Re-Animator (1985)

hpl1Always had a problem with Re-Animator. So many critics raved about it, but I rather detested it, alongside so many other films based on Lovecraft’s fiction made around that time. They transposed the stories to the present day and seemed (horror of horrors!) to play them more for laughs than scares.

Back in the mid-eighties, I was at college, and I remember spending one long glorious summer simply devouring the stories of H P Lovecraft. British paperback imprint Voyager had launched a three-volume omnibus collection; I bought all three and commenced reading them throughout. It was glorious indeed, I can hardly describe how care-free and innocent all that was, young and with loads of free time, soaking up all those stories- The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, The Festival, The Tree, The Rats, The Tomb, Dreams in the Witch-House… so many amazing tales. Whenever I think back to those days I can hardly believe I had so few cares in the world and so much free time (these days I hardly seem to have any time at all to read, currently slogging over a period of months through the Games of Thrones books).

But anyway, I grew very attached to Lovecraft’s stories. Many might consider them dated and stilted but I lapped them up, savouring their 1920s settings and the dark charms of Lovecraft’s chaotic uncaring universe of horror; “The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of the infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far.” 

So imagine my chagrin when Hollywood turned to Lovecraft’s stories and turned them into modern comedies. Well, that’s how it seemed to me, and I responded with disgust. I still maintain that serious period movies based on some of HPL’s work -I’m thinking The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, but we came close a few years ago with At The Mountains of Madness- could be remarkable. Lovecraft’s vision is of its time, and the stories being moved to the present day just don’t, for me, work.

reanimatorBut anyway, years pass and my grudge against those 1980s films that betrayed my beloved Lovecraft has lessened somewhat. I guess time heals all wounds. I re-watched Re-Animator the other day on Blu-ray and quite enjoyed it. It isn’t really Lovecraft at all (which diffuses my hatred somewhat), and I guess it would make a remarkable double-bill with Dan O’Bannon’s Return of the Living Dead on a boozy night in (the possibilities of drinking games watching those two together just makes my head spin). Now that the excesses of gore have somewhat been tamed by time and ever-gorier movies that followed, what really shines are the acting turns of  Jeffrey Combs and David Gale, chewing up the scenery in fine style. I remember being horrified (in the wrong way) by the distinctly Psycho-like score by Richard Band that really annoyed me (a homage, a rip-off? back in the day I was certain of the latter) but its so dated now in execution with ‘eighties keyboards etc that it almost has a charm of its own. So for me, in a funny way, Re-Animator has improved with time- perhaps I’ve mellowed with age. Its a fine horror-comedy (a tricky thing to pull off) and not a Lovecraft film at all. No, really- it has some crazy dude named Herbert West but that’s not the Herbert West of my beloved Lovecraft; he fools around with a hobby deserved of Frankenstein but that’s also nothing at all to so with the Lovecraft stories, no,  not at all. Just don’t tell me different. And be sure to keep a few pints near me whenever I watch it- the booze dulls my senses and I can let the injustices pass.



HPLHS’ The Case of Charles Dexter Ward

dart-cdw-CoverFresh from the wonderful H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society comes their latest Dark Adventure Radio Theatre offering, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward. These Dark Adventure Radio Theatre works are made in the style of period radio shows,  mock radio dramatisations of Lovecraft stories that are more faithful and authentic than any film likely could be. Being an audio drama the huge scale afforded by the listener’s imagination presents something only a hugely budgeted film could manage- and obviously no big- budget movie would ever be so faithful to the source. So in many ways these are the nearest thing to the ‘real deal’. I only wish someone in REH fandom could work on such radio dramas of some of Howard’s classics, because these HPL dramas are really something special.

The HPLHS have created six radio dramas so far, this latest one being their most ambitious yet. The earlier stories adapted were At The Mountains of Madness, The Shadow Over Innsmouth, The Dunwich Horror, The Shadow Out of Time and The Call of Cthulhu. I believe Herbert West -Reanimator will be next, and I sincerely hope that others will follow beyond that. They are available as mp3 downloads or on CD for us older folks from the HPLHS website (although mp3 may be the smarter option, as my CD package got the attention of Customs which landed me with an extra bill to pay this time around). The advantage of going the CD route is that they have great artwork and superbly-crafted ‘props’ to accompany each story, usually letters or newspaper clippings.

The Case of Charles Dexter Ward is possibly my personal favourite Lovecraft tale so this offering is wonderful stuff- spread across two CDs it runs for nearly two and a half hours in order to properly tell what was, if I recall correctly, Lovecraft’s longest story. Strangely, Lovecraft didn’t rate the story at all and I don’t believe it was even ever published during his lifetime, but to me it is the definitive Lovecraft tale and would surely make a fantastic film if only someone could do it justice as a serious movie. Its a thrilling mystery with truly chilling moments of horror, in which Charles Dexter Ward, a character closely modelled on Lovecraft himself, becomes consumed by the dark horror hidden in his family history.  You can see a trailer for the drama here-