The Resurrected Blu-ray Review (originally published 2017)
Since the beginning of time, man has struggled with death. Now, Charles Dexter Ward (Chris Sarandon), a wealthy scientist, may have found a way to beat it. Using an ancient diary and human remains, Ward begins a terrifying and bloody pursuit for immortality. By the time his wife Claire (Jane Sibbett) hires private investigator John March (John Terry) to halt the horrible experiments, it's too late … the dead have been resurrected! (From Scream Factory’s official synopsis)
I’ve written before about the tendency for American studios to abandoned their horror films in the late ’80s/early-’90s – a process that left a number of pre-Scream movies to be forgotten for the better part of the following decade. As a result, a number of these slickly-made, post-slasher features developed perhaps too prestigious of a reputation on home video. Among these dregs, mediocrities, and above-average movies are a pool of true gems that were overlooked when released either straight-to-video or in limited theatrical runs, like Renny Harlin’s Prison (1988), Stan Winston’s Pumpkinhead (1988), and Dan O’Bannon’s The Resurrected (1991). Also known as The Ancestor and Shatterbrain, The Resurrected has remained relatively obscure outside the realms of H.P. Lovecraft fandom where it is often heralded of one of the best adaptation of its kind (small praise when one realizes how bad most Lovecraft adaptations were during the ‘80s/’90s period).
Even if it wasn’t a pretty good little movie, The Resurrected would be worth a glance due to the fact that it was the second of only two movies Dan O’Bannon ever directed. As the writer or co-writer of Dark Star (1974), Alien (1979), Lifeforce (1985), and Total Recall, O’Bannon’s name is synonymous with sci-fi and horror, but he was only able to completely control the productions of Return of the Living Dead (a movie he was originally brought onto as a hired-gun writer) and this movie. The Resurrected has a similarly pulp-inspired tone and palette, though, instead of blending EC Comics with ‘80s punk rock, he brought colorful comic book imagery to an old-fashioned hardboiled detective story. This approach to the material, which should also be credited to screenwriter Brent V. Friedman, was considered fresh at one time, especially since Lovecraft’s original novella, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward (pub: 1927), was written using a hardboiled-friendly narrative flashback device (though it is [i]not[/i] told from a detective’s point-of-view). Funnily enough, writer Joseph Dougherty had basically the same idea when he wrote Martin Campbell’s Cast a Deadly Spell (1991) and its sequel, Paul Schrader’s Witch Hunt (1994), for HBO around the same time. The idea was touched upon again for John Carpenter’s Lovecraft smorgasbord In the Mouth of Madness (1994) – a movie whose fans may want to note has quite a bit in common with The Resurrected, from its basic concept to outrageous creature effects.
While it is certainly exciting that Scream Factory has ‘rescued’ The Resurrected for HD home video, this release comes with an unfortunate caveat. You see, it wasn’t merely buried as an STV feature – the studio/producers had recut the film without O’Bannon’s input. Apparently, the director’s trademark dark sense of humor was the main victim of this censorship and the final cut did not match his vision for the film. Scream Factory has included some of these deleted sequences from the workprint as part of their special features (see below), but these are riddled with ‘scene missing’ cards that indicate that the director didn’t have a chance to finish before the studio editing began. Worse yet, O’Bannon died of complications from Crohn’s disease in 2009, so he wouldn’t be available to explain how much of the workprint he intended on using anyway. Even if this studio censorship hadn’t been semi-common knowledge, the editing is suspiciously jittery throughout the film. The somewhat clumsy flashback motif was likely always part of O’Bannon’s agenda – again, the hardboiled detective clichés acknowledge Lovecraft’s own storytelling patterns – but several scenes end abruptly (some simply fading to black) and the heavy emphasis on exposition is out of step with the writer/director’s usual, character-driven sense of humor. In addition, the hardboiled motifs are so overstated that they often feel sarcastic, which would also be in keeping with O’Bannon’s typical writing choices. Had he been able to edit his own final cut, The Resurrected might’ve become one of the best genre mash-ups of its era.
