Monday, October 4, 2010

Dollar Bin Horror Spotlight: The Stories of H.P. Lovecraft, Part III (not in 3-D)

By Eric Polk of
Continuing with my reviews of author H.P. Lovecraft's story, we begin our third installment with...

The Outsider-
The first story of Lovecraft''s I can personally relate to, The Outsider begins with this narrator explaining his origins. His memory of others is vague, and he cannot seem to recall any details of his personal history, including who he is or where he is from. The narrator tells of his environment: a dark, decaying castle amid an "endless forest" of high, lightless trees. He has never seen light, nor another human being, and he has never ventured from the prison-like home he inhabits. The only knowledge the narrator has of the outside world is from his reading of the "antique books" that line the walls of his castle.

The narrator tells of his eventual determination to free himself from what he sees as an existence within a prison. He decides to climb the ruined staircase of the high castle tower that seems to be his only hope for an escape. At the top of the stairs, the narrator finds a trapdoor in the ceiling, which he pushes up and climbs through. Amazingly, he finds himself not at the great height he anticipated, but at ground level in another world. With the sight of the full moon before him, he proclaims, "There came to me the purest ecstasy I have ever known." Overcome with the emotion he feels in beholding what – until now – he had only read about, the narrator takes in his new surroundings. He realizes that he is in an old churchyard, and he wanders out into the countryside before eventually coming upon another castle.

Upon coming to the castle that he finds "maddeningly familiar," the narrator sees a gathering of people at a party within. Longing for some type of human contact, he climbs through a window into the room. Upon his entering, the people inside become terrified. They scream and collectively flee from the room, many stumbling blindly with their hands held over their eyes toward the walls in search of an exit. As the narrator stands alone in the room with the screams of the party vanishing into far away echoes, he becomes frightened at what must be lurking near him. He walks around the room searching for what might be hidden in the shadows but finds nothing.

The ending, of course, is what you may have already suspected. Other than that, this is a great piece on isolationism, fear, and the afterlife....8/10

Herbert West-Reanimator-

A fantastic 1985 movie, HW-R is the basis for that horror classic. Borrowing heavily from Frankenstein, HW-R is a serialized novella taking place in six different parts (ala the novel version of The Green Mile).

Part I-
"From The Dark"
The reader is introduced to the narrator, a doctor who went to medical school with the titular character. Informing the reader that West has recently disappeared, the narrator goes on to say that now West is gone from his life, he can truly appreciate West's insanity and can at last express the feelings of terror which West inspired in him.

The narrator goes on to explain how he met West when they were both young men in medical school, and the narrator became fascinated by West's theories about human life, which postulated that the human body is simply a complex, organic machine, and that with the proper combination of chemicals injected into the body upon death, the machine could be "restarted." West initially tries to prove this hypothesis on various types of vermin, but none of the results are successful. His ultimate goal being human reanimation, West realizes he must experiment on human subjects, as each serum differs from species to species. The two men spirit away numerous supplies from the medical school and set up shop in an abandoned farmhouse. At first, they pay a group men to rob graves for them, bringing them back corpses for experimentation, but none of the experiments are successful and West concludes that it is because of the "poor quality" of his specimens. West and the narrator go into grave robbing for themselves, scanning the obituaries for recent funerals so that they might have as fresh a corpse as possible. One night, West and the narrator slip into a potter's field and steal the corpse of a workman who died just that morning in an accident. They take it back to the farmhouse and inject it with West's solution, but nothing happens. As West and the narrator prepare another solution for a second attempt there comes an inhuman scream from the room with the corpse as the two students instinctively flee into the night. In the ensuing chaos, a lantern is tipped over and the farmhouse catches fire. West and the narrator escape, assuming that the reanimated corpse burned to death in the fire. The next day, however, along with news of the fire, the newspaper reads that a grave in potter's field last night was molested violently, as with the claws of a beast and not the careful spade-work with which West and his assistant had dug originally.

Part II-
"The Plague-Daemon"-
Some time has elapsed since West and the narrator resurrected the corpse of the accident victim. Since the farmhouse burned down West has been unable to perform many experiments, and as college Dean Halsey refuses to allow him access to human cadavers and the university's dissection lab his research has been stunted. West has a stroke of luck, though, when a typhus epidemic breaks out and West and the narrator are called to help tend to the dying victims. West—now finding himself consistently surrounded by the dead and the dying—begins injecting his patients with a new serum, which has no greater affect than causing some bodies' eyes to open. Eventually, Halsey succumbs to typhoid, and as a final act of twisted respect for his former rival, West steals his corpse to reanimate. West and the narrator take Halsey's body back to West's room at a boarding house, where they inject it with West's new serum. Halsey does in fact reanimate, but is inexplicably less intelligent and more violent than their previous experiment. Halsey beats West and the narrator into unconsciousness and then embarks on a killing spree, beating and murdering over a dozen people before finally being apprehended by the police. The cannibal murderer is committed to a mental institution.

Part III-
"Six Shots by Moonlight"-
Now licensed doctors, West and the narrator have gone into practice together as the physicians in the small New England town of Bolton, purchasing a house near the town's cemetery so as to have consistent access to corpses. Still intent upon successfully reanimating a human being, West and the narrator claim the body of a black boxing champion who died of a head wound in an illegal back-alley street fight. The men gambling on the fight arrange for West to dispose of the body, as it clears them of any crime; West happily agrees and he and the narrator hurriedly take the body back to West's lab and inject it with another new serum. When nothing happens, West and the narrator take the corpse out to a meadow and bury it. Several days later, there are reports around town of a missing child. The mother dies during a fit of hysteria, and the father tries to kill West in a fit of rage that West could not save her. That night, West and the narrator are startled by an aggressive pounding on their back door. Opening the door, West and the narrator come face to face with the corpse of the boxer, covered in mildew and dirt, hunched over at the back entrance. Hanging from his mouth is the arm of a small child. Almost instantly West empties an entire revolver into the beast.

