It’s only been a couple of years since we were given the mutant fish people epic known as Dagon, and now Stuart Gordon is back with a film that many are saying is his best work since a little 1985 film called “Re-Animator.” An adaptation of Charlie Higson’s British crime novel, “King of the Ants” focuses on the story of a part-time housepainter who’s offered a hefty cash prize to murder an innocent man.
I met with Stuart Gordon the day after the world premiere of “King of the Ants” at the Seattle International Film Festival. He was very excited to hear feedback on his new baby. You really couldn’t meet a much nicer guy in the film business. He was very open and very happy to talk about everything. It was a true pleasure to meet this cult film icon.
How did you get your start in filmmaking?
When I was a teenager I used to make little 8mm movies with my friends. That was the beginning of it. I wanted to do films, but when I went to a university, there was only one film class and it was full. So I took a theater and acting course instead, and got hooked on theater. I did theater for the next 15 years. We had a theater company called Organic Theater in Chicago. Some of the theater members started doing movies. We had Joe Montegna and Dennis Franz in the company. It occurred to me that it would be really good to do a movie with the Organic Theater. I started developing a project for the company, which became “Re-Animator”. What happened was when we got close to producing it, we finally had found the money, we were going to shoot it in our theater, using it as a sound stage. The board of the theater didn’t like the idea that we were doing a horror film. They said we should be shooting an art film instead. But at that point we were ready to go, so I took a leave of absence, came out to Hollywood and we shot the movie there. It ended up being a success, which led to more movies. So I eventually moved to LA.
How did you find Jeffery Combs?
The casting director knew his work from the stage. Jeffrey had won an award for a play he had done in LA. So he came in and read for Herbert West. As soon as he finished, I knew this was the guy. It was odd because Herbert West in the Lovecraft story is described as having blond hair and blue eyes, and Jeffrey’s got dark hair, he was not how I imaged West at all. But as soon as he started that audition it was clear he was Herbert West. The attitude was everything.
There’s a new “Re-Animator” coming out, did you have anything to do with it?
No, nothing at all…besides doing the first film, which they make some references to.
“Robot Jox” is an old favorite of mine.
It was on HBO all the time when I was growing up…
Oh that’s great.
Can you talk about how that came about?
Well, it was… I’m sorta happy to hear you say that… it was funny, just before I came here I interviewed for the Japanese DVD of “Robot Jox”. Some of the FX guys came into the interviews and brought the robots with them, which I hadn’t seen since we made the movie. That was 13 years ago. It was kind of like seeing old friends. So I’ve been thinking about that movie a lot lately.
It was inspired by the Transformer toys, which I was a big fan of. I kept thinking that here was a movie wanting to be made. It was a great fantasy in search of a film. There had been some anime that had been done, like “Macross,” but nobody had ever done a live action one. So that was what finally led me to do it. Let’s turn things around, the Japanese were always doing their version of our stuff, it was time for the Americans to do their version of a Japanese idea. I took it to Charles Band, Empire Pictures was the name of the company at the time, before Full Moon. He liked the idea. We got Dave Allen, who is a stop-motion genius. He’d done work on a film I did called “Dolls.” So we made the movie. Dave came up with the idea of shooting it outside, in a dried lakebed in the Mohave Desert, so the movie would have this very realistic feel to it – real sky, real mountain ranges in the background, Which is the opposite of the way most miniature work is done. Usually it’s done inside a studio on a tabletop. Dave took it out into the desert and just about killed everyone. But the results were worth it, it still holds up.
Do you know if it’s coming out on DVD?
They said because of the Japanese one, there’s now interest from MGM in putting it out on DVD.
You wrote the story for “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids,” did you plan on directing that?
Originally I was going to direct it. I did all the prep work, the story boarding, the set design, got all the way up to casting and I had drop out because I got sick. So it was disappointing.
Were you happy with the way it turned out?
I was happy with it. I think Joe Johnston, who ended up directing it, did a good job.
How does “The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit” fit into your work?
We had done that one as a play in the Organic Theater in 1973. So it was a project that I had always loved. We got to meet Ray Bradbury when we did it. Ray and I got together and said we should figure out how to do it as a movie. We took it to Roy Disney at Disney Studios, he was a big fan of the play as well. We were able to get it made. It was a big departure, it is the only movie of mine that has singing and dancing.
The interview continues in part two of STUART GORDON: KING OF THE GOREHOUNDS>>>