Year 1991
Studio Eurobrothers

Mark Borde

Kenneth Raich

Tony Scotti

Director Dan O'Bannon
Writer Brent V. Friedman
Music Richard Band

Chris Sarandon

Jane Sibbett

John Terry

Length 108 mins

The Resurrected

‘‘ Ye have made the most damnable mistake! ’’

For years a kind of ritual has played out amongst hardcore HPL fans. Upon each release of a movie claiming some kind of kinship to Lovecraft's work, much wailing and gnashing of teeth would be heard as the assembled disciples bemoaned the fact that yet another tale by the master was being desecrated. That the flicking images on the screen had nothing in common with the words Lovecraft had put down on paper. Film reviews in Lovecraftian fanzines would inevitably end, as this one did by Allen Koszowski in Crypt Of Cthulhu, by saying, "I'm still anticipating the day when some gifted filmmaker will adapt one of Lovecraft's stories in a manner that does both credit."

Well, to give credit where credit is due, director Dan O'Bannon (fresh from his 1990 success of Total Recall) and screenwriter Brent V. Friedman (who later revisited Lovecraft in 1993's Necronomicon) did just that when they brilliantly resurrected HPL's longest and most ambitious work, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward.

Unlike The Haunted Palace, O'Bannon and Freidman stick tantalizingly close to the original text, and spin the film around Charles Dexter Ward and his obsession with the life of his ancestor Joseph Curwen, an eighteenth-century warlock who visually could be his twin. Guided by Curwen's eldritch writings, To Him Who Shal Come After & How He May Gett Beyonde Time & Ye Spheres, Ward slowly pieces together a story filled with mystery and magic, a compelling narrative leading to madness, resurrection, and death.

The central theme of HPL's novel is neatly summoned up in the novel's opening epigraph, a creepy passage penned in antique English and attributed to Borellus:

The Essential Saltes of Animals may be so prepared and preserved that an ingenious Man may have the whole Ark of Noah in his own Studie, and raise the fine Shape of an Animal out of its Ashes at his Pleasure; and by the lyke method from the essential Saltes of humane Dust a Philosopher may, without any criminal Necromancy, call up the Shape of any dead Ancestour from the Dust whereinto his Bodie has been incinerated.

These "essential saltes" were ignored by the Corman/Beaumont adaptation, but play a major role in the O'Bannon/Friedman version as Charles Dexter Ward is compelled to resurrect his "dead Ancestour" and unwittingly unleashes a horror that finally destroys him.

Particularly impressive are the film's eighteenth-century flashbacks detailing Curwen's dark history and violent death at the hands of the local townspeople. One scene is particularly brilliant, with its depiction of things that the "heavy spring rains of 1770" washed into the Pawtuxet River from the banks of Curwen's farm, inhuman creatures that "half cried out although its condition had greatly departed from that of objects which normally cry out."

Modern-day scenes in Curwen's hidden catacombs are even more malevolent as we are led through narrow, twisting tunnels by the light of a fading flashlight, confronted by shambling forms, whose "certain outlines," Lovecraft wrote, act "frightfully on a sensitive thinker's perspective and whisper terrible hints of obscure cosmic relationships." These are the loathsome results of raising imperfect salts, creatures that now reside in the suffocating shadows of Curwen's pits. In fact, one of the film's most gruesome scenes is wisely played in total darkness. This visual uncertainty allows the mind to fill in the terrifying gaps as Curwen's twisted and very hungry horrors go after our hapless heroes, a bold directorial touch by Dan O'Bannon of which Lovecraft would have whole-heartedly approved.

Another wise move was the doing away with HPL's sometimes maddening use of made-up language, like the novel's goofy incantation to call up the dead (Y'ai 'Ng 'Ngah Yog-Sothoth H'ee-L 'Geb F'ai Throdog Uaaah). Instead, the film relies on using some nifty chemistry effects and a twisted glass and tube apparatus called the "reflux" to put the essential salts back together again.

One reason The Resurrected works as well as it does is the inspired casting of Chris Sarandon for the dual role of Charles Dexter Ward and Joseph Curwen. Unlike Vincent Price's hammy stab at the same part in The Haunted Palace, Sarandon's subtle and nuanced performance makes the cosmic conflict between Ward and Curwen completely believable. As the pale and intensely evil Curwen, Sarandon really becomes something resurrected from the 18th century, brilliantly delivering sinister lines from the novel like, "I am grown phthisical from this cursed river air." He also cribs a few from HPL's short story "From Beyond," sneering; "I have struck depths your little brain can't picture! I have seen beyond the bounds of infinity and drawn down daemons from the stars . . . I have harnessed the shadows that stride from world to world to sow madness and death."

The only disappointment, besides some editing inconsistencies, occurs with the narrator. In the novel Dr. Marinus Willett, the family doctor and Charles' sympathetic surrogate father, recounts Charles' case as a passionate and disturbing confessional. Screenwriter Friedman, through the urgings of director Dan O'Bannon, was forced to split Willett in half. Some of the character is placed in the hands of Charles' suffering wife, Claire Ward, and the other half molded into a clichÖ private investigator named John March. John is retained by Claire to find out why hubby has moved out of the house and is receiving "contraband from cemeteries" just a week before their first wedding anniversary. A strong supporting performance by Richard Romanus as Lonnie Peck, March's street-wise leg man, helps keep things moving, but the real kicker comes when he's able to get his paws on a wad of plastic explosives to blow up Curwen's unwholesome "pets."

The Resurrected heralds the much sought after day when some, "gifted filmmaker will adapt one of Lovecraft's stories." It is the best serious Lovecraftian screen adaptation to date with a solid cast, decent script, inventive direction, and excellent special effects that do justice to one of Howard's darker tales.