Film writer and director

Born: August 11, 1947;

Died: March 24, 2020.

STUART Gordon, who has died of multiple organ failure aged 72, worked for Disney and was one of the creators of their cosy family comedy “franchise”. Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. But he also had a darker side, writing and directing horror movies, including the 1985 cult classic Re-Animator. His roots were in experimental theatre and he was arrested for obscenity when he staged an anti-war version of Peter Pan with nudity.

Born in Chicago in 1947, Gordon loved horror movies and fiction from an early age. He studied theatre at the University of Wisconsin, where he staged The Game Show, in which the audience were seemingly locked in the auditorium, humiliated, beaten and sexually assaulted, with the performance ending in a riot. In fact the production included actors pretending to be members of the audience.

One reviewer wrote: “It wants you to throw up, to scream out, to lose the trust of the person sitting right next to you… It wants you, all by yourself, to do something.”

He and his future wife Carolyn Purdy were charged with obscenity for their take on Peter Pan, with included an LSD trip represented as a psychedelic light show on the bodies of the naked women playing fairies, though the charges were dropped. Gordon had thought Peter Pan was the perfect vehicle for his views after being tear-gassed at a protest against the Vietnam War. JM Barrie’s dialogue was retained, but Peter became a hippy leader, and Captain Hook was the mayor of Chicago.

After falling out with the university over artistic freedom and censorship, Gordon and Purdy founded the Organic Theater Company in Chicago, where he directed numerous plays, including the first production of David Mamet’s Sexual Perversity in Chicago, in 1974. A film version 12 years later starred Demi Moore and Rob Lowe and was retitled About Last Night because many newspapers would not accept adverts for it with its original title.

Gordon had been a fan of fantasy writer HP Lovecraft since boyhood and made his feature film debut, as writer and director of Re-Animator, a light-hearted horror film, adapted from a Lovecraft novella. Jeffrey Combs played a medical student who discovers how to bring dead bodies back to life. Gordon had originally intended it as a stage play, then adapted it for television, before finally raising a modest budget to make it as feature film.

It proved especially popular on video, spawning two sequels in which Combs reprised his role, though Gordon had moved on to other projects, writing and directing From Beyond (1986), another Lovecraft adaptation. He co-wrote the story of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (1989), with Rick Moranis as an inventor who accidentally shrinks his family. It was a huge worldwide hit.

Gordon was a producer on the sequel Honey, I Blew Up the Kid (1992) and directed an episode in the Honey, I Shrunk the Kids television series in 1998. He also wrote and directed several other Lovecraft, Poe and Bradbury adaptations for film and television, as well as co-writing and directing the sci-fi comedy Space Truckers (1996), with Dennis Hopper in a role that seemed to blend Easy Rider and Han Solo. It cost around $25 million and grossed less than $2 million.

Gordon continued working in film, television and theatre and he produced, directed and co-wrote a musical version of Re-Animator, which played at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2012. He is survived by his wife and three daughters.

Brian Pendreigh