Claire Ward hires private investigator John March to look into the increasingly bizarre activities of her husband Charles Dexter Ward, an esteemed Rhode Island chemical engineer. Through a series of conversations with John, Claire reveals Charles’s recent unexplained isolation in their carriage house, his sudden uncovering of his family history, and their visitation to an abandoned ancestral farmhouse near Pawtuxet where he found a painting of a man named Joseph Curwen, to whom he bears an uncanny resemblance. Since these events, Charles has purchased and moved into the farmhouse, leaving Claire without explanation.
Upon investigating, John finds that numerous deliveries are made to the farmhouse, and inquires about them to Charles, who is evasive; Charles explains that he is undertaking routine chemical tests using animal cadavers. Shortly after, an elderly man in a neighboring home is found brutally murdered, only a few remnants of his bones left in the house. Police assume he was attacked and eaten by an animal, but John is skeptical. Claire and John go to visit Charles together, and find him pallid and speaking with an archaic affect. They attempt to extract an explanation from Charles, but he simply tells them he is on “the edge of greatness”, and that in six weeks’ time, they will understand.
Claire agrees to have Charles committed to a hospital. Doctors find his metabolism to be inexplicably high, triggering ravenous hunger, and attribute his change in demeanor to hormonal issues; however, they are unable to explain his craving for blood and raw meat. Meanwhile, John uncovers a diary in the carriage house from Ezra Ward, Charles’s fifth-great grandfather, dated 1771. The diary explains how Ezra had an affair with Joseph’s wife Eliza, and that Joseph had been practicing necromancy in catacombs he constructed on his property. After a flood penetrated the catacombs, the townspeople discovered a grotesquely malformed creature in the river, which they burned alive. The diary ends leading up to the townspeople’s raid of the Curwen house, and Eliza’s admission to Ezra that she was pregnant with Joseph’s child; Claire, John, and John’s assistant Lonnie surmise that Charles’s biological great-grandfather was actually Joseph, not Ezra.
John and Lonnie decide to search for catacombs on the farmhouse property with Claire. They uncover the entrance in the house’s basement, and inside the catacombs find a laboratory and half-grown creatures in wells; Claire also discovers Charles’s briefcase. They attempt to flee but are attacked, and Lonnie is killed by one of the creatures. John leaves a bomb in the catacombs, and he and an injured Claire escape with the briefcase before the house detonates. John takes Claire to the hospital where she is sedated, and the doctor informs him she is pregnant.
John goes to visit Charles in the psychiatric institution, and confronts him with the briefcase, which he discovered filled with human bones. He accuses Charles of in fact being the 250-year-old Joseph Curwen, who successfully found a way to conquer death through his necromantic experiments. Joseph admits his identity, and confesses that the bones in the suitcase are those of Charles, whom Joseph killed after Charles raised him from the dead. He explains his plan to regain his health and eventually be discharged from the hospital, after which he can impersonate Charles. Joseph attempts to cannibalize John, but John pours the restorative potion from the laboratory over Charles’s bones. Charles’s skeleton reanimates, and begins to tear the flesh off Joseph, before the two disappear in a cosmic explosion.
Two facets of Lovecraft’s work create problems for filmmakers, who must not only wrestle with expanding his short stories to feature length, but must also find a cinematic method of conveying the sense of malign cosmic conspiracy underlying many of his later plots. Perhaps the closest anyone has come to capturing Lovecraft is Roger Corman’s THE HAUNTED PALACE (1963), which, despite its Poe title is actually a previous adaptation of The Case of Charles Dexter Ward. Though Corman retained little of Lovecraft’s plot, many of the author’s more outre concepts survived, and Corman’s visual style was a fair approximation of Lovecraft’s literary voice.
THE RESURRECTED was initially written as a spec script by Brent V. Friedman, whose interest in adapting Lovecraft was piqued by the work of Stewart Gordon. “I didn’t really start reading Lovecraft until I noticed that RE-ANIMATOR was based on his story,” recalled Friedman. “I went out and devoured everything I could by him. The one story that struck me as having filmic potential was The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, because there’s so much there. His stuff is mostly short stories I saw some great little ideas, but I didn’t see a film in any of them.”
