Herbert West–Reanimator

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"Herbert West–Reanimator"
Weird Tales March 1942.jpg
Author H. P. Lovecraft
Country United States
Language English
Genre(s) Horror short story
Published in Home Brew
Publication type Magazine
Media type Print (Periodical)
Publication date February–July 1922

"Herbert West–Reanimator" is a short story by American horror fiction writer H. P. Lovecraft. It was written between October 1921 and June 1922. It was first serialized in February through July 1922 in the amateur publication Home Brew.[1] The story was the basis of the 1985 horror film Re-Animator and its sequels, in addition to numerous other adaptations in various media.

The story is the first to mention Lovecraft's fictional Miskatonic University. It is also notable as one of the first depictions of zombies as scientifically reanimated corpses, with animalistic and uncontrollable temperament.

Inspiration[edit]

According to his letters, Lovecraft wrote the story as a parody of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.[citation needed] He drops in numerous Frankenstein references (even hinting at the poetry of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, as Shelley did).

Reaction[edit]

Lovecraft claimed to be unhappy with the work, writing it only because he was being paid five dollars for each installment.[2] Moreover, he disliked the requirement that each installment end with a cliffhanger, which was unlike his normal style. He also had to begin each installment with a recap of the previous episode. The book Science Fiction-The Early Years calls "Herbert West–Reanimator" "wretched work".[3] Lovecraft scholar S. T. Joshi claims that "Herbert West–Reanimator" is "universally acknowledged as Lovecraft's poorest work."[4]

Plot summary[edit]

Lovecraft originally serialised the story in Home Brew Vol. 1, No. 1–6, an amateur magazine published by his friend George Julian Houtain.

From the Dark[edit]

The narrator recounts his history with the title character, who has recently disappeared. As a medical student at Miskatonic University, the narrator becomes fascinated by West's theories, which postulate that the human body is simply a complex, organic machine which can be "restarted." West eventually realizes he must experiment on human subjects. The two men spirit away supplies from their medical school and set up their lab in an abandoned farmhouse. At first, they pay a group of men to rob graves for them, but none of the experiments is successful. West and the narrator then rob graves themselves. One night, they steal the corpse of a construction worker who died that morning in an accident. They take it back to the farmhouse and inject it with West's solution, but nothing happens. Later, an inhuman scream is heard from within the room containing the corpse. Moved by instinct, they flee into the night. West accidentally tips over a lantern on the way out, which starts a fire. West and the narrator escape. The next day, however, the newspaper reports that a grave in potter's field, violently molested the night before, displays the claws of a beast.

The Plague-Daemon[edit]

Some time after the fire, West's research is stunted when Dr. Allen Halsey, the dean of the medical school, refuses to allow him access to human cadavers or the university's dissection lab. West has a stroke of luck, though, when a typhoid epidemic breaks out and West and the narrator are called to help tend to the many dying victims. West begins injecting his patients with a new serum, which has no greater effect than to cause some of the 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 the new serum. Halsey does, in fact, reanimate, but, inexplicably, he is less intelligent and more violent than their previous experiment. After beating West and the narrator into unconsciousness, Halsey embarks on a killing spree, beating and murdering over a dozen people before he is apprehended by the police. The cannibal murderer is soon committed to a local mental institution. West curses the fact that too much time has elapsed and that Halsey's brain has deteriorated.

Six Shots by Moonlight[edit]

Now licensed doctors, West and the narrator go into practice together in the small New England town of Bolton, purchasing a house near the local cemetery to have easy access to corpses. Still intent upon successfully reanimating a human being, they claim the body of a black boxing champion who died of a head wound in an illegal back-alley street fight. Gamblers betting on the fight arrange for West to dispose of the body, as it clears them of any crime. West and the narrator hurriedly take the body back to the lab and inject it with another new serum. When nothing happens, they take the corpse out to a meadow and bury it. Several days later, there are reports around town of a missing child. The child's mother dies during a fit of hysteria, and the father tries to kill West in a fit of rage because West couldn't 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 boxer's corpse, covered in mildew and dirt and hunched over at the back entrance. Hanging from his mouth is the arm of the missing child. Almost instantly, West empties an entire revolver into the creature.

The Scream of the Dead[edit]

Some time after West's killing of the reanimated boxer, the narrator returns home from vacation to discover the perfectly preserved corpse of a man in the home he shares with West. 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 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 body 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 the dead, he begins screaming and thrashing violently, revealing in a horrible scream that he was in fact murdered by West.

