Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Lovecraft's Corner #9: The Resurrected

Trick 'r Treat! Halloween is my favorite time of the year - when you ask people to watch a horror film with you, they almost always say yes instead of questioning your tastes. Heck, I can take my Lovecraft anthology to classes and no one comments or gives me weird looks.
Speaking of Lovecraft, this is my treat to you guys (or another trick): another review of a Lovecraft adaptation! Today's film is "The Resurrected", also called "Shatterbrain", a 1992 film that I believe has earned the right to the alternate title. It's based on "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward", one of my favorite Lovecraft stories, and appears to be relatively obscure. Does it deserve this reputation? Will it shatter your brain in a good way or a bad way that leaves you screaming for therapy? Let's find out.

Yes, spoilers ahead. As always.

We start with credits - light radiating from a single spot as the words "The Resurrected" rise up, and turn red before the main cast is listed. Nothing terribly special - budget was only 5 million. Then again, to be fair, this story shouldn't require a large budget to adapt, and I can still have hopes. The credits then cut to a large building with a thunderstorm going on overhead - and a Biblical quote appears on the screen. I don't get why adaptations will throw in religious references when they're seeking a quote, though at least this one's relevant - oh, right, movie. So, it then cuts inside, where a man goes into an office to tell his superior Charles Ward has escaped - ah, this must be the mental hospital. Hopes rising. They go to his room to find a terrible mess - a decapitated body, blood everywhere, and what looks like the remains of an explosive. "What in the hell happened here?" Just a Great Old One rave, sir, nothing to worry about. They find Ward's suitcase outside - and then a lightning bolt takes us to a new place in a city - specifically 'March Agency', where a man is speaking into a recorder discussing 'the case of Charles Dexter Ward'. The prelude to the events sounds rather like your typical ramblings of a Lovecraft protagonist. Hopes higher. Say, how far in are we anyhow? ....Five minutes? Movie, if you end up dashing my hopes after these first five minutes, I am going to trash you.

The flashback starts, three weeks ago, in the city of Providence. ...compressed timeline, I can cope. After some talk, it then goes inside an office with our protagonist, John March, meeting a lady named Claire Ward.

....please be the mother, please be the-

She talks about how her husband (crap. Another love interest) has moved out of the house, will not talk to her, and is suspected of smuggling corpses. He had left abruptly from a party to his laboratory and stayed long in the night, with shouts coming from the place. She told him to stop being so loud, and, in response, he moved to the country with his assistant, Dr. Ash. Out there, he's apparently been working late into the night and receiving long boxes. March promises to investigate, sending someone to talk to the police. He goes out to Pautuxet Valley, commenting in his narration that it seems like "they're hiding something". Pautuxet is Innsmouth, got it.

He stops at a gas station and, after a jump scare, discovers dogs are terrified of something. He asks for directions and is advised to follow the smell of Death. He finally finds the new lab and tries talking to Ward, camera shaking slightly (yeah, low budget. Oh well). Ward turns him away, not giving any real information about his activities. As he drives away, he narrates as he passes by a cemetery.

After finding an article with the title straight from the book, March receives a call from his police contact, who says they found eight boxes of old human remains and learned that there's been a rash of tomb-snatching of occult scholars over in Europe. However, Ward denies he ordered the bodies and can't be prosecuted since there's no proof.

March meets Claire again over dinner (learning they haven't been together long) and tells her about the bones. She says he first acted strange when he received items from a freshly-deceased obscure relative, mostly papers referencing Joseph Curwen. They visited Curwen's old house (Ward's current place) and found, concealed under wallpaper, the painting of Curwen. He then continued digging into Curwen's things. The two visit her home, discussing Ward a little, and then go out to the lab to find refrigerated animal blood, the trunk of items (emptied) and a picture of "Saturn Devouring His Son" (which, at first, I mistook as a reference to Pickman, though I now understand that story's inspiration).

Going home, March learns he has a message from one of Ward's neighbors. When calling him doesn't work, he drives to his home to find the police there. The man's dead and, lacking any other answers for the gruesome mutilation and blood all over the room, chalk it up to "animal attack".

To paraphrase some of the other watchers, it's great how not even the officer giving that explanation believes it.

