By Brian M. Sammons
Lovecraft, H.P., author; Radio adaptation by Sean Branney and Andrew Leman. Dark Adventure Radio Theater: Herbert West – Reanimator. The H.P. Lovecraft Society, 2013.
The Innsmouth Free Press is once again celebrating horrific audio treats for their Summer of Screams, and boy, do I have some ghoulish goodies for you to listen too. If you’ve read this column for any length of time, then you will already know I am a huge fan of the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society. If you are not familiar with the HPLHS, then you can’t truly call yourself a Cthulhu cultist or a lover of Lovecraft. These mad, creative geniuses worship the Old Ones in film, music, art, clothes, and more.
To acquaint yourself with all the weird, wonderful things they create, you can go here: http://cthulhulives.org/, but today, I am here to talk to you about a specific something from the HPLHS, their new entry in their ongoing Dark Adventure Radio Theatre. For those not in the know, DART is the HPLHS series of excellent radio dramas based on the stories of H.P. Lovecraft.
Previously, they have covered such seminal works as “The Shadow Over Innsmouth,” “The Dunwich Horror,” “The Call of Cthulhu,” and more. Now they tackle one of his most famous, thanks to the 1985 Stuart Gordon film that has achieved cult super star status: Re-Animator. If all you know of that story is from that movie, be prepared for the real deal as you give an ear to Herbert West – Reanimator.
Now this is a fully acted radio play, not an audio book. That means it has different actors, music, sound effects, and the story has been changed, slightly, to make it fit the radio format better. In this case, the story is told as part of a legal deposition by Dr. West’s long-suffering partner, who is never named in the original Lovecraft tale. Here, he’s called Gordon Stuart. Ha, get it? Well, the law is hot to nail Herbert West, so they offer Dr. Stuart a deal if he tells them the whole, macabre story. And that’s exactly what he does.
Broken into six chapters, exactly as HPL wrote it, this audio play faithfully reproduces the entirety of Lovecraft’s story, warts and all. Yes, let’s get to the ugly elephant in the room: Lovecraft was a racist and that was never more on repugnant display than it was in this story. So you’ve got to feel for the people at the HPLHS when it came to make this recording. Do they gloss over that part, or do they stay faithful to the source material, no matter how repellent? Well, they do a little bit of both. They do leave that part in here, so readers sensitive to such things should be warned, but they do remove some of the grossest, most reprehensible bits and I think that was the right thing to do. They could not have cut that part out entirely, yet they didn’t have to revel in all the racist crap as Lovecraft did. Sorry, Lovecraft lovers, you can try to explain HPL’s views away all you want, but that doesn’t change them.
That bit of ugliness aside, this is a great rendition of “Reanimator.” What little changes they did to the story are all welcome and done exceptionally well. Another smart thing they did was to give the star of the show, Herbert West, his own identity, while staying true to Lovecraft’s words.
It would have been so easy for them to try to ape Jeffrey Combs’ awesome, career-defining performance as the good doctor in the three Re-Animator movies. It must have even been tempting, because most people, when they think of Herbert West, that is who they think of, even if they have read and love Lovecraft’s story. That’s how much of a mark Mr. Combs has left on the Herbert West character. Here, you have the always-amazing Andrew Leman doing the daunting task of stepping into those very large shoes and Mr. Leman knocks it out of the park. No, he won’t make you forgot Combs, but he won’t make you miss him, either.
In addition to a great radio play, the HPLHS always loves to go one step beyond and add little extras to their releases. In this case, should you get the CD release, you get some props right out of the story like a page of doodles from West’s bloody notebook, a memorial card for the late Dr. Halsey, two newspaper clippings that relate to the shocking shenanigans West gets up to, and Herbert West’s enlistment papers to the Canadian army medical corps during WWI. I always love these little bits. The H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society didn’t have to make and include these knickknacks to make a good product, but they did it anyway just for the love of it.
Final Verdict: Dark Adventure Radio Theater presents Herbert West – Reanimator is another amazing release from the HPLHS. If you are a fan of the original story, the Stuart Gordon film, a lover of radio players, or even someone who has never experienced any of that, it does not matter. Get this CD, listen to it, and you will love it. If you’re not into “old tech” like CDs, you can get the MP3 version of it, although you do miss out on all the cool extra props and stuff if you do that. It is highly recommended.