The Horror From the Shadows[edit]

Five years later, West and the narrator become involved in World War I as a means to procure more bodies. Serving as a medic in Flanders, 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 their machine-like quality. On the battlefield, West befriends his commanding officer and fellow medic, Major Sir Eric Moreland Clapham-Lee, and shares with him his theories and methods on reanimation. Shortly thereafter, Clapham is suffers near-decapitation and dies when his plane is shot down. West immediately begins work on Clapman's body and injects the trunk of his body with his serum and placing the head in a vat. The corpse comes to life and begins thrashing violently, reliving its last moments of life. Clapham's severed head begins to shout from across the room. The building is then destroyed by a bomb shell. West and the narrator survive, but there is no sign of Clapham's head or body. 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.

The Tomb-Legions[edit]

A year after returning from the war, West has moved into a house which is directly connected to an ancient system of catacombs from settler times. While reading the newspaper one night, West comes across an article detailing a series of strange, seemingly nonsensical events involving a riot at an insane asylum. A wax-headed man (Clapham) followed by a group of disturbing-looking followers carrying a box had demanded that the detained "cannibal" killer (Halsey) be released to them. Witnesses claimed that his voice came not from himself, as his lips or wax face did not move, but he seemed to speak as if ventriloquist was talking through him. When the invaders were refused exchange for the killer, they took him by force. West spends the remainder of the night in a near-catatonic state until someone comes to the door. The narrator answers only to find a group of men. One of the figures presents the narrator with the large box, which the narrator then gives to West. West refuses to open the box and insists that they incinerate it. The two men carry it to the basement and burn it. As soon as the box burns, the zombies tear through the wall of West's home via the catacombs. Leaving the narrator alone, the zombies soon attack West. Realizing that his own death is imminent, West allows the zombies to disembowel him. As a final insult, Clapham decapitates West's corpse before leading his army of zombies off into the night. The narrator does not reveal much to the police about West, and they disbelieve the information he does reveal since the catacomb wall seems intact and undisturbed. He is forever haunted, considered mad, by his knowledge of what transpired and the lack of resolution regarding the raised corpses.

Characters[edit]

Herbert West[edit]

Herbert West is the inventor of a special solution, or "reagent", that can resurrect the dead. He is portrayed as a brilliant, narcissistic, and intensely driven young man of an amoral nature; traits carried over into the 1985 film. His arrogance and lack of respect for life (and death) prove to be his undoing.

The narrator[edit]

West's only friend, the narrator initially attaches himself to West in college out of a kind of hero worship mentality, awed at the daring of West's experiments. Over time, though, as West's experiments become more morally reprehensible, and West seems to lose interest in science and instead indulge in sheer perversity, the narrator comes to fear West and becomes a kind of slave to him, too afraid of West's capacity for evil to outright abandon him. In the 1985 film adaptation, the character is (ostensibly) named Dan Cain (played by Bruce Abbott).

Dean Halsey[edit]

The Dean of Miskatonic University's medical school. He does not take West's theories about reanimation seriously and the narrator characterizes him as benevolently old-fashioned and closed-minded. Dr. Halsey dies from being severely overworked during a typhoid outbreak and is hailed as a community hero. West reanimates his body as a sign of respect, to convince him -and others- of the validity of his theories. Halsey, however, returns to life as an inarticulate cannibal ghoul. The reanimated Halsey's behavior is mistaken for insanity and he is locked in a mental institution.

Major Sir Eric Moreland Clapham-Lee[edit]

West and the narrator's commanding officer during World War I. As the narrator does not know him terribly well, little information is given about him, other than he shares West's perverse fascination with cheating death. After Maj. Clapham-Lee dies when his plane is shot down, West decides to "honor" Clapham by chopping off his head and trying to bring his body back to life. The experiment backfires when the decapitated body revives acting out its final actions before dying in a plane crash, and the severed head also revives yelling for his co-pilot to "jump". The zombie, now wearing a head of wax and the original head in a black case, spends the next year finding the "survivors" of West's experiments, which West wasn't fast enough to kill off, leading them in an assault on West in revenge for his attempts to use them to play God. West is torn apart, while the zombie of Clapham-Lee takes the head, since West took his.

Adaptations[edit]

Comics and periodicals[edit]

The story first saw adaptation in EC Comics' Weird Science in 1950.[5]

"Herbert West, Reanimated", written as a round-robin serial by Robert Price & others, for Crypt of Cthulhu #64 (1989), is a sort of sequel in which Sir Eric Moreland Chapman-Lee resurrects and reassembles Dr. West, who then escapes, kills and resurrects his assistant, and resumes his increasingly wild experiments with life & death, leading to mind-transfers & cloning.

