AKA The Ancestor and Shatterbrain
Director: Dan O’Bannon.
Starring. John Terry, Jane Sibbett, Chris Sarandon, Robert Romanus. USA. 1h m.
Based on: The Case of Charles Dexter Ward : HP Lovecraft
I didn’t know this was based on Lovecraft’s writings before watching because I do very little research about movies as I know I’m going to watch them to find out if I like them anyway.. But it takes about 15 or so minutes before that heady sense of Lovecraftian crazy logic and dark magic seeps through this straight to video horror movie.
Starting like any modern detective story, the film opens with a rich and forgotten wife Clare Ward (Sibbett) pleading for help from a private detective John March (Terry) to investigate the worrying mysterious behaviour of her husband Charles Dexter Ward (Sarandon). Through a series of conversations the backstory is revealed, Charles has recently isolated himself in the families carriage house, after doing extensive family history research he discovers an ancestor, Joseph Curwen, to whom he bears an uncanny resemblance.
After jumping into action John soon discovers lots of dark dodgy dealings.but but in brief meetings the jumpy and puzzling Charles explains that he’s into something great and all will be revealed in 6 months but only after he finished experimenting on animal carcasses and his non English speaking assistant has finished roughing up the detective, by the time he starts speaking like an antiquated hipster Clare has him committed which reveals his ultra high metabolism and hunger for raw meat and blood, what has happened to her husband, has he simply lost his mind or is influence of his occult loving 1771 ancestor stronger than anyone could believe!?
Death used to be the end. Now it’s only the beginning…
Of course because this is a Lovecraft story it’s no huge mystery as to what’s going to happen in the end and sadly it chugs along way too long before it breaks down in a chrenchendo of blood and madness. The gradual build up does give John Terry time to be charming and with an effortless rhythm, the pieces together this murky conundrum. He mentors a small team but does most of the legwork in attempts to get close to Claire, the seductive milf. It’s a little cringy as he does start to make his moves despite looking for her husband like he was gonna whack him when he found him.
According to Diane O’Bannon, the film was re-cut against her husband’s objections and released without his approval; it was re-edited without the humor that he had attempted to put into it. And now that i know this Chris Sarandon’s performance makes more sense, it’s a cross between Prince Humperdinck and the role he played in Outer Limits , rather than his cult classic power vampire role in Fright Night (1985) which maybe would have elevated the movie, I thought he was just dicking around he’s interpreted the mental and physical breakdown of Charles as an increasingly bad hangover, and if you chucked Bruce Campbell into the role and added in some zany humor, this really could have worked, but just before the low budget movies collapses in on itself it finally gets some balls after the hero’s head into the underground crypts beneath the family farm to fight evil, they run into skinned bodies and all sorts of gory nastiness but there were so many missing opportunities before.
While there isn’t enough innards for the average gorehead, the film remains true to it’s novella, which is dark ghostly haunted story which slowly descends into madness and it creates a distinct atmosphere, there’s a high level of cultured intelligence to contend with but overall it’s one of the better Lovecraft adaptations for the time and a sadly neglected independent horror.