The Case of Charles Dexter Ward is one of only three short novels that Lovecraft ever wrote. At approximately 120 pages, its length seemed optimum for translation to the screen. Noted Friedman, “Because I was so naive at the time. I thought, ‘This will be easy to adapt.’ It was very difficult. The way the novella is written is just how the title implies—it’s written as a kind of objective look at this strange experience. There was no real main character. Unless you want to make a documentary, that doesn’t hold up.”
Friedman set about adapting the novella without being aware of Corman’s film. “I didn’t see it until after I’d written the script I didn’t realize what it was based on until someone told me,” admitted Friedman. “It’s an interesting little film, but it’s a very different version.” After several drafts, Friedman managed to dramatize Lovecraft’s tale well enough to show the script to producers Mark Borde and Kenneth Raich, who took it to Toni Scotti of Scotti Brothers Pictures. In looking for a director, Borde sent Friedman’s script, then titled SHATTERBRAIN, to Dan O’Bannon through a mutual friend. The choice was appropriate: O’Bannon’s RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD had been an effective low-budget directorial debut; perhaps more importantly, O’Bannon’s ALIEN, though an “original” screenplay, captures many of Lovecraft’s more visual concepts probably better than any official adaptation, particularly in the sequence exploring the alien planet and derelict spaceship.
Coincidentally, O’Bannon had already been trying to adapt Lovecraft’s novella, and he brought many of his ideas to the script. “My script is relatively different from the film,” said Friedman. “I set up the main character as a psychiatrist examining Ward. The thrust was how the case affects this psychiatrist. He’s coming from a scientific background, thinking there’s a rational explanation, and takes on a case which makes him rethink everything he believes. After finding out there’s a supernatural explanation, he ends up going slightly crazy.
“When O’Bannon came onto the project, he had been trying to write a script from the same material, and he felt that he had never cracked the third act. He read my script and said, You’ve solved a lot of the problems, but the way I’d always had it in my mind was the main character’s a detective.’ If he was going to get involved with the project-which everyone was very keen on-he wanted to tell the story his way. Everyone was skeptical at first, because my script was getting good response. O’Bannon wrote out a 15-page treatment to show how you could integrate parts of my script with what his idea was.
“I can’t even tell you what a thrill it was to find out he was involved with the project.” Friedman enthuses. “In just the past six months that I’ve been working with him. I’ve probably learned more about writing than in the previous 26 years of my existence. It’s almost as if, until that point. I was just winging it.”
“Dan’s thinking was this story naturally lends itself to a detective because there are so many clues to be discovered. It looked good on paper, but the execution was a lot trickier than he had made it seem. The toughest thing was to keep the detective not only intellectually involved, but emotionally involved. Dan’s idea was to involve him, a la CHINATOWN, with the wife—which works on a certain level but on another level becomes distracting.”
The change in lead characters resulted in a change of title as well. “The word ‘shatterbrain’ is actually a Middle English term for crazy,” explained Friedman. “It was more relevant in my original script, because the psychiatrist came unglued. It does sound a little like a B-movie, but at the same time it evokes a certain image, so it was appropriate. I pushed for it long into post-production-people got very bored with my suggesting it. THE RESURRECTED, to me, gives too much away. Once you meet the three main characters -well, one of them’s been resurrected, and it’s not too hard to figure out which one!”
Devising a photographic look that would capture Lovecraft’s tone fell to cinematographer Irv Goodnoff, who went through an interesting audition process for his director. “There was one other director of photography interested,” said Goodnoff, “so Dan gave us an assignment to bring in what we thought our interpretation of the script would be.
I went back and studied a number of painters that had the flavor of what H.P. Lovecraft felt like, expressionistically speaking. I brought in 30 books, marked out with the pictures I liked. About a week later, I got a phone call saying Dan wanted me.”