In issue #14 of the magazine From the Tomb (released in June 2004), edited by Peter Normanton, various other 1950s horror comics' homages to Herbert West are discussed, including "Atlas' Adventures" in Weird Worlds #24, where Dr. Karl Veblen created a "life generator" serum. He had a co-conspirator arranged to revive himself after death with it, but the co-conspirator returned Cleopatra instead.

More recently, Dynamite Entertainment has produced a comic, Army of Darkness vs. Re-Animator, a crossover with Herbert West from Lovecraft's short story, "Herbert West–Reanimator", and well-known from the film Re-Animator and its sequels. However, Army of Darkness vs. Re-Animator is inspired by neither the film Re-Animator nor the original short story; instead it portrays as an immortal West as super villain in league with Yog-Sothoth, battling Ash Williams from the Evil Dead film series.

Films[edit]

It was Stuart Gordon's film Re-Animator (1985) that would prove the most famous adaptation. Updated to a contemporary setting, Re-Animator takes its plot and characters from the first two episodes of the serial, depicting West as a medical student at Miskatonic University, while Bride of Re-Animator (1990) uses material from the last two episodes. Bride was followed by Beyond Re-Animator (2003), which moved Herbert West to a prison and had very little to do with Lovecraft's story.

In 2015, writer Joshua Chaplinsky remodeled the cover of the film Re-Animator, starring Kanye West, and created a spin story where West tried to revive a dead Hip Hop scene.[6]

Director Dylan Mars Greenberg has produced and directed a film titled "Dr. West : A Reanimator Parody" which is now in the editing phase and scheduled for release winter of 2016.[7]

Games[edit]

The story's narrative forms part of the plot of a video game based on Lovecraft's work, Call of Cthulhu: The Wasted Land (2012).

Literature and audiobooks[edit]

An audiobook version of the short story, published in 1999, is performed by Jeffrey Combs, who played Herbert West in the three film versions.[8]

Audrey Driscoll's novel The Friendship of Mortals (2010) expands on Lovecraft's story. Driscoll's primary focus is the relationship between West and the narrator, who is neither nameless nor a physician, but a Miskatonic University librarian named Charles Milburn. The plot roughly follows the original but adheres to the premise that West is undone by his experiments.

Other appearances[edit]

Comics
  • Herbert West was featured in a story arc in the Hack/Slash comic book series.
Games
  • The Lovecraft-based visual novel series Demonbane reimagines Herbert West as a guitar-playing lunatic mad scientist.
  • The Splatterhouse games take place in a zombie-infested mansion owned by "Dr. Henry West".

References[edit]

  1. ^ Straub, Peter (2005). Lovecraft: Tales. The Library of America. p. 823. ISBN 1-931082-72-3. 
  2. ^ Straub, Peter (2005). Lovecraft: Tales. The Library of America. p. 828. ISBN 1-931082-72-3. 
  3. ^ E. F. Bleiler and Richard Bleiler. Science-Fiction: The Early Years. Kent State University Press, 1990. (p.454). ISBN 9780873384162.
  4. ^ Scriptorium - H.P. Lovecraft
  5. ^ "H.P. Lovecraft in the Comics". Miskatonic University library. 
  6. ^ "Yeezy gets Lovecraftian in 'Kanye West - Reanimator'". EW. August 20, 2015. Retrieved 2016-01-08. 
  7. ^ http://allevents.in/kings%20county/first-look-at-dr-west-a-reanimated-parody-free/1781519182105756
  8. ^ "The future never sounded so good". SFFAudio. 

Bibliography[edit]

  • Lovecraft, Howard P. (1986) [1922]. "Herbert West—Reanimator". In S. T. Joshi. Dagon and Other Macabre Tales (9th corrected printing ed.). Sauk City, WI: Arkham House. ISBN 0-87054-039-4.  Definitive version.
  • Lovecraft, Howard P. (1999) [1922]. "Herbert West—Reanimator". In Joshi, S. T.; Cannon, Peter. More Annotated Lovecraft (1st ed.). New York City: Dell. ISBN 0-440-50875-4.  With explanatory footnotes.
  • Taniguchi, G.; Daitoku, T.; Terakawa, H. (2008). "Mystery of the zombies! Hogback's nightmarish research laboratory". One Piece. Fuji TV.  TV episode.

External links[edit]