The Resurrected

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Notorious horror author H.P. Lovecraft and sreenwriter/director Dan O’Bannon both had a lot in common; not only did both men change the very face of science fiction and horror – Lovecraft with his tales of cosmic dread and eldritch horrors and O’Bannon with his fingers in such pies as Alien and Return Of The Living Dead – but both were reportedly somewhat difficult to be around.
So it seems only fitting that two such difficult, anti-social entities (O’Bannon was a prickly sort due to his perfectionism and suffered from Crohn’s Disease while Lovecraft’s unfortunate and unrepentant racism has been well documented) would finally unite after the former chose the latter’s novella The Strange Case Of Charles Dexter Ward to adapt for his second directorial effort.
Alas, studio meddling meant that O’Bannon’s vision ducked a cinematic showing and was instead buried with a direct to video release; but unearthing this misshapen beast is to discover an adaption of Lovecraft’s that’s surprisingly faithful.

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Dogged, down to earth private detective John Marsh is approached by worried wife Claire who wants to hire him to spy on her husband Charles Dexter Ward, an esteemed chemical engineer whose behavior of late has grown extraordinarily erratic. Accepting the job, Marsh is told of the string of events that led Claire to take such extreme (and presumably expensive) measures and he finds out that after learning more about his family history and visiting an ancestral farmhouse that contained a portrait of a man named Joseph Curwen who’s uncanny resemblance raised questions about his actual parentage, Ward since has purchased the lodgings and has lived an isolated existence in the weeks since.
After doing a bit of snooping, Marsh and his team not only find out that Ward has been having large deliveries of raw meat sent to his place, but he almost seems like a completely different person as his ruddy complexion, backed-up teeth and completely different accent seems to attest and soon Claire has enough on the man who still claims to be her husband to have him committed.
While he cools his heels in a nice, comfy rubber room, March and Claire explore Charles’ farmhouse and locates the diary of Ezra Ward written in 1771 which sheds light on the fact that Joseph Curwen was a practitioner of necromancy (nice hobby if you can afford it, I guess) and that some of his experiments had created mutated grotesqueries that caused the townsfolk to take action. Initially sumising that Charles is actual the relative of Joseph and not Ezra and that he has decided to resume his investor’s experiments, March and Claire eventually discover that the truth is far stranger (and more dangerous) than fiction – but nowhere near as strange and dangerous than what’s lurking in the caverns under Charles’ retreat.

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As a bit of Lovecraft nut (for his stories and any movie adaptations, not his politics), The Resurrected was a movie I was pretty stoked to see back when it was eventually released as Dan O’Bannon’s previous movie was the seminal, anarchic, punk zombie Return Of The Living Dead, but a for some reason I could never get hold of a copy, so it remained an unseen gem that sat on the edges of my watch list until fate would drop a random viewing into my lap. Time passed and after I finally managed to score a look at the (very) flawed virtues of this movie, I’ve come to believe that in many ways, The Resurrected, while certainly not being the best crack at the author’s work, is almost certainly the most accurate example of Lovecraft that exists on film.
What do I mean by this? Well, Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator and From Beyond took Lovecraft’s more subdued stories and turned them into gaudy, comic book romps loaded with gore and wit that radiate the director’s sensibilities much more than it does the author’s. Elsewhere, John Carpenter’s fun homage, In The Mouth Of Madness and Robert Stanley’s trippy The Color Out Of Space follow the Lovecrafian template far more closely, but still opt to go all out when revelling in the author’s affinity in half-realising nameless cosmic horrors, but The Resurrected is the only adaptation I can think of that attempts to replicate the kind of creeping, unnamable horror that Lovecraft’s lead characters would slowly relate in the first person.
Adapting a sort of gothic noir approach things by having the death defying conspiracy gradually peeled away by a private detective, O’Bannon holds off on the inevitable body horror long enough to quietly throw caution to the wind with his story telling and unleashes such tactics as voice overs, narration, flashbacks and flashbacks within flashbacks in order to replicate the original novella’s structure and the 1771 set flashback may be the single most Lovecraftian-accurate moment in cinema history.

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The result is a near perfect cinematic realisation of what around 80% of Lovecraft’s stories read like, but while fans will undoubtedly appreciate O’Bannon’s efforts to accurately approach his work, certain aspects of the filmmaking conspire to make the finish film not play anywhere near as well as it could to Lovecraftian noods. For a start, something really fucking weird is going on with the dialogue that makes everyone sound badly looped with the result being that everyone’s performances seem distractingly melodramatic or just outright hokey and when added to the movie’s annoyingly intrusive score, some might find the slow burning first half something of a chore to get through. Also, fans of Return Of The Living Dead may be disappointed that O’Bannon’s second (and unfortunately last) directorial isn’t anywhere near as flashy as his rollicking first despite the filmmaker’s admirable efforts to try and make something entirely different.
Still, despite these issues (possibly caused by an apparently pained post production period), there’s still lots here to bring curious souls to the party. Chris Sarandon’s performance as Charles Dexter Ward invokes fond memories of Jerry Dandridge from Fright Night as his character grows ever less human and starts addressing people in archaic speech through a set of teeth that wouldn’t look out of place on a dentally challenged meth head.
Of course, the real draw here is effects master Todd Masters’ attempt to visualise the kind of creatures that Lovecraft would simply describe as indescribable and then move the fuck on; and visualise them Masters impressively does, thanks to a pair of surreal beasties that gives Rob Bottin’s work in The Thing a run for their money when it comes to lumpy, vaguely human atrocities.

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While casual viewers may find that the uneven pleasures of The Resurrected may fly a little over their head, true Lovecraft groupies will see that O’Bannon nailed the insidious prose that’s made the author so posthumously inspirational probably better than anyone else ever has at the cost of a more accessible pace.
Still, for aficionados of eldritch experiments and unspeakable creatures, The Resurrected undoubtedly brings the love, even if the craft is ultimately compromised.

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