“The Resurrected” (1991) Horror Film Review

Not the Easter resurrection that many of us celebrate this weekend, but the brilliant Lovecraftian horror film that you’ve likely never heard of, much less seen! Often when it comes to holidays, I enjoy reviewing films that fit the theme of the special day. And with Easter coming up on April 12th, what better film to review than one actually entitled The Resurrected? I don’t know about you, but until this past weekend, I’d neither seen nor heard about this film. After watching it, I am blown away as to how such an outstanding horror film got left to obscurity. Attempting to understand how this became a forgotten film, I came up with a combination of a couple reasons (1) it was straight-to-VHS and (2) there was another little horror film that you may be aware of from 1991 that took the world by storm (and still mesmerizes and terrifies us today). Ever hear of the film called The Silence of the Lambs??? Because of the critical and audience success, not to mention winning the Big 5 Academy Awards, it’s entirely possible that the success of SOTL cast a big shadow on The Resurrected (aka Shatterbrain). Now, I am not claiming that the latter is on the same critical level as the former, SOTL is the superior motion picture; however, with SOTL being a horror film, I believe that it stole attention away from The Resurrected. Perhaps the following review will inspire people to seek out this film. The Resurrected was Dan O’Bannon’s first feature length film following his directorial debut his of Return of the Living Dead. If his name sounds familiar, that because you either know Return of the Living Dead or perhaps his work on the greatest sci-fi horror of all time Ridley Scott’s Alien, for which he wrote the original screenplay. With such horror and cinematic pedigree, it’s no wonder why The Resurrected was such a fantastic entry into the horror library! 

As the title suggests, this film deals with the return of what was dead, or what Freud calls the uncanny. From the German word unheimlich, meaning unholy, the return of the repressed, or the appearance of that which should have remained hidden, audiences encounter a Dr. Frankenstein like character whose obsessive experiments have taken a turn for the mad and macabre. Fixated on and fascinated with bringing the dead back to life, Charles Dexter Ward (Chris Sarandon) builds an unsettling laboratory in an old family estate where he shuts himself off to his wife and the world so he can work uninterrupted as he dabbles in a combination of witchcraft and science to reanimate the dead. When his wife Claire (Jane Sibbett) suspects that her husband may be up to something far more sinister than the “science” he claims he’s working on, she hires private investigator John March (John Terry) to look into her husband’s research. When March discovers that Charles Dexter Ward may not be whom he claims to be, all hell breaks lose—almost quite literally.

Between Return of the Living Dead and The Resurrected, I am astonished as to why O’Bannon never returned to the director’s chair. Perhaps it’s because MGM did not believe in this film enough to give it a theatrical release. Since MGM also released Ridley Scott’s Thelma and Louise that year, maybe its resources were tied up in that film’s road to the Oscars; therefore, it didn’t care enough about O’Bannon’s second film. It’s a shame because he has a stylistic approach that’s both poetic and shocking. Fortunately, his direction is stylized in ways that enhance the audience experience without detracting from the story and becoming an attraction for the sake of being stylized. Stylization with substance, that is O’Bannon. Instead of including shocking visual material for purposes of being mere gimmicks, he uses these moments to drive the plot and character development forward; everything in the film is intentional designed to move the story forward. I love seeing the hand of the director in a movie, and The Resurrected is oozing with evidence that O’Bannon cared about every frame of every moment in his sophomore film. What this film is, is the combination of what O’Bannon learned from working with Ridley Scott on Alien and what he learned from his freshman film Return of the Living Dead. Every screenplay needs a writer who cares, and every film need a director who cares. 

While it’s unfortunate that this film is seldom part of horror discussions, it certainly isn’t the first 90s horror film that seems to have fallen off the radar. The way The Resurrected flew under the radar reminds me of John Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness. Fortunately for the latter, it has found a cult following in recent years, but the former still hasn’t received the attention form horror audiences that it both deserves and earned. Which is unfortunate because this movie offers the kind of genre charm that was quintessentially 80s/90s.

