The Films of Charles Dexter Ward

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

Out of the whole Lovecraft canon, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward on the face of it looks like a good candidate for cinematic adaptation. You have a strong mystery driving the narrative, a powerful plot twist, and most of the monstrosities actually encountered “on stage” during the story are human-scale things – the mutilated results of Joseph Curwen’s necromantic experiments. Even better, it’s written in a pseudo-documentary style which assembles the facts in the case but doesn’t give a scene-by-scene breakdown of the story, which on the one hand poses a challenge for anyone attempting to adapt it but on the other hand also means you have a lot of leeway to adapt it whilst still remaining fairly true to the original.

It’s no surprise, then, that it was the first of Lovecraft’s stories to be adapted for the big screen – but both that original adaptation and a second attempt in the 1990s have some pretty severe issues. Let’s raise them up from their essential salts and check ’em out, eh?

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