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Special Effects

Film still from Re-Animator. A headless animated corpse carries its head in a metal bin. Film still from Re-Animator.

Film still from Re-Animator.

A severed head engages in sexual congress with a shackled woman while her lobotomized father watches. An enlarged pineal gland springs out of a man's forehead, resembling an antenna. In a dystopian future, men piloting enormous robot suits engage in hand-to-hand combat. After accidentally falling into a bowl of Cheerios with milk, a shrunken kid must avoid becoming his father's breakfast. A homeless man who has been impaled in a car windshield and left to die slowly pulls himself free. These indelible images from some of Stuart Gordon's most well-known films reveal not only a sly wit and penchant for over-the-top setpieces, but also a deep commitment to meticulous special effects work.

These effects are all the more impressive for their lack of CGI, or computer generated imagery. Most of the effects work that audiences see today is created entirely with mouse clicks and software, but Gordon's work dates from an era when make-up, miniatures, matte work, and profilmic sleights-of-hand were the tricks of the trade. As one might imagine, some of the most engaging and revelatory material in the Stuart Gordon Collection reveals, in painstaking detail, how these and other effects were designed, making the collection of interest not only for fans of this particular director, but also Hollywood special effects in general.

For instance, in the case of From Beyond, the Collection contains exhaustive lists of desired effects and the technical solutions each will require. To achieve "Tentacles Sprouting," latex or urethane tentacles are pulled into a section of the creature's skin, with the footage printed in reverse. For "Oozing Hand Travelling on Floor," a fake hand is mounted on a track while methocel and "ultraslime" is simultaneously poured and pumped out of the area around the hand. In documents such as this, the scholar or aficionado of low-budget special effects can see how they're done, right down to the type of material that was used to create many of Gordon's most iconic images. 

The finale of Re-Animator, in which a re-animated large intestine erupts from Dr. Hill's body and wraps itself around Herbert West. Click to view the Special Effects slideshow.

Click to view the Special Effects slideshow.

An early drawing for Re-Animator by Jeffrey Lyle Segal (1982).A typically gory special effect in From Beyond.A document from 1985 outlining special effects in From Beyond and the material necessary for their execution.Breakdown of the special effects crew into departmental units for From Beyond.The makeup and effects crew transforms actor Jonathan Fuller into the titular Castle Freak.An impressive painting by an unknown artist in the visualization stage of preparing Dagon.A number of Polaroids documenting makeup effects used in Dagon.