Dear The Resurrected,
(Based on ‘The Case of Charles Dexter Ward’)
While H.P. Lovecraft has been called “the twentieth century’s greatest practitioner of the classic horror tale” by Stephen King, his work has the dubious distinction of being “unfilmable”… or at least that’s the common consensus. Not unlike his idol Edgar Allan Poe, he was not revered in his lifetime despite crafting tales that would come to be regarded as classics of the genre, even defining some of the elements that would continue to appear in many a work of science fiction and horror literature for nearly a century to follow. And yet, there is an aspect to his storytelling that defies the standard ingredients considered necessary by the filmmaking industry for adaptation to the big screen. That’s not to say that it hasn’t been tried; some attempts have been made with greater degrees of success than others – not monetary or commercial success, mind you, but success in the transfer of the story from written word to moving picture. I’m thankful to say that you, The Resurrected, a standout in the pantheon of Lovecraftian film adaptations.
From the beginning, with a bombastic and almost derivative score, courtesy of composer Richard Band (whose brother, Charles Band, produced Stuart Gordon’s Lovecraft adaptations Re-Animator and From Beyond, for which Richard also provided the scores), you immediately exude an air of late ‘80s/early ‘90s horror film cheesiness that reminds me of the first two Hellraiser films. But it is this quality that seems to serve you well, not only as a film but as a Lovecraft adaptation. Most of his work was – and to some literary scholars still is – considered cheap and lacking in the highest literary merit, hence most of them being published in pulp outlets like Weird Tales until recently, and so your modest (even for 1992) budget of approximately $5 million with a minimal production design and less-than-Oscar-material actors assigns you the status of B-movie. Granted, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward was hardly as pulpy as some of Lovecraft’s better known works, but then again, the story of a man resurrecting his ancestor only to be (spoiler alert!) replaced by him does have a certain smarmy, even schlocky charm to it. And when considering that no Lovecraft film before warranted the big budget Hollywood treatment, it would be unfair to judge you for not being of the highest production quality.
For the Lovecraft aficionado, there would be other reasons to despise you, primarily in the way you unashamedly update the time period from the late ‘20s of the book to the then current day of the early ‘90s. Modernizing Lovecraft has often been the bane of many a fan, but I have to say that for your purposes, it works out rather well. Not only does it do little to detract from much of the original story’s primary action, but it allows for you to give it the more cinematic flair. After all, it was the ‘90s; how many people would be able to relate to the hero being the physician who delivered the titular character called to his aide by his worrisome parents? When put in those simplest of terms, Lovecraft’s story could easily be mistaken for a macabre version of a Lifetime TV movie.
On the other hand, by changing the physician to a disaffected private detective hired by Charles Dexter Ward’s troubled wife, you manage to reconcile the modernization of the story in a manner that does little to change the emotional impact of the characters in the book. Of course, the absence of some of the book’s peripheral villains beyond a mere mention that is never expanded upon, replaced in favor of a de facto sidekick and secretary for the protagonist might have been ill-advised, as well as your complete removal of Yog-Sothoth or any mention of Lovecraft’s mythos deities… but again, it works for you since it’s clear that for what you are, they’d be out of place.
Oh, and did I say “less than Oscar-material actors” before? That’s with the exception of Chris Sarandon in his dual role as Charles Dexter Ward / Joseph Curwen, for without him, you simply would not be nearly as memorable. His ability to portray the obsessed but frightened Ward and then transition to the murderous and diabolical Curwen in his few powerful scenes easily ranks alongside Anthony Hopkins’ impact as Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs, taking up so precious little of your screen time but giving you your highest marks. And if the power of his performance wasn’t enough, his age certainly adds some credibility to your story as well. One has to consider that Curwen had to be of somewhat advanced age to begin, much less attain, any success with his arcane and malevolent researches. For him to appear young enough in the novella as to adequately replace the 20-something Ward seems far-fetched, even for a Lovecraft story. Of course, even at the age of 50, Sarandon looked young but seasoned, giving his character(s) some measure of intellectual plausibility.
You, The Resurrected, are one of the prime examples of how literature and cinema can simultaneously diverge and converge. You share the common DNA of story, but it is in the details where you go on your own tangent to tell that story in a manner much more palatable to the audience of your time period. I dare say that in your particular structuring of the order of events, you actually tell the story much better than Lovecraft’s original novella did, revealing key points later in the unfolding of the mystery and thus allowing the audience to discover them along the way; the book, in keeping with Lovecraft’s general style, revealed most of these details early on, thus removing some of the impact if not the intrigue. While it may have been the result of a dispute between your screenwriter, Brent V. Friedman, and your director, Dan O’Bannon, it still works. Whether this restructuring can or should be viewed as an improvement is up to the individual viewer, but you deserve some praise for it, nonetheless.
Also noteworthy are your special effects, which in their low budget naivety and novelty add to your atmosphere and your appeal (although it’s nice to imagine what might’ve been if you had the sort of budget Guillermo del Toro’s demanding to make At the Mountains of Madness). It’s a shame you’re not more known or widely accepted, because I have to say that you, The Resurrected, are perhaps among the top Lovecraftian film adaptations produced.