What a screenplay! Everything about this story works so incredibly well. There are three genres at work in Brent V. Friedman’s screenplay for The Resurrected: neo-noir, science-fiction, and supernatural. While successfully crossing genres can be dangerous, with a risk of not delivering on any of them, Friedman proves that he is a master visual storyteller that can create the stuff of nightmares without relying simply on shock or gore. In fact, the moments of visceral horror are very few. But when they hit, they HIT! The A story is the traditional detective meets gorgeous client with an unusual request, the B story is about a mad scientist, and the C story is where we get into the supernatural. Each of these stories weave in and out of one another beautifully to create a truly outstanding work of poetic horror. Fans of direct or inspired adaptations of H.P. Lovecraft horror, will absolutely love the storytelling in this film. In fact, I may recommend this film to all horror fans, but feel that it is required watching for Lovecraftian horror fiends! Friedman’s screenplay works so well, that you will feel that O’Bannon write it himself. One of the common areas of weakness in late 1980s-early 90s horror is pacing. Lots of great practical effects, production design, and even performances, but the writing can be poorly paced and vapid. Not so with this film! So between O’Bannon’s excellent direction and a gripping screenplay, The Resurrected will hook you from the very first scene and hold your attention hostage for the entire film.

Beyond the strong direction and writing, perhaps my favorite park of the movie is the spinechilling practical and special effects! No CGI could ever look nearly as dimensional as all the practical effects generated by modeling, stop motion, miniatures, fake blood, prosthetics, and more! Nowadays, I find it difficult to buy into an actor interacting with something that isn’t really there. Oh we see it after the motion graphic artists and editors work their magic, but no amount of quality of CGI can authentically replicate the way real light bounces off real objects, then into the camera lens. The special effect artists did things that are mindblowing even by today’s standards for visual effects. While my area of expertise is not the mechanics and optics of special effects, I can usually extrapolate a good idea of how something was accomplished, but I am at a loss for words with the effects I witnessed in The Resurrected. One moment in particular that I want to mention, as I don’t want to give away all this movie has to offer, has to do with the reanimated remains of a human body that are dissolving into some grotesque creature that is violently growling and gnashing its teeth. An incredible feat of cinematic proportions! And that’s only one of the most elaborate practical effect scenes; strategically places throughout the movie are glorious moment of special effects that immerse the audience into the macabre Lovecraftian story, and prove that something real, dimensional, tanglible to interact with will always be far more convincing than actors interacting with chroma-green abstract objects on set.

This really is one of the best horror movies that you’ve never heard of, much less seen. While you cannot currently stream it anywhere, except through more nefarious means, you can buy the Blu-Ray on Amazon and other retail outlets. Whether you prefer genre or more complex horror, you will find something to love about this movie.

Ryan teaches screenwriting at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! If you’re ever in the Tampa area, feel free to catch a movie with him!

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John Carpenter’s “In the Mouth of Madness” full review

Stephen King meets The Twilight Zone in this underrated Carpenter film! It isn’t often that I am introduced to a, what should be a well-known, horror film that is completely unknown by me. There are certainly many indie and obscure horror films that I am unfamiliar with; but because this is a Carpenter film in my lifetime, I should have known about it! Thankfully my penpal, fellow cinephile, and friend Leon in Germany selected this gem for our weekly film screening. Each week we take turns selecting a different film for us to watch. Sometimes it’s a movie that one of us likes and wants to share, other time, it’s a film that neither of us have seen but want to. This was the former. When Leon asked if I’ve seen In the Mouth of Madness, I replied with I haven’t even heard of it. When he told me it was John Carpenter in 1994, I was shocked! And is stars Dr. Alan Grant and Damian himself, Sam Neil! You may be wondering why you have not heard of this film, and that is most likely because it performed poorly at the box office and was panned by critics. Fortunately, a small cult following has developed over the years, but it’s largely still an obscure mid-90s horror film. The reason for this is likely because the film has been accused of difficult to follow, but I do not believe that to be true. It’s true if you need to be held by the hand through the plot, but this film is one of those that has so much depth that you will want to be fully engaged in every minute, every frame. In the Mouth of Madness contains many Stephen King, and Twilight Zone elements that truly make this incredibly rewatchable. The cinematography and score are beautiful, and I find the screenwriting fascinating! I’d even venture to conclude that this is Carpenter’s final masterpiece. Carpenter’s vision of John Trent’s (Neil) descent into madness is terrifyingly spine-chilling.

