Tag Archives: Herbert West

The Reanimation of some past articles for Halloween!

HerbertWesthorror-horror-movies

Hey everyone – picked up a new, illustrated version of Herbert West Reanimator by H.P. Lovecraft at the NecronomiCon in August 2017.  This version is published by Necronomicon Press and beautifully illustrated by Robert H. Knox.  We reviewed the science of reanimation back in October of 2015 – the first article can be found here if you are interested.

https://lovecraftianscience.wordpress.com/2015/10/12/the-science-of-reanimation-part-1/

Advertisements

The Science of Stuart Gordon’s Reanimator

Reanimator_poster

This article will focus on the science behind Stuart Gordon’s film H.P. Lovecraft’s Reanimator.  However, before I do this I want to clarify something that was brought to my attention from the last article.  I identified three phases of the reanimation serum with the second one involving an embