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Even though the Reader's Drew Hunt just put Re-Animator (1985) at the top of his list of Stuart Gordon movies, in my view he sells it—and Gordon—a little short. "In some circles, [Gordon's] downright reviled," notes Hunt, and reminds us that Dave Kehr wrote in these pages that Re-Animator was the "kind of flat-footed stuff that gives garbage a bad name."
So for the record let me post here what Pauline Kael said in the New Yorker: Re-Animator "is close to being a silly ghoulie classic—the bloodier it gets, the funnier it is." And let me remind you that Roger Ebert said in the Sun-Times that Gordon "creates a livid, bloody, deadpan exercise in the theater of the undead." Ebert said the audience is "amazed by unspeakable sights, blind-sided by the movie's curiously dry sense of humor."
Re-Animator was Gordon's first film after abandoning Chicago's Organic Theater for the Coast. I worried that Hollywood would curdle his imagination and crush his soul, but Re-Animator showed both unscathed. Thirty years later, let me add to Hunt's list another contribution Gordon's made to the world of cinema—his example. By staying up until two in the morning a few weeks back, I came across incontrovertible evidence of a Stuart Gordon school of low-budget filmography.
Too comatose for anything fancy, I checked out Chastity Bites because—well, wouldn't you? It turned out to be a 2014 high school horror flick that played in a festival or two and then went straight to video. I joined it about halfway in, having no expectations, and stayed to the end. Whatever the budget of Chastity Bites actually was, some scenes are so cheesy-looking you're tempted to think they were paid for by turning in beer bottles. This whatever vibe must be intentional, and it works beautifully. Meanwhile, the story stands the conventional high school horror flick plot on its head. The villain is the school's glamorous abstinence counselor—several centuries old but eternally young because she bathes in virgins' blood. Her victims are the obnoxious A-listers who signed up for their school's new Virginity Action Group because it looked cool. Spoiler alert—virginity won't save them here. They're in the wrong flick.
No one recognizes the terrible danger but a plucky young reporter on the school paper. Just before the final showdown, and not simply to be on the safe side, she calls up a guy she knows and gets laid.
When the credits rolled I spotted a special shout-out to Stuart Gordon. I hadn’t recognized him onscreen when I saw him but I rolled the movie back about 40 minutes and sure enough—that was Stuart playing the school paper's faculty adviser. Intuitively, I figured out the connection. In its gore and insouciance, Chastity Bites was so much like a Stuart Gordon movie he might have made it himself. The young filmmakers, director John V. Knowles and writer Lotti Pharriss Knowles, were surely his protégés. He was their mentor!
I e-mailed Gordon to find out and got a reply from his wife, Carolyn Purdy-Gordon. "How on earth did you wind up watching that movie?" she marveled. "And yes, you are right, Lotti and John Knowles are fans of Stuart's. They are a cute younger couple—very bright and hard-core movie fans. Specifically horror and [sci-fi] fans."
She said the Knowleses saw Re-Animator: The Musical, a boffo LA stage hit Stuart Gordon directed a few years ago, recognized a kindred spirit, and got in touch.
One torch lights another.