Summary: When horror novelist Sutter Kane (Jürgen Prochnow) goes missing, insurance investigator John Trent (Sam Neill) scrutinizes the claim made by his publisher, Jackson Harglow (Charlton Heston), and endeavors to retrieve a yet-to-be-released manuscript and ascertain the writer’s whereabouts. Accompanied by the novelist’s editor, Linda Styles (Julie Carmen), and disturbed by nightmares from reading Kane’s other novels, Trent makes an eerie nighttime trek to a supernatural town in New Hampshire. (IMDb)

Go into this movie with an open mind. I highly recommend this because I still do not fully understand everything. But. That is the beauty of this film. There are so many layers that you can peel back and do a close reading. Perhaps this film was ahead of its time in that there is a meta nature to the experience of watching this film. The central character of Trent must discern what is fantasy and what is reality; and by extension, we are challenged, as the audience, to very much the same task. We must decide if the imagery before our eyes is reality or fantasy, to be taken literally or figuratively. While meta films are much more popular now, it was highly experimental back in 1994/95. The beauty of horror is its ability to force us into uncomfortable places in which we come face to face with that which terrifies us–sometimes to our very core. And what is more terrifying than the possibility you may be crazy or a hoax is attempting to gaslight you? When our very psyche feels under attack, it’s fight or flight.

We are drawn into the story because we are naturally drawn to the repulsive, because there is a subconscious masochistic desire to experience a pleasurable unpleasure. Much like in Sunset Boulevard where we are not concerned or preoccupied with what happens to Joe Gillis (since we know he’s dead from the opening scene), we are profoundly curious about HOW he winds up floating facedown in a swimming pool. We can liken that to In the Mouth of Madness because we know Trent, whether sane or insane (though, that is a legal term), is institutionalized and placed in the padded room. Once we flash back to a few weeks earlier, we are morbidly curious as to how this otherwise intelligent, rational man winds up a prisoner of his own mind.

Another question that the film confronts us with is the power of literature. Is it possible for a writer to be so incredibly popular, and enough people become engrossed in the words that the line between fantasy and reality becomes blurred to the point that people begin to believe that the “fictional” characters and setting are a real place? That is certainly a powerful concept to tackle in a low-budget horror film. But Carpenter was never one to shy away from a bold concept or statement. It’s clear that the film is a commentary on the prolific writing and power of the words of authors like King or Lovecraft. Furthermore, the film suggests that there is a transcending power of the text to nest in the subconscious to tap into primal fears and carnal actions. Trent slowly comes to realize that the readers of Kane’s works have been placed under a spell, of sorts, that predisposes them to taking on the characteristics of the literary characters and giving themselves over to behaving like the monsters that are written about in Kane’s novels.

Kane likens his books to the Bible in a sacrilegious attempt to prove that if you convince enough people to read your books that you can control them, and ostensibly become a god. Kane certainly displays signs of a god-complex; he seeks to be in control over not only his fictional Hobbs End but the whole world. And instead of taking over the world by physical force, he seeks to take over the world through the power of the written word. It’s a fascinating concept to think about, and perhaps you can think of books that have greatly influenced society to the point that behavior changed. Can a book truly spark widespread delusions and paranoia? Trent certainly believes so. I love how this feels like an episode of the Twilight Zone on crack. The power and success of The Twilight Zone is due in large part to the show’s ability to comment on societal behavior through the use of bizarre or shocking imagery. Pose a big question grounded in reality, then use science-fiction, fantasy, or horror as a vehicle to explore various perspectives and possible outcomes.

John Carpenter provide us with a fantastic score that will penetrate you all the way down to the bone. It’s both shocking and beautiful all at the same time. Originally Carpenter desired to have Metalica score the film, but the combination of not fitting into the budget and an unwillingness to license the rights left John to compose his own score that mimicked what he wanted from Metalica. The score of In the Mouth of Madness was not intended to be spooky but to keep the audience ever so slightly off-balance. The cinematography is also an element to take note of when analyzing this film. The lighting, camera movement, and shot selections convey a neo-noir tone. Similar tones can be found in Mulholland Drive and Pulp Fiction. Although there are many horror elements in this movie, it bares a lot of similarities to neo-noir in how it handles the central character and the conflict he’s been thrown into that leaves him in over his head. And of course, it ends badly for Trent.

I am surprised that not more horror fans know of, much less, like this movie. It really seems to have two camps: one that loves this film and the other that hates it. Honestly, it appears to be one of the more polarizing films within the horror library. It’s one that I will certainly rewatch because of the highly intellectual component. There is tremendous depth to the narrative and it strikes me as the type of film that will give the viewer something different to think about every watch. It’s visually stunning and the imagery is macabre. Definitely one that I will recommend to fellow horror fiends like me.

Ryan teaches screenwriting at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! If you’re ever in the Tampa area, feel free to catch a movie with him!

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Twitter: RLTerry1

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