Pre-production lasted from June to October 1990, followed by seven weeks of principal photography in Vancouver, Canada, which doubled for Lovecraft’s beloved Providence, Rhode Island. The Bridge Studios, which cover almost 50,000 square feet, provided ample space for the construction of a labyrinth of tunnels where dwell the ghastly results of Curwen’s experiments.
“It’s a contemporary piece, but there’s also the 18th century and the whole world of the catacombs, so, in essence, the picture has three looks,” explained Goodnoff. “We used two different film stocks: Kodak for most of it, and Agfa for the period scene. The Agfa has a more creamy pastel look; the Kodak is much higher contrast with a denser black.
I try to create a flavor and a feeling. Sometimes, a third of the screen is black, and there are shafts of light. When you’re doing horror, you don’t show everything. Dan O’Bannon told me, “You set an expectation for the audience. Then you make them wait, and you make them wait, and you make them wait. When you finally suggest that they see something, they’re going to be scared.’ That was basically our approach.
“It was the most difficult job I’ve ever had to do. The scheduling should have been nine weeks, but we only had seven. We wrapped principal photography just before Christmas. It was one of those deadline days. The plug was being pulled at midnight. I’ve been on a couple of pictures like that: because of bonds people, financial and contractual things, one minute over 12 means you’ve blown it. Those bottom-line people have no grace in a lot of cases. We had three different units going. I was running from one to the other, checking, then shooting my own unit. It was a 14-hour marathon.”
“Charles Ward is basically a well-intentioned, good man who is led astray by a desire to conquer this great scientific problem that his ancestor has posed. It’s kind of a parallel to Frankenstein: a good man who is consumed with something that he shouldn’t be messing with. The big theme here is basically “Don’t screw with death.” – Chris Sarandon
The premise of the story is best summed up by a passage Lovecraft quotes from the alchemist Borellus: “… from the essential Saltes of humane Dust, a philosopher may … call up the shape of any dead Ancestour from the Dust where into his Bodie has been incinerated.” Typically, Lovecraft refers to the results, when not all the “essential Saltes” have been gathered, simply as the “livliest awfulness” without ever describing them in detail.
Such restraint doesn’t work on the movie screen, according to Friedman. “He didn’t really show you a lot,” said Friedman of Lovecraft. “In a book that’s almost scarier, because the reader uses his imagination to fill in the blanks. In a film you can’t just keep talking. Ata certain point you have to deliver the goods. The way the script plays is you get up to the point where he left off and then you have to start creating on your own.”
Coming up with specific designs for Lovecraft’s livliest awfulness fell to Masters, who took his initial inspiration from Friedman’s script. “There were incredibly bizarre descriptions which I had a lot of fun interpreting,” said Masters. “When it finally came to materializing these, O’Bannon would show me books of paintings by Francis Bacon, who I’ve always been a fan of. He would express himself in these imageries, these strange concoctions of paint and color and light rather than form and shape. Dan really got into talking about the character rather than the form, so it was an interesting challenge to come up with a design. What we tried to do is take the human form as groundwork and completely distort a certain aspect of itas long as there’s something the audience can grasp, it’s quite frightening. We designed about 30 monsters; in the film there are about five. I’ve still got reams of designs that I don’t think I’ll ever be able to use for anything else because they’re so weird.
The effects unit during principal photography was directed by supervisor Todd Masters because O’Bannon was on a tight schedule. “Dan would take a sequence all the way up to where the effects jumped in, and he would finish off a sequence,” said Masters. “He would leave us the middle. My crew worked nights, mainly for sound reasons we didn’t want to cause troubles with the other unit. We had to match a similar camera style. Things marry very nicely.”
“We’ve done more tricks on this film than on any other I’ve ever worked on,” said Masters. “We have monster suits, remote-control animatronic characters, puppet heads, stop motion, and pneumatics. We had a set of prosthetics on Chris Sarandon for a good portion of the end of the film. You can’t tell he’s wearing anything—they match his face-until we turn on the lights. It’s networked with fiber optics, so it gives the illusion that his veins are glowing when he comes to his climactic end.”
