Saturday, March 6, 2010

#80: The Resurrected (Dan O'Bannon, 1992)

Dan O'Bannon, who died of Crohn's disease shortly before Christmas, had his hand in a lot of cult classics in the horror and science fiction genres. A college friend of John Carpenter's, O'Bannon was co-creator of Carpenter's directorial debut, Dark Star. He co-wrote the film with Carpenter, acted in it as Sgt. Pinback, and served as the film's editor, production designer, and head of the special effects team. He also did some of the special effects for Star Wars, wrote the screenplays for Alien, Total Recall, and Lifeforce, and wrote and directed one of the best zombie movies, Return of the Living Dead. His only other film as director is this low-budget straight-to-video H.P. Lovecraft adaptation, The Resurrected.

By the standards of O'Bannon's other notable projects, The Resurrected is somewhat disappointing. Some of the acting is flat and inconsistent, the film's visual style is perfunctory in that anonymously consistent early-1990s straight-to-video way, and unlike Return of the Living Dead, which used its low budget in smartly ingenious ways, the limited budget of this film creaks and groans. (For example, the film is set in Providence, Rhode Island but was shot in Vancouver.) The film moves a little too slowly, even for a fan of deliberately relaxed paces such as myself, and it only really takes off in the last thirty minutes.
However, there are plenty of bright spots. Chris Sarandon is nicely slimy and weird as Charles Dexter Ward, and one of my favorite underused actors, Robert Romanus (Damone in my favorite teen movie Fast Times at Ridgemont High), is reliably hilarious as Lonnie Peck. He has a funny minor subplot about quitting and resuming smoking. Some of the special effects are obviously on a budget, but the most important effects are awesomely disgusting. The casual swearing and one-liners made me laugh several times. The ending is awesome and features one of the most satisfying beheadings I've had the pleasure to witness. I can't wholeheartedly recommend this movie, but it has its small pleasures.

Based on a novella by Lovecraft called "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward," O'Bannon's film concerns a Providence private investigator (John Terry) and his employee Lonnie (Romanus). They get a visit from a recently married blonde woman (Jane Sibbet), who you may remember from the TV show Herman's Head. Remember Herman's Head? What the hell was the deal with that show? Am I right? Herman's fucking Head. God. Anyway, the woman wants Terry to investigate her husband (Sarandon), a chemist for a cosmetics corporation. He's been acting really weird lately, spending all his time in the carriage house doing secret experiments and getting shipments of animal remains and blood at all hours of the day and night. He's also spending a lot of time with the bearded, mysterious, and mysteriously bearded Dr. Ash. Things have been getting even weirder. In the last few months, he's moved out of the carriage house to a secret home in the country and refuses to talk to his wife. The only people allowed in the country house are Dr. Ash and a one-eyed Chinese drug addict who is paid to keep everybody out. Yeah, I meant to type that last sentence. Terry takes the case, and soon becomes enmeshed in a bizarre tale of secret laboratories, brutal murder, and the resurrection of the dead. And that's all I will give away.

The Resurrected was a long-gestating pet project for O'Bannon. Much to his surprise, it was also a long-gestating pet project for screenwriter Brent V. Friedman. The two men decided to join forces, and O'Bannon directed from Friedman's script with some additions of his own. (You may remember Friedman from his screenwriting work on Necronomicon, Hollywood Hot Tubs 2: Educating Crystal, American Cyborg: Steel Warrior, and Foodfight!) Unfortunately, O'Bannon ran into some bad luck after shooting. The film failed to acquire theatrical distribution, and the film's producers changed the title from O'Bannon's preferred The Ancestor and took away his final cut, re-editing the film, taking out some scenes, inserting others that O'Bannon wanted cut, and adding voice-over narration. O'Bannon's director's cut exists and has played a few revival houses in Los Angeles recently at tribute nights to him. Maybe someone will put it out on DVD one day.

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