The Resurrected was widely available on VHS, but mostly forgotten on DVD. Lionsgate released a non-anamorphic, 1.33:1 cropped, barebones disc in the US and that was about it, until German company OFDB Filmworks put out an extras-packed, four-disc Collector’s Edition Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack, followed by a standard-issue, single-disc Blu-ray (there was also apparently a Japanese barebones BD from Happinet). Given the fact that Scream Factory has recycled some of OFDB’s original extras and their penchant for using available sources when possible, it would seem safe to assume that they also recycled the same digital source for this new North American premiere Blu-ray. Fortunately for us, the company has opted to create an entirely new 1080p transfer from a 2K scan of the original interpositive film elements. I don’t have that German disc at my disposal for a direct comparison, but there are some shots from it found in this disc’s extras and these clearly illustrate this new transfer’s advantages. Key among these is the more accurate 1.85:1 framing, as opposed to OFDB’s ‘zoomed’ 1.78:1. Scream Factory’s overall gamma and contrast balance appears more accurate as well. Judging this new transfer entirely on its own merits, there are some notably fuzzy edges and occasionally blocky noise during the darkest sequences, but the vibrant and intricate color quality is quite impressive, not to mention important, given O’Bannon and cinematographer Irv Goodnoff’s comic book friendly palette. Close-up textures are also lifelike and the somewhat fuzzy wide-angle details are still neatly supported by crisp black levels. Some artifacts, like fluttering (usually daylight) color quality and shaky/ghosty edges whenever O’Bannon uses strobe lighting, were probably inherent in the original film material, so I’m not counting them against this Blu-ray.
The Resurrected is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio and its original 2.0 stereo sound. The presentation seems to match the material, though there are continuous issues with consistency. Dialogue tracks and incidental sounds (likely those captured on-set) tend to fall slightly out of phase in the stereo speakers, creating reverb effects. There are huge discrepancies in the clarity/volume of dialogue in particular during shifts from one camera angle to another and the sound floor becomes buzzy whenever environmental ambience is absent. As in the case of many of the transfer’s problems, I suspect that many of these issues have always been a part of the track, but am not convinced they couldn’t be fixed at least a little bit for this Blu-ray release. The music soundtrack was composed and conducted by Richard Band, who, as usual draws epic scale using a small synthesizer canvas.
Commentary with producers Mark Borde and Kenneth Raich, screenwriter Brent V. Friedman, actor Richard Romanus, and make-up effects artist Todd Masters – This filmmaker group track was originally produced for the OFDB FilmWorks BD. Like many group tracks, the information can be scattershot as the participants attempt to interact and remain screen-specific. Fortunately, the factoids are interesting, the reverence for O’Bannon is sweet, and there is no notable downtime.
Claire’s Conundrum (15:29, HD) – Actress Jane Sibbett talks about her career in television, working with O’Bannon (who she mistakenly remembers as having just come off of Alien at the time), her co-stars, and the icky special effects.
The Strange Case of Charles Dexter Ward (24:22, HD) – Scream Factory’s other exclusive interview is with S.T. Joshi, the author of I Am Providence: The Life and Times of H.P. Lovecraft (Hippocampus Press, 2013). Joshi runs down Lovecraft’s personal history and compares the film to the original story.
Deleted and extended scenes (18:04, HD) – These extensions, outtakes, and completely deleted sequences were taken from a workprint source, so they aren’t in the best shape and do not include finished effects/sound (there are even some ‘scene missing’ title cards). As expected, they’re largely character-building moments and gore, including a relatively chaste sex scene, a particularly juicy full-brain lobotomy, and extra monster gags. There aren’t a whole lot of jokes, however.
American home video & Japanese theatrical trailers
Archival OFDB Filmworks featurettes/interviews (largely conducted/produced by Red Shirt Pictures):
The Resurrected Man (15:34, HD) – Chris Sarandon talks candidly about his work in genre films, playing a dual role, O’Bannon’s direction and failing health, and not being too surprised that the film went STV.
Abominations & Adaptations (17:48, HD) – Screenwriter Brent Friedman further outlines the process of stretching the story into a three-act structure, changes made to his script (both by the director and for the sake of budget/time), and his affection for the cast.
Grotesque Melodies (10:14, HD) – The always charming Richard Band talks about the inspirations behind The Resurrection’s score.
Lovecraftian Landscapes (7:57, HD) – Production designer Brent Thomas discusses set construction and decoration.
Human Experiments (15:55, HD) – In the final interview, special effects artist Todd Masters fondly recalls working with pre-digital era, designing and building The Resurrection’s creatures and gags alongside O’Bannon and includes samples of his original illustrations.
Footage from Dan O’Bannon’s Fangoria Chainsaw Awards acceptance speech, introduced by Bruce Campbell and Quentin Tarantino (3:00, SD)
Note: I haven’t kept all of the discs I’ve reviewed over the years, so some, like this one, will not include screen-caps. The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray’s image quality.