Youtube Film Club – The Resurrected (1991)

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Considering the incredible pedigree of the people involved – directed by Dan O’Bannon, who wrote “Dark Star” and “Alien” and directed “Return of the Living Dead”; starring Chris Sarandon, from “Fright Night”; it’s a bit of a surprise how this film managed to go under the radar. It’s also based on one of Lovecraft’s best stories, “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward” so…no, I got nothing. It’s clearly the film’s fault I’d never heard of it before yesterday.

A guy called Charles Dexter Ward has become obsessed with a long-dead necromancer called Curwen who bore a striking resemblance to him, and has abandoned his old life in order to continue Curwen’s experiments. Mrs Ward is distressed by this, so she goes to visit a private investigator, John March (John Terry, aka Hawk the Slayer) and asks him to track her husband down and find out exactly what he’s up to. This gradually reveals how far down the rabbit hole Ward has gone, but it’s when he suddenly develops rotten teeth and a rather bizarre old-fashioned way of talking that things really get strange.

Although this film is very definitely of its era (the PI’s office is bright and ugly) it manages to capture the spirit of Lovecraft remarkably well. Sarandon is fantastic as Ward, that archetypal quester for dark truth, And Jane Sibbett (from “Friends”) is also great as his wife Claire. There’s lots of touches, like the blackboard with maths and occult symbols side by side, and the repeated use of “Saturn Devouring His Son” by Goya, which indicate the people behind this film spent a lot of time on it. Even though the original story is about a doctor investigating Ward, the change to a PI makes sense and the atmosphere is excellent. And the effects! Some of Ward’s failed experiments are incredibly grotesque and look fantastic, right out of a really horrible nightmare.

This scene needs more blood, I think

This scene needs more blood, I think

But, there’s weirdness to it, and to setting the story in the modern day. Ward transports the bones of other dead necromancers to his home in order to perform experiments to create resurrection powder. But, I just get the feeling it would be fairly difficult to both find, steal and transport those bones to the US, and would take a bit more than the < 6 months the film tells us. At one point, the PI just breaks into Claire’s home because he’s had an idea where some old document is hidden – hey mate, you know they have phones, right? Or you could wait til the morning and ask?

O’Bannon was never really a director – aside from a student short, this and “Return…” are his only films, and this shows in the lack of connective tissue to too many scenes. Ward is arrested a little over halfway through the film and locked up in an asylum, but there’s no real indication why the police would suddenly decide to raid his house in such force. Most strangely of all, when the PI visits Ward in the asylum to trigger the film’s climactic battle, he’s able to just stroll into his padded room and be left there unsupervised while carrying a suitcase full of human bones. Really? Also, the PI continues on the case long past the point where the wife would have said “you know what, my husband’s been found and he’s stopped his experiments, bill please”.

Talking of O’Bannon, apparently, he and writer Brent Friedman (now a TV writer, and responsible for ISCFC favourite “American Cyborg: Steel Warrior”) had separately been developing this story for years, and combined their efforts for this. Although O’Bannon isn’t credited as a writer, a lot of his ideas made it into the finished film.

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I really wanted to like this film. It has a great atmosphere, a strong cast, one of the all-time great Hollywood iconoclasts as director…but it just didn’t quite work. You can see O’Bannon knows his horror, just think of all the classic horror trappings – dark / stormy / foggy nights, an asylum, old books full of mysterious diagrams, grotesque paintings, dark cellars and tunnels, torches that keep going out, family secrets, oh and exploded human bodies – but…although it’s only 100 minutes long, it feels a lot longer, and like so many of the Lovecraft-based films we’ve seen so far, it would have benefited enormously from being a TV special, like an hour-long episode of “HP Lovecraft Presents…” (which is fantastic idea, actually, I ought to try and sell it to a TV company).

I’d definitely recommend watching it, though. Available in HD, for free, on Youtube, and if you’ve got a passing interest in Lovecraft or O’Bannon you’ll get a lot from this film.

Rating: thumbs in the middle

PS. While seeing what other reviewers thought (and to see if I missed anything big), I happened upon Video Junkie’s review, and we seem to have had very similar ideas about the “horror trappings” bit, although his flows better than mine. Anyway, please visit his site and read some of his stuff, because it’s great.

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The VRAs – Dead And Buried (1981)

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This is our ongoing series about films that were banned by the British government, using the Video Recordings Act of 1984. You have the right-wing gutter press and a few Christian pressure groups to thank for these films becoming more famous than they had any right to be (in all but a few cases), and the fact they’ve now virtually all been re-released, uncut, while the law remains in place, tells you more about moral panics than it does about the content of the films. See the VRAs “mission statement” here.

Part of the fun of these films is trying to figure out why they were banned, and without looking it up I’d honestly have no idea about this one. Is removing peoples’ will to live a reason for banning something?

The first thing to notice is this is appreciably higher-budget than any of the VRA films we’ve covered so far. A whole small town is used and the special effects, by Stan Winston, while occasionally terrible even by the standards of the time, are often excellent. There’s also a decent cast assembled, with many future TV stars and dependable character actors early in their careers. But enough of that!

A photographer has driven to the small town of Potters Bluff to take photos of the beach, apparently. After being entranced for what would pass for a beauty in small town standards, he’s tied up by a bunch of mean-looking locals, photographed repeatedly and then burned almost to death, which brings in Sheriff Dan Gillis. He’s a solid guy, but the same definitely can’t be said for the rest of the inhabitants of Potters Bluff – the woman serving him coffee was one of the people present at the burning, and a few others around him look a bit suspicious too.

The photographer is visited in the hospital by a nurse, who drives a needle through his remaining good eye and walks off, no-one thinking of stopping her even though the guy starts screaming and the Sheriff definitely sees her leaving his room seconds before. But the rest of the murders are almosty equally un-subtle – hitch-hikers, families passing through, a drunk fisherman – all are fair game for the locals, and the bulk of the film is a sort of cross between “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” and “The Wicker Man”, with the Sheriff gradually suspecting more and more while the town’s remaining friendly inhabitants meet grisly ends.

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This film was co-written by Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett, who also wrote “Alien” a few years previously. O’Bannon is one of those guys who just seemed to not give a damn, and had a fascinating career – friends with John Carpenter at film school, and he wrote and co-starred in “Dark Star”; special effects work on “Star Wars”, was attached to the Alejandro Jodorowsky version of “Dune” before it fell through; wrote and directed “Return Of The Living Dead”; and wrote “Total Recall” among many other films. Sadly, it appears his contribution to this was name only, as Shusett asked him to attach his name to it to make it easier to sell, promising to make some changes from the rather crude original draft which ended up not happening.

The thing that’s surprising about this video nasty is that it’s not that nasty. With a few seconds of trims, this could easily qualify for a 15 certificate in the UK of today, and the best guess anyone has it that it’s the special effects, including some fairly unpleasant autopsy scenes and a “live” burial which were the reasons for its banning (it had already enjoyed a fairly successful cinema run in the UK).

There are moments where you want to shout at the Sheriff – hey dum-dum! In a town as small as this apparently is, why aren’t you noticing the new people suddenly doing menial jobs? but, to be fair, the ending has a decent crack at explaining all that. While not the most surprising conclusion in the world, it’s done well and provided you aren’t too squeamish about endless facial scarring, and can tolerate that peculiarly slow-paced horror which was in vogue at the time, you should enjoy “Dead & Buried”. Up to now, this is by a mile the best of the VRA films we’ve covered, and probably the only one which would be remembered now with any degree of fondness.

Rating: thumbs up