The Reassessment Files:
SHATTERBRAIN (originally titled: THE RESURRECTED)
By Paul McMahon
SHATTERBRAIN came out in 1992 under the far more appropriate title THE RESURRECTED. I didn’t get the opportunity to see it right away. As I established in my last column, I came to the works of Lovecraft relatively late. By the time I got around to seeing THE RESURRECTED, I had read enough that I was impressed with how closely the movie mirrored the tone and feel of Lovecraft’s work. I liked it overall, and told friends it was an upper-tier B-movie, well worth hunting down and checking out.
The story begins with a confusing mess in a gore-spattered cell of the Waite Institute. Amid the blood, we see scorch marks on the floor, a headless corpse, shattered overhead lights and an open window with a suitcase smashed on the concrete four floors below. Charles Ward has escaped! We are then transported across the city to the March Agency, where someone — presumably March — is bloody and beaten and dictating into a tape recorder the closing events of the case of Charles Dexter Ward.
He begins: “Three weeks ago, Providence was a sane enough place….”
It’s the same trite, “Sleight Of Hand Start” that these days is over-used and much-abused. Normally this turns me off, but here director Dan O’Bannon (who also directed RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD, 1985, and wrote ALIEN, 1979, DEAD & BURIED, 1981, and the original TOTAL RECALL, 1990) uses the trope to good effect, giving us a taste of weirdness and leaving us with a good number of questions to ponder while the story builds.
Claire Ward hires John March to look into the business of her estranged husband, Charles Dexter Ward. He was working on something in their carriage house until — between the foul smells and the all-night noises — she told him to find someplace else to conduct his experiments. He moved to a long-forgotten house owned by his family in Pawtuxet Valley. Recently, the police contacted her, asking if she knew why her husband was receiving the remains of dead human beings at all hours of the night.
March: “I don’t know. That’s why I’m a detective, to find out all about what I don’t know.”
The strangeness of this mystery, coupled with the gory images that started us off, keeps us interested and invested as John March and his assistant Lonnie delve into the increasingly morbid world of Charles Dexter Ward.
The buildup is slow, with quite a few twists and turns. We learn that Charles inherited an old family trunk from “an obscure relative,” and that his strange behavior began shortly after. We learn that his family had a long and sordid history in Providence. We learn that Charles took on an assistant, a man that Claire is afraid of called Dr. Ash. Each secret we learn is not only weirder than the last, but promises even weirder secrets to be revealed, the last of which — what happened in that padded cell at the Waite Institute — comes at us like a car crashing after a very long skid.
The acting is exactly what you would expect. John Terry (ZODIAC, 2007) does a serviceable job as Detective John March, delivering his lines with the seen-it-all matter-of-factness you’d expect of a detective that had been in the business for a long time. Jane Sibbet (various TV appearances such as CHEERS, FRIENDS and more recently OUT OF JIMMY’S HEAD) plays Claire Ward serviceably as well, a rich girl who is accustomed to getting what she wants but is thrown off by the oddball nature of her husband’s activities.
Chris Sarandon plays both Charles Dexter Ward and Charles’s distant relative Joseph Curwen in his usual commanding fashion. He owns the movie when he’s on screen, and his smirk is obviously hiding far more than he lets on.
What really sets this movie apart is the shocking and creepy special make up effects created by Todd Masters’ Company. A lot of the monsters are shot in bright light, and the camera lingers on them as they squirm and writhe and try to communicate. They are in such bad shape that it is obvious these are not costumed actors, but detailed and remarkable animatronics. The workmanship involved and the puppeteers required to pull these effects off must have cost a lot of money — and with this movie you can see that money on the screen.
Originally, I believed this movie was just Lovecraft-ish. The opening credit sequence is less-than-average and does very little to hold your attention. That would explain how on my first viewing I missed the writing credit for Brent V. Friedman (TICKS, 1993 and NECRONOMICON: BOOK OF THE DEAD, also 1993), which stated that he based the movie on Lovecraft’s story “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward.” Turns out, THE RESURRECTED is the most faithful adaptation of Lovecraft’s work that I’ve seen.
The fact that this was released straight-to-video in the early nineties tells you that it’s one the distributor had little confidence in. As much as I enjoyed the film, I think their decision was the right one. I can’t see this little tension-builder blowing anyone away on the big screen. It certainly wouldn’t have impressed fans of 1985’s RE-ANIMATOR, who would most likely have considered THE RESURRECTED boring. I think giving the film a chance to slowly build a fan base on VHS was the right choice.
I do not understand the decision to re-release it under the ultra-dumbass title SHATTERBRAIN. On the one hand, the word says nothing about the movie. On the other, it implies exploding heads and enough gore and screaming to make the hardest of hardcore fans grin. I go on record saying that the decision to re-title the film this way could only have been cooked up by a room full of suited morons.
If you can only find a copy of this under the title chosen by this pool of dopes, I still recommend giving it a look. Just pay no attention to the packaging. It’s a very cool movie.
First viewing: 3 out of 5 stars
Reassessment: 3 out of 5 stars: Still an upper-tier B-movie, well worth hunting down and checking out.
© Copyright 2012 by Paul McMahon