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.