“Death used to be the end. Now it’s only the beginning.”
Directed by Dan O’Bannon
Starring John Terry, Jane Sibbett and Chris Sarandon
Written in 1927 but not published during Lovecraft’s life, “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward” is a more or less traditional horror tale that plays with a pretty typical Lovecraftian theme, that of the past coming back to haunt someone obsessed with it. It’s been adapted a few times — it has a pretty limited effects budget, and the actorly gimmick at the core of the story is popular.
Rich Providence native Charles Dexter Ward escapes from a mental institution; we flash back to his doctor investigating his madness. He discovers that Ward has uncovered the grave of his ancestor, a reputed sorcerer named Joseph Curwen. Attempting to replicate Curwen’s experiments, Ward resurrects him; the resurrected Curwen kills him and replaces him — the strange behaviour that landed “Ward” in the nut house was actually just Curwen not knowing much about the modern world. The doctor investigates Ward’s lab, sees some horrible stuff and learns the spell that will return Curwen to dust — his “escape” was actually him being reduced to ash.
The Resurrected updates the story to a modern-day setting (well, contemporary setting, anyway) and replaces the doctor of the story with a private investigator, John March (John Terry), who is hired by Ward’s wife Claire (Jane Sibbett) to find out what’s wrong with her husband (Chris Sarandon). This is another pretty typical Lovecraft-adaptation featire, moving the action into the present of the story rather than locating it in the past.
What’s wrong with it?
The Resurrected is a pretty straight-ahead horror/mystery story with some atmospheric sequences, but it falls down, sadly, because March and Claire are such boring characters. Doctor Willett in the story doesn’t have much of a personality, but then he’s just a POV character. March and Claire are on screen the vast majority of the time, and they’re just big, personality-less slices of white bread, lacking drive, emotion, wit or eccentricity. It’s clear that the film doesn’t care about them — it comes most alive when Ward is doing stuff — and it’s hard to see why we should. It’s not that the detective’s personality should be essential to a mystery story, but that doesn’t mean the detective shouldn’t be fun to watch.
Oh, also the spell that resurrects people turns them into flesh-eating, blood-drinking ghouls because otherwise there’s not really any blood in the story. And March and Claire have a kinda-sorta romance, maybe, I guess?
What’s right with it?
The Pawtuxet valley setting is nicely oppressive, the story trundles along at a reasonable speed, and the set-pieces toward the end of the movie — the exploration of Curwen’s underground catacombs and the confrontation between March and Curwen — are tense and well-staged. It’s a pretty good piece of late-80s-style DTV horror, except that it’s probably a little too restrained to be a good example of the genre.
How bad is it really?
It’s OK. It just lacks the engaging characters it needs to maintain momentum when Curwen/Ward is offscreen. It’s definitely worth a bowl of popcorn on a rainy Sunday.
Best bit (if such there is)?
- March, Claire and sidekick Lonnie (Robert Romanus) are attacked by a horrible failed resurrection in Curwen’s lab. Lonnie drops his lantern to use his shotgun, with the resulting scuffle lit only by the muzzle flashes of his shotgun.
- In an extended flashback (there’s actually a flashback within the flashback, Ward’s ancestor Ezra hunts down sorcerer Ward. A failed resurrection turns up, and it’s totally hideous. The narrator comments that it “was burnt by order of the high sheriff.” I remember when I watched this as a teen my brother saying “that high sheriff’s got the right idea.”
What’s up with…?
- Noticing Ward’s teeth? It’s a good gag — Ward has lovely white teeth, but Curwen, from the 18th century, has crooked, stained ones. March comments on this, looking at Ward’s photo and saying “nice teeth.” I don’t think I’ve ever in my life complimented someone’s teeth.
- Raymond the drug runner? He just hangs around Curwen acting sinister.
- Curwen’s painting? He just has a big portrait of himself glaring evilly in his own house. It’s a bit vain, isn’t it?
Production values Not a huge budget, but effective use of locations and some good sets. 8
Dialogue and performances Sarandon is pretty good, but the rest are bland. 14.
Plot and execution Streamlines the original plot, but then adds a bunch of extraneous stuff. 13.
Randomness Again, mostly pretty good, but there are some odd moments — see “Raymond” above. 12.
Waste of potential ‘s all right. 10.