Monday, May 3, 2010

Herbert West - Reanimator

Serial by H. P. Lovecraft

1. From the Dark:
Two med students at Miskatonic University Medical School are interested in bringing the dead back to life. They have some success with small animals and decided to move on up to humans. The dean thinks they're nuts, so they have to go behind his back getting the dead bodies. Horror with undertones of comedy ensues. Sadly, their "Sinister Haunt of Science" burns down in a freak knocking-over-the-bunsen-burner-while-screaming-and-running-away-like-a-couple-of-sissies accident. 3/5

2. The Plague-Daemon
A major typhoid fever outbreak hits Arkham and all the doctors and students go out to help. The dean becomes a local hero for saving so many, working so hard, and risking his life. He catches typhoid and dies. After the funeral, West and the narrator are out drinking with the other students and West says they should "make a night of it." So they steal the corpse of their dean and bring him back. The dead dean beats them up, jumps out the window and goes on a killing spree through the town that idolized him. Eventually he is caught, and locked up in an asylum. "He wasn't quite fresh enough." 4/5

3. Six Shots by Moonlight
Done with school, West and his buddy set up a private practice in a neighboring mill town. They reanimate a huge black guy that died in an underground boxing match. Lovecraft's racism comes out in this portion, but in this case it strikes me as the kind of thing you might not notice if you read it as a kid. The guy was big and scary and gorilla-like and happened to be black, while not what Lovecraft means, seems a viable interpretation of events. Both the narrator and West hate pretty much everyone: Black, Italian, Puritan-descendants, people that work at mills, other doctors, etc. Not to justify Lovecraft's racism, but people always talk about this story, while I think the descriptions tend to be less ignorable in some of the other stories. Anyway, the big black guy doesn't reanimate until after they bury him. So he rises from the grave and eats a little kid before coming after West, who shoots him six times. 2/5

4. The Scream of the Dead
West invents a new embalming fluid to keep corpses fresher, since that has been the excuse for all the failed resurrections. He then sinks to a new low in his acquisition of bodies, and a new level of success. 3/5

5. The Horror from the Shadows
West and the narrator join the Canadian army so they can get into WWI. He uses his post as a supply of parts, since he is now interested in reanimating dead tissue without a brain. Using a vat of embryonic lizard cells and some actual surgical technique, he is able to revive the headless corpse of another doctor who had studied reanimation under him. Just before the hospital is destroyed by artillery fire, the narrator thinks he hears the detached head say something. 3/5

6. The Tomb-Legions
West meets a terrifying end when his surviving creations gang up on him. Or maybe the narrator killed him and imagined it all. "They imply that I am either a madman or a murderer - probably I am mad. But I might not be mad if those accursed tomb-legions had not been so silent." 3/5

I've heard that this is supposed to be a bit of self-parody and Frankenstein-parody, and that comes across somewhat in passages that seem overwrought even for Lovecraft, and more clearly towards the end with the reptile vats and the reanimation of random bits of people, which is just absurd. Through the 4th installment, things were kept about as plausible as can be expected of 1920s zombie stories. But it goes downhill from there, either Lovecraft got sick of the story or just wanted to have some fun with it. Both main characters are also particularly cowardly and West says a few things like the "Let's make a night of it" line that I do find funny. But overall this was still a horror story, just one that was not as serious as some others.

Funny in bits, moderately scary (esp. earlier on), and one of the earliest cannibal zombie stories I've read, so it was innovative at least. 3 out of 5 scientists secretly refer to their lab as their sinister haunt of SCIENCE!

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