“For most of the monsters, I was given a long leash,” Masters explains. “O’Bannon started coming down with quite a strict design on one creature that I called the ‘Darwin monster,’ which in one of the early drafts of the script was actually supposed to be Darwin resurrected. As the script developed, that monster kind of got pulled all over the place. Some of the earlier maquettes had some really wild designs, but O’Bannon finally just said, “Well, you know, what I really want to see in this movie, which we haven’t done yet, is a half-skeletal body-being that these are supposed to be resurrected corpses with its other half this kind of swollen, amorphous, elephantitis looking guy.’
“I was never too excited about that,” Masters admits, “just because I always thought it was more interesting when [the Charles Dexter Ward character] made these mistakes out of these corpses’ ashes–they didn’t always come together in the right place, and would elongate and do strange things. Dan wanted something that was a little stricter, closer to human, so he actually sat down and pencilled out this sketch which would eventually become this monster, and I did a maquette and a variety of sketches to hone in on what he was trying to get.
“It’s a pretty neat monster,” Masters concedes, “but it’s not my favorite in the film, because to me it’s too much of a solid substance. Many of the other ones are so disturbing and so amorphous that it’s difficult to put your finger on exactly what every piece is.”
I though there are a number of creatures in The Resurrected, Masters points out that there isn’t an overabundance of gore for gore’s sake-although there are some healthy sprayings of blood.
“That’s one thing that Chris Sarandon and I were really trying to steer away from,” he clarifies. “I’ve never been a fan of gore, and I don’t really care for splattering walls with blood even though I did splatter two sets with blood for this film. Actually, one day I flew in from LA, got off the airplane, and Dan came up to me and said, ‘Do you have a lotta blood?’ I said, “Well…yeah.’ And he says, ‘Well, do you have lots of blood?’ It’s like, ‘I don’t know.
Extensive visual effects, supervised by Todd Masters in post-production, helped the ambitious nature of screenwriter Brent Friedman’s evocation of the horror of Lovecraft. Though many of the effects in Friedman’s script were deemed too expensive, Masters-originally hired to produce makeup and physical effects-sought to find a way to retain them, working closely with production designer Brent Thomas.
“Thomas really pulled rabbits out of his hat,” said Masters. “He loved the project from day one. He and I would get together after office hours at the studio and sit down in the hotel bar to concoct ideas. That’s how the movie turned into such a crazy fiasco. We thought the whole idea of Brent Friedman’s script was so bizarre and wonderful that we kept wanting to play.
“Every time something was pulled away from us, because there wasn’t money for this monster or that set, Brent Thomas and I would figure a way to put it back in. We didn’t want a film that has small production value. Horror films deserve all the scope and scale they can get.”
The horror that was to be resurrected by detective John Terry early on in Curwen’s laboratory got axed so Masters’ effects unit could afford to rent a studio to work in. As a low-cost stop-gap director Dan O’Bannon suggested that Terry resurrect just two fingers, “a goofy idea,” said Masters, who came up with a believable, low-budget finger monster concept instead. “We had to keep fingers in it,” said Masters, “so we turned this thing into almost a crab monster with fingers, an eyeball, and some external organs.”
After principal photography wrapped, Masters and producers Mark Borde and Kevin Raich viewed a rough assembly to determine what effects were still needed. What was originally intended to be a few weeks of rotoscoping expanded to six months, four shooting miniatures and another two adding opticals. “The producers really wanted it to be an effects-filled film,” said Masters. “We made sure that we kept the budget down. I’ve coordinated a lot of visual effects in the past. Since our eyes were looking through the camera, and our eyes only, we cheated to hide all the expensive stuff just inches out of frame.”