March immediately suspects Ward but doesn't tell the police. He instead returns to the office, with the feeling he's being watched, works on the computer, and has a nightmare in a lovely blue tint, that starts with footage from the movie and grows increasingly....uh, odd. Don't think Freud can help you there, pal.

One of his employees comes in to find out he'd spent the night. The next comes in to announce he'd quit smoking, and the three just hang out until Claire comes in. If the two employees survive after that, I'll be amazed.

So, March informs Claire about the neighbor's death. Claire, in return, has a recording of Ward sounding extremely desperate and warning them about Dr. Ash. So, naturally, the two visit his new place. The man from before tries to refuse them, but Ward, speaking in a hoarse whisper, invites them in. He speaks a bit oddly, and Claire tries to get him medical help. He turns her away and seems to forget simple dates; he won't even leave to celebrate the anniversary of his marriage and refuses to tell them what he's doing, only that he requires six weeks. Claire leaves, distraught, and March drives her away. She swears he's not Ward; March suggests perhaps Ward is a bit delusional and thinks he's possessed by the ghost of Curwen.

March continues keeping an eye on Ward, learning about his activities to prove he's insane. They gather a lot of information - ordering fresh blood, bank thought his signatures were forged, possible tunnels in the area - and eventually get the police to seize him to be committed.  Claire, worried for her husband, follows, and ends up being caught by Ward as a hostage. Way to help. This is why I hate Lovecraft love interests, they are so useless.

March tries to help and get attacked; luckily, this frees Claire and allows the police to subdue Ward in a straitjacket. At the mental hospital, Ward claims a need for fresh blood and raw flesh to stay in control; not having it would leave a "damnable mess". The doctor also mentions to March and Claire that Ward's metabolism and respiration is irregular and slowed and that he doesn't expect him to be released.

Claire is awoken late at night, later, by March going through the trunk and finding a diary sewn into the side. Specifically, the diary of Ezra Ward.

(Note: there's a slight skip. There may have been a scene missing)

The next day, the agency and Claire discuss the contents - Curwen was oddly old, considered to be a warlock, and smuggled odd things into his home. Ward discusses how he explored the area to find proof of Curwen's malice and kept in contact with Eliza, the wife of Curwen who was supposed to marry Ezra. Eliza tells him about the odd shipments and a strange wound he had received and refused help for. He observes shipments of dead cattles and coffins, along with a secret doorway near the river. While Ezra awaits the decision of the town's council, a rainstorm washes away the river bank, causing something odd to wash up. Hey, just like the sto-


Hot damn, I guess we know where the movie's budget went.....

Anyhow, they burn that THING and decide they'll take care of Curwen. 100 privateers march on Curwen's barn, breaking in - and the diary ends there without detailing the results of the raid. Depressing.

So, next scene is a news reporter detailing a murder of yet another one of Ward's neighbors and another murder. Both are equally mutilated. The idea of telling the police comes up, and is shot down for the fact no one would ever believe it. They decide instead that, since Claire technically owns the place, they can legally blow it up - but she'll only do it once they know what's down there. March and the other man from the agency drive to the farmhouse and, on the way, get a jump scare courtesy of Dr. Ash and a rearview mirror. C'mon, movie, be better than that.

So they arrive at the house, where Claire is waiting for them. They grab the explosives and guns and go inside down to the cellar to find the entrance to below the house. It's located under a cabinet, not exactly well-hidden, and releases a foul stench when opened. Probably either corpses or Arby's after a few days.

So, of course, the three descend into this hellhole, and we find out in the process they only have one flashlight. Being in the private detective agency must pay horribly. So, past the ladder down is a spiral staircase leading further down. Ominous music crescendoes to...a fork in the path and a lantern. C'mon, movie, you're better than that. Just get Merlin in and then deal with - oh, right.

So, one path is blocked, forcing them down the other path. There are doors down the path, but they're all locked. This is probably a good thing; for all we know, there are more abominations behind those doors, including the monster from earlier, heirs to the Great Old Ones, and Uwe Boll films.

So, Claire finds an unlocked door, taking them to a room filled with books and a.....I'm sorry, in my version, it's too dark to see. Anyhow, so the flashlight goes out briefly (FORESHADOWING!) and then they find the diary of Joseph Curwen, which implies he had eluded death. There's also an interesting passage about ripping flesh off of improper owners and a drawing of two skeletons connected by fleshy strands. Betting this'll be important later.

