Ken Russell, Director of 'Tommy' and 'The Devils,' Dead at 84

Ken Russell, Director of 'Tommy' and 'The Devils,' Dead at 84

Nov 28, 2011

If, like me, you grew up in the 1980s as a big horror fan, your diet consisted mainly of slasher sequels and monster movies -- but if you knew how to peruse the VHS stacks you could always find a funky import to take home. That was how I discovered Ken Russell. Not through his widely-admired rock opera Tommy or his controversial Hollywood effort Altered States -- but by a rainy-day double feature of Gothic (1985) and The Lair of the White Worm (1998). Both films are probably worthy of a revisit, but more important than that is this:

Ken Russell showed me an entirely new angle on horror flicks: "artsy" but accessible; literate but disturbing; dark yet fun. (I'd also strongly recommend his 1971 horror film The Devils, if you can find it.)

Of course a filmmaker like Ken Russell will mean different things to different types of film aficionadoes, but I'll always be grateful for the extra layer of depth that he introduced to a small but ravenous genre fan. For the record, his Gothic is about the weekend in which Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein, and White Worm is one wacky rendition of a Bram Stoker story. 

We're sorry to say that Ken Russell passed away over the weekend at the age of 84. Oscar-nominated once (for 1969's Women in Love), the man was, to say the least, a legitimately unique filmmaker. As my pal Drew McWeeny has noted, Mr. Russell sort of vanished after directing 1991's Whore ... perhaps for obvious reasons. He will be missed.

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