One amusing episode involved a four-foot-high balsa wood miniature of Curwen’s mansion, rigged to explode. “This was part of Ted Rae’s unit—he did two miniature shots in the film,” said Masters. “We had it set up in Ted’s parking lot, waiting for nightfall. As I was painting part of the chimney, I heard these little cracks in the structure. As I was ready with the final dab of paint, a big gust of wind came and blew the whole thing down! What a nightmare! Ted and I jumped underneath the house and tried to hold it up, but we ended up having to recreate the whole building in a day and blow it up the following night.
“Everybody that worked on this film put their blood into it,” Masters summed up. “It turned into a labor of love for a lot of us-which I know sounds cliched, but everyone was really pulling for it, and it shows in the film.”
The extensive post-production schedule turned out to be a hindrance for composer Richard Band. “They made about eight edits the night before my recording session,” said Band. “That’s a composer’s nightmare, but all too common these days.” Band came up with a synthesizer score that boasted a full orchestral sound. “To have done this score with an orchestra would have cost $400,000,” said Band. “The producers have resigned themselves to a synthesizer score.”
Summed up Friedman, “I think we retained more Lovecraft than any other adaptation I’ve seen. We didn’t just use the concepts as springboards for our own story. In fact, there’s one scene lifted word-for-word, dialogue-wise, involving the first time you see Curwen posing as Ward, and he’s talking this strange 18th century speak. So there’s some place where Lovecraft is completely intact, and there are others where liberties were taken. It’s not as grossly amusing as REANIMATOR and FROM BEYOND. It takes a much more serious, Gothic slant. In the end, I wish we could have made my original script, but I’m still happy we made something.”
Brent V. Friedman
John Terry as John March
Jane Sibbett as Claire Ward
Chris Sarandon as Charles Dexter Ward/Joseph Curwen
Robert Romanus as Lonnie Peck
Charles K. Pitts as Ezra Ward
Megan Leitch as Eliza
Lauren Briscoe as Holly Tender
Special Effects by
Jason Barnett … prosthetic effects
David P. Barton … prosthetic department head (as David Barton)
Julie Beuscher … prosthetic effects
Bryan Blair … prosthetic effects
Evan Brainard … prosthetic effects
Kevin Brennan … prosthetic effects
Jeffrey Butterworth … first assistant special physical effects (as Jeff Butterworth)
Scott Coulter … prosthetic department head: Todd Masters Company, Inc. (as John Scott Coulter)
Bernhard Eichholz … prosthetic effects (as Bernie Eichholtz)
Earl Ellis … prosthetic effects: Todd Masters Company, Inc.
Kevin Flemming … special effects photography
Thomas Floutz … key effects makeup artist (as Thom Floutz)
Mark Garbarino … prosthetic department head
Karin Hanson … prosthetic effects
Marty Huculiak … special effects assistant
Timothy Huizing … prosthetic effects (as Tim Huizing)
Gil Liberto … prosthetic effects (as Gilbert Liberdo)
Geoff Martin … special effects key grip
Todd Masters … special effects unit director
Mike McDonald … special effects gaffer (as Michael McDonald)
Kevin O’Leary … special effects assistant
Gary Paller … special physical effects coordinator
Dennis Petersen … special effects assistant
Tom Price … special effects assistant (as Thomas E. Price)
Jonas Quastel … special effects first assistant camera
Robert Sheridan … special effects assistant
Mark Sisson … prosthetic effects
James Slavin … prosthetic effects (as Jim Slavin)
Chris Spouler … special effects assistant
Candace Van Woerkom … prosthetic effects
Andrew Vincent … special effects lamp operator
Scott Wheeler … prosthetic effects
Shawn Wilson … special effects assistant
Andre Bustanoby … prosthetic effects (uncredited)Visual Effects by
Bret Alexander … visual effects miniatures
Jim Aupperle … visual effects director of photography
Asao Goto … visual effects miniatures
Dave Gregory … optical effects supervisor
Todd Masters … special visual effects
Jeff Pyle … visual effects miniatures
Ted Rae … additional miniature / visual effects director of photography
Marc Tyler … visual effects miniatures
David Williams … additional optical camera: Illusion Arts (as Dave Williams)