The next room is a lab full of beakers and urns. March thinks it's a swell idea to tip one over to see the contents. The other guy from the agency thinks Curwen was just mad, so March takes a bit of ash, sprinkles it on meat lying around, and drips elixir on it, growing a horribly deformed hand and proving Curwen was right. Gotta love these effects, no sarcasm intended.

The flashlight dies, just leaving them with the lantern, as they investigate further to find a large, damp chamber lined with covered and uncovered pits. One emitting smoke is still growling, and closer investigation shows it to be one of the near-human abominations, which March only calls "Mistakes or screw-ups". You call them that, I call them the best argument ever for the eradication of science and magic arts.

The three get ready to go when they encounter one of the abominations above ground (and I learn pausing on these things is a BAD idea). The lantern is dropped, breaking it, and they use matches to light their path briefly. The other agency man is grabbed and pulled down a pit, accompanied by the most wonderful crunchings. Yeesh. ...still, I called it. He didn't survive to the end.

So, the match goes out, they light another, the abominations are attacking. While trying to escape, Claire is knocked out, leaving March to save her and destroy this hellish place. He tries fending them with a shotgun and then manages to push one down a pit. The flashlight dies as Claire wakes up, leaving them one last match to leave with and several of the abominations still lurking about. The match stays lit long enough to find a new lantern and, oddly, Charles suitcase. March sets up the explosives, and they flee into the storm outside, Claire unconscious again. March blows the place to hell in a very satisfying moment and then drives to a hospital to deal with Claire. The doctor says she has a concussion and is pregnant - relevancy uncertain. March goes back to his office to examine Charles' suitcase - inside is Dr. Ash's sunglasses and beard, along with bloodied bones. No question about what happened.

A lightning strike takes us to March's arrival at the mental hospital to visit Ward - and calls him out as the actual Joseph Curwen. He then tells Curwen he blew up his lab and brought Charles' bones to the hospital. Curwen points out that March would not be taken seriously and then explains how he returned (along with an awkward scene showing Curwen regenerating in front of Ward in nothing but skin....awkward does not even begin to cover it), the creation of Dr. Ash, and the fate of Ward. Gotta say, it takes guts to eat your own flesh and- *shot* Sorry. Anyhow. Curwen keeps lecturing March about what he's accomplished. He then mentions that he, as the dead, is still hungry - and breaks through his straitjacket. March tries calling in help, but Curwen punches him. An aide comes in, but Ward demonstrates supernatural strength in killing him.

Curwen approaches March - he will kill March but go unpunished due to his insanity, feign a recovery, and effect release. He then bites into March, who reveals he grabbed a vial of the resurrective elixir and throws it at Ward's bones, which then then reassemble into a moving, talking skeletons that starts ripping the flesh from his bones. ....I'll let Kriken sum this up:

Kriken_8: A skeleton killing a zombie... Why hasn't this been used in more movies?

Red energy starts escaping Curwen - flesh starts attaching to the skeleton - and the resulting energy burst destroys them both. March opens the window for air, then throws out Ward's suitcase to make it look like he'd escaped. He bandages his wound and then leaves, and his narration resumes briefly. He made it look like Ward escaped to spare her the truth. As he leaves, the orderly asks him how Ward's doing, and March replies, "Resting peacefully."

So, how is this as an adaptation? Pretty good, really. It follows the story faithfully - there are moments where they even quote the dialog straight from the original story - and while changes are made, it's mostly to fit into the new date of the story or because other elements *coughMerlin* were not included. The timeline's compressed, but I think only the fans of the original story will realize that. The horror of the abominations Curwen fashioned are captured pretty well in this film and the detective manages to come off as a convincing character. Also: a zombie killed by a skeleton. You will never see that again. This is definitely one of my favorite adaptations, and I'd recommend it to Lovecraft fans. Kriken? Your thoughts?

Thank you RBY. Next to Re-Animator this has to be my new favorite adaption. As a horror movie, I feel it works very well relying more on atmosphere and creepy set designs rather than jump scares (Okay a few time) and horrible effects. For such a low budget as you indicated, the effects are rather magnificent in my opinion, they aren't lifelike, but they are scary and you will remember them. As for the downsides, Claire was rather bad and the movie seemed to bog down at certain points. But overall, if you want to see a good horror movie for Halloween you've never seen before, I'd say check it out

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