would you agree that it is one of the more easily available Stuart Gordon films?
Yeah. I think that one is easier to get because it ended up going to a company called Image, that got swallowed up by Lion’s Gate. There was a big distribution machine behind it.
“Castle Freak” (1995) was a return to Lovecraft-style horror territory, with Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton starring…
Yeah, and a script by Dennis Paoli, who also wrote “From Beyond,” “Re-Animator,” and “Pit and the Pendulum.” Dennis and I have known each other since childhood. We went to high school together. So it was a reunion, of sorts. “Castle Freak” is out on VHS and DVD versions. There are rated and unrated versions. The unrated cut is my favorite, of course.
“Space Truckers” came out in 1996. Easy to find?
I think it’s pretty readily available. That was the biggest budget film I’ve ever done, costing almost $30 million dollars. It was a big film. Dennis Hopper and Stephen Dorff were in it. Debbie Masur was in it. I’m currently working with her in “Edmond.”
1989’s “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” (written by Gordon and directed by Joe Johnston) was a huge, big-studio blockbuster that spawned sequels, and even became a television series…
I directed one of the television show episodes (1997’s “Honey, Let’s Trick-or-Treat”). I don’t think it’s out on DVD, but they probably will do it, eventually. The series ran for over two years. It was very popular. It’s still shown daily, on the Disney Channel.
“Wonderful Ice Cream Suit” (1998). Easy to find?
That’s not so easy to find. Disney distributed that, but it never went to DVD. I find that a bit disconcerting. You can get the VHS copy pretty easily.
Dagon (2001) is available in several versions. It appears to be widely available.
It’s on Lion’s Gate, and they’ve done a good job of distributing it. I think it’s all in the same cut, actually. Although in some countries they’ve trimmed some things. The German version has about three minutes cut out.
King of the Ants premiered at the 2004 Seattle International Film Festival…
That was the World Premiere.
A couple of audience members asked you how many people were injured during the making of the film, because it was so violent. Are there different cuts of that? The film festival version was extremely graphic.
That version is the R-rated version that was released on DVD. They didn’t cut anything. Nothing was cut on “Dagon,” either, which I was real happy about.
It’s interesting how “Re-Animator” was denied an R-rating, while there were things in “King of the Ants” that appeared just as brutal.
Yeah. I think “From Beyond” got hit really hard, too, because the MPAA was angry about “Re-Animator.” “Re-Animator” was released without a rating. We opted not to have a rating after we realized they were gonna make us cut it into pieces. They got pissed off about that. When they knew that we needed a rating on this one (“From Beyond”) – Vestron was insisting that it be R-rated – they really gave it to us.
Was that the first time the ratings board had been asked to take back the “R” rating?
We released the “Re-Animator” unrated, and it played theatrically unrated. Then, it came out on video unrated. Then, somebody decided, “If we had an R-rated version, we could do even more sales.” So without my involvement, they cut the movie into an R. We were in Europe shooting “Dolls” and “From Beyond” when we discovered this. What the MPAA was told, was that there was only one version of this movie. So the unrated version would no longer be allowed to be shown. We were asked to recall all of the uncut videos. We said no. We went back to the MPAA, and said, “Please take back the R-rated version. We don’t want that.” And it apparently was the first time anyone had asked for that.
For new New Millenium Special Edition version that came out last year, was that something you requested, or did Elite come to you?
I think Elite first asked about it. The original DVD did pretty well. They wanted to do more extras, and ended up doing a two-disc set. They added another hour’s worth of material.
What else are you involved with currently?
There’s a series coming out that is being shot in Vancouver, called “Masters of Horror.” There was a documentary with that title released by Universal, where they interviewed all of us (veteran horror directors, including Tobe Hooper, John Carpenter, Gordon, and others) but we never got to meet each other. Someone involved suggested we have dinner together. So the “Masters of Horror” have been meeting together every few months, having dinner together. Out of that grew this idea of doing a series of films. It’s being financed by a company called Industry Entertainment. I start shooting in April. I think John Landis is shooting the first one. Takashi Miike might be involved in an episode. I think the idea is to use the same crew, and just go from show to show. “Dreams in the Witch House” will be my contribution, a great H.P. Lovecraft story. We were free to choose what we liked. If any two stories are too similar, they might ask you to change, and do something else, so it doesn’t get repetitious. Otherwise, they let us have complete freedom, which is great.
Are there any “Re-Animator” novelties or souvenirs that fans should be on the lookout for?
A friend of mine did a “Herbert West” figure that was pretty great, holding a hypo. There’s a “Castle Freak” figure done by Full Moon Films as a promo item. When the movie first came out, somebody made some “Re-Animator” paperweights of Dr. Hill’s head in a pan, cast in bronze. They were really pretty. Those are out there somewhere. When we did “From Beyond,” there was a ball point pen made out of the pineal gland, cast from the one we used in the movie. So it was like, you could have a pineal gland pen. There were also some visors made, where the pineal gland stuck out of the front. I have had bad luck with merchandising for my movies, though. Even “Honey I Shrunk the Kids,” which was a huge hit for Disney, never had any toys come out. There was never even a soundtrack album. There was nothing. It was weird. There were three films, and a T.V. series, and two rides at Disneyland. But there was never any “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” merchandising.
Any stories concerning your audience? I remember attending a screening of “Dagon,” where all kinds of colorful characters showed up.
They showed one of my movies at the Vancouver film festival. We saw several of the other films, and the audiences were very preppy, college sorts. Then, when it was time for my movie, everybody is wearing black leather. It’s Goth city. My wife’s looking at me going, “I should have known.” God bless ‘em all, I say.
KJ Doughton resurrects reels and breathes life back into films currently on life support and verging on extinction. Applying his “rave resuscitation” to movies at risk of fading into obscurity due to old age, faltering promotional systems, premature delivery, societal stigma, or a runty box-office take, he advocates a second chance for flat-lining films too important to die.