Lionsgate // 1992 // 108 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron // October 25th, 2005
Love that Lovecraft...sometimes.
Claire Ward, the bewildered wife of famed chemical engineer Charles Dexter Ward (Chris Sarandon, Dog Day Afternoon), hires private detective John Marsh (John Terry, Lost) to find out what her husband is up to. After a seemingly idyllic time as man and wife, Ward has suddenly left home, and now the police are investigating him. There are rumors of grave robbing, the importation of human remains, and disgusting smells coming out of his country home. When Marsh looks into the allegations, all he can find is a belligerent and decidedly formal man who appears a shadow of his former socialite self.
Eventually, the truth is discovered. After inheriting some books and papers from a dead relative, Ward has taken to alchemy. With his newfound powers, he hopes to perfect the art of soul swapping and acquirable immortality. Digging deeper, Marsh discovers that Ward may not even be the man he claims he is. Instead, he could be The Resurrected -- that is, the reanimated spirit of a black magician from centuries ago that has inhabited the body of this modern man.
It's a shame old H.P. Lovecraft had to go and die all those years ago (in 1937, to be exact). Had he hung around long enough to see the invention of the modern movie macabre, he could have cleaned up financially, what with all the residual checks he'd be owed and lawsuits he'd win for the use, "borrowing," and outright stealing of the plots and particulars of his unique brand of weird fiction. He is responsible for Azathoth, Cthulhu, Dagon, and the Deep Ones. He has also told the tales of Herbert West and the Necronomicon.
Like Poe, he's inspired countless authors, from Robert Bloch and Stephen King to Clive Barker, and like all writers of fright and fear, he has been belittled and criticized for his vague neo-Victorian way with his monsters and moralizing. You can almost tell a Lovecraftian work by the facets of its forming -- ancient rituals, demonic entities, human alienation, and murky, muddled mysteries. You are also almost guaranteed that any movie made of his oeuvre will be middling at best, with only a rare example (Re-Animator, From Beyond) making any real horror headway.
For most of its running time however, The Resurrected is a good little efficient fright flick. It sets up a plausible premise (a wife seeking information on her secretive husband), an engaging set of characters, and a finale that fulfills the promise of all that preceded it. This doesn't mean the movie is perfect. Indeed, it drags in spots and can't seem to get over a middle act desire to overexplain everything. We even get an extended flashback that's more exposition than excitement. Yet thanks to director Dan O'Bannon's foundation in fear, we arrive at an intense little thriller with dread and disgust to match.
Many may not have heard of O'Bannon. He made his name mostly as a scriptwriter, working on Alien, Dark Star, Dead and Buried, and Lifeforce. His sole other directorial turn was with the hugely successful -- and quite good -- The Return of the Living Dead. So Dan knows his nastiness, and he really does deliver here. Aside from a truly splattery ending which involves one of those classic full-blown full body transformation freakouts, the movie's main set piece takes place in an underground catacomb filled with "failed experiments" -- combinations of badly put-together body parts that have been "reanimated." Using both grotesque effects (including some very effective stop-motion work) and time-honored cinematic trickery (unpredictable flashlights, a dwindling book of matches), we get a sequence that recalls the best of European fright fests -- the mixing of the mechanical with the messy with lots and lots of inherent eeriness.
Indeed, much of The Resurrected plays like those Italian geek gorefests of the '80s and '90s. O'Bannon uses a similar matter-of-fact style, presenting his narrative in easily digestible hunks of clarification. The characters are uncomplicated and well defined, and the acting is low-key and logical. Even Chris Sarandon, who has the tendency to be over-the-top and hammy, plays Ward (and his ancient ancestor) with a nice combination of control and creepiness. In reality, if The Resurrected has one minor flaw, it's the measured manner in which the movie mixes mystery and macabre. Lovecraft usually posed his prose in the form of a whodunit, and screenwriter Brent Friedman spends as much time on clues and hints as he does on horror. Fans used to a Re-Animator-style chaotic bloodletting may be bored. But those who stick it out will be rewarded with an atmospheric and weird experience. Like many lost movies of the early '90s, The Resurrected deserves a second look. It's a wonderfully wicked little film.
Sadly, this version of the movie seems to be truncated. Though the running time is listed at 108 minutes (the official version) and the movie feels intact, the "R" rating on the cover is a potential warning sign (especially for something that went straight to video and probably never saw an MPAA screening). There are lots of stories all over the 'Net of O'Bannon's displeasure with this cut, and yet there is no attempt at revising or restoring this edition. This critic also remembers watching the film on cable when it was a Cinemax staple and he swears a certain amount of gore has been trimmed to avoid a harsher, more horrifying extravaganza. Aside from these caveats, the sound and image are fine. Offered as a full-frame feature (there is probably a widescreen version sitting in a vault somewhere) and given a Dolby Digital Stereo Surround 2.0 mix, this is still a good-looking presentation.
Though Lions Gate's logo appears on the DVD package, this release stinks of the old Farty Arty (aka Artisan) concept of digital releases. It's no surprise, really, as that previous provider of paltry product was bought up by the Gate last year. There is not a single bonus feature to be found here. No trailers or commentaries, no making-of or deleted scenes. Again, this is not so much a shocker as a disheartening disappointment. When will companies learn that to sell off-kilter and cult titles, they have to offer something more than the barest bones of technological treatments. Without context, few will care if The Resurrected is released in this medium, or never sees the light of day ever again.
And that's a shame, because Lovecraft fans will definitely dig this refreshingly faithful adaptation of his work. Brainy, bloody, and brazen in some of its narrative ways, The Resurrected delivers a healthy dose of suspense and surprise. Individuals looking to adapt more of the famed author's more notorious works would be well advised to see what O'Bannon and Friedman accomplish here. Without flash or unnecessary revamping, they create an intense and entertaining work of dread. H.P. would be proud.
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 108 Minutes
Release Year: 1992
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* The H.P. Lovecraft Archive