Monday, 28 October 2013

The Resurrected

Guest post by Christine Hadden

One of the biggest issues that H.P. Lovecraft fans have is the lack of acceptable translation to film of his work. Many films teeter on the edge of the dark precipice of his brilliant stories, but fail to capture the weird yet exceptional storytelling and sinister themes the author is so famous for. The Resurrected (1992), aka Shatterbrain, while certainly not a celebrated film, is one of the most faithful adaptations of a Lovecraft story. Based on The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, this low-budget, direct-to-video release has the distinction of being directed by the late, great Dan O'Bannon (Alien, Return of the Living Dead) and though apparently it got edited without O'Bannon, it still remains a relatively close conversion from story to film.

Charles Dexter Ward (Chris Sarandon, reason enough to see the film) has alienated his new wife by occupying his time first in the family's carriage house, and then an old family estate well removed from the bustlings of town. After discovering an old trunk, Ward has become obsessed with the life work of his ancestor, Joseph Curwen (also Sarandon), an occultist from the days of the Salem witch trials. He becomes exceedingly evasive and consumed with finding out more about what Curwen was trying to achieve.

Curwen's mysterious experiments lead Charles to set up a laboratory in his ancestral farmhouse, rarely speaking to his wife and fixated on the ramblings of a mad man. This prompts his wife Claire (Jane Sibbet) to hire a private detective to try to uncover just what Charles is working on that has him forgetting his marriage and becoming increasingly deceptive - enough that he has moved into said farmhouse to focus on his important work. In Lovecraft's story, the Ward family physician is tasked with investigating Charles' odd behavior. Here, the change to a detective perhaps suits the time period better, as well as the legalities of a formal inquest.



When detective John Marsh (John Terry) enters the picture, he and Claire eventually uncover the horrifying truth after they discover an old journal of Curwen's, which paints an unforgivable portrait of a man gone completely mad with the idea that he can raise the dead. And now it seems that not only has Charles become engrossed with the same idea, but upon visiting Ward at the farmhouse, it appears he may have even been doing some experimentation himself. In the dank, cavernous basement catacombs they find a pit of "mistakes" - Ward's failures in his occult practices - that are as morbid and frightening as anything in film. Necromancy is rarely pretty.

Lovecraft quite frequently incorporated themes of Promethean ideas - the thought that man could create matter and manipulate life, no matter how macabre the challenge became. Many of his characters struggled to find the so-called forbidden knowledge that would change everything, including the dreadful thought of re-animation. The Resurrected grapples with this twisted and awful idea, producing some hair-raising moments of truly aberrant horror.



The special effects here are practical and yet still hold up fairly well to this day. The transformation that Ward goes through - both mental and physical - as he channels his dead ancestor, is impressive, as is Sarandon's acting. The rest of the cast is practically throw-away but the story itself makes up for any acting flaws. There are a few other changes from the original story but nothing that alters the hideous and lurid feel that Lovecraft achieved. As hard as it is to translate Lovecraft to film, The Resurrected does an admirable job with the source material and has enough grisly effects and horrifying subject matter to satisfy any fan of both Lovecraft and horror.


Christine blogs over at Fascination with Fear. She also contributes to Fangoria and Paracinema. 

2 comments:

Grimm said...

Ohhh I remember this one. Good review! I haven't viewed that in a long while. I'm going to hunt me down a copy. I used to watch this with my sister.

James Gracey said...

Alas, I've never seen it myself, but Christine's enthusiasm for it really makes me want to check it out. Plus, Dan O'Bannon.