Part IV-
"The Scream of the Dead"-
Some time after West killed the reanimated boxer, the narrator returns home from a vacation to discover the perfectly preserved corpse of a man in his and West's home. West explains that during the narrator's absence, he perfected a type of embalming fluid that perfectly preserves a corpse as it is the moment the chemical is injected into the bloodstream; injected at the precise moment of death, the chemical prevents decomposition from even beginning. West reveals to the narrator that the dead man in their home is a traveling salesman who had a heart attack during a physical examination; as the man died before West's eyes, he was able to preserve it with the embalming fluid and has been waiting for the narrator to return so that the two of them can reanimate the body together. West injects the man with his latest serum. Signs of life gradually begin to appear. When the narrator questions the man he mouths words with seeming rationality and intent. Just before the man returns to a final death he begins screaming and thrashing violently, revealing in a horrible scream that West was in fact his killer.

Part V-
"The Horror From Shadows"-
Five years have passed since West temporarily reanimated the traveling salesman and West has joined the Great War as a means to procure more bodies. Now serving as a medic in Flanders during World War I, West has gone beyond the point of simply trying to reanimate corpses; his experiments now include isolating parts of the body and reanimating them independently in an attempt to prove the machine-like quality of the human body. On the battlefield, West befriends his commanding officer, Major Sir Eric Moreland Clapham-Lee, also a medic, and shares with him his theories and methods on reanimation. Shortly thereafter, Clapham is killed as his plane is shot down (along with the pilot, Lt. Ronald Hill). West immediately begins work on his body. Clapham was nearly decapitated in the crash and West finishes the job and injects the trunk with his serum, the head being placed in a vat (West could not use Hill's body as it was torn to pieces in the crash). The corpse comes to life and begins thrashing violently, reliving its last moments of life. Clapham's decapitated head begins to speak from across the room, shrieking out, "Jump, Ronald, for God's sake, jump!". Just then the building is shelled. West and the narrator survive, but there is no sign left of their commanding officer. The two men assume that he was vaporized in the blast, although West is since known to speak fearfully of a headless doctor with the power of reanimation.

Part VI-
"The Tomb Legions"-
I won't give away the finale, but it is genuinely creepy, to go along with the rest of this tale. To read from the assistant's p.o.v., the decent of Herbert West makes for some truly remarkable horror fiction. Having said that, the movie is the rare instance where it is just as a good as the story it's based on.

The Hound-The story focuses around the narrator and his friend St. John, who have a sickly interest in robbing graves. They constantly defile crypts and often keep souvenirs of their nocturnal expeditions. Since they reside in the same house, they have the opportunity to set up a sort of morbid museum in their basement. Using the objects they collect from the various graves they have robbed, they organize the private exhibition. The collection consists of headstones, preserved bodies, skulls and several heads in different phases of decomposition. It also included statues, frightful paintings and a locked portfolio, bound in tanned human skin.

One day, they learn of a particular grave, which sparks a profound interest in them. They learn of an old grave in a Holland cemetery, which holds a legendary tomb raider within. One who was said to have stolen, many years ago, a “potent thing from a mighty sepulcher”. One night, they travel to this old cemetery where the ancient “ghoul” was buried. The thought of exhuming the final resting place of a former grave robber is irresistibly appealing to them. That, and the fact that the body had been buried several centuries before, drives them to travel such long distances to reach the site. Upon reaching the old cemetery, they notice the distant baying of a giant hound. They ignore it and begin their excavation. After a while of digging they hit a solid object in the ground. They clear the last of the dirt from it and happen upon a strange and elaborately made coffin. Upon opening the casket, they are surprised to find that after several centuries the remains are still intact. Several places, on the skeletal remains, seem torn and shattered, as if attacked by a wild animal. Yet the whole of the skeleton is still completely distinguishable. At that moment, they notice a jade amulet hanging from the “ghoul's” neck. They examine it and after a bit of observation they recognize the amulet as one mentioned in “the forbidden Necronomicon of the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred”. They immediately know they must have the amulet at all cost. They remove it from the skeleton and flee to their homes. As they do, they notice once again the continuous sound of a hound's baying in the distance.

Even as they return home, strange sounds can be heard in their house, including the distant sound of the hound. This culminates into his friend being violently attacked and killed by an unknown creature, which the narrator claims the amulet had brought unto him. He decides that he must return the amulet to its rightful owner but it is stolen from him before he can return it. The next morning he reads, in the morning paper, of a band of thieves dismembered by an unknown creature. Growing mad, he returns to the churchyard and excavates the coffin out of the earth once more, only to find the skeleton within covered in caked blood and bits of flesh and hair. The amulet is once again hanging from the corpse’s neck. Suddenly, the skeleton begins howling the same type of howling that had plagued him since he left.

Another creepy tale, though not as good as some of his other work. There is a great amount of tension. It's like you are there with them, hearing the howls, growing crazy...8/10

Next week, I shall review The Rats in the Walls, The Festival, and He. Till then...

1 comment:

Spooky Sean said...

I sat on Lovecraft's grave. I'm now followed by unspeakable howling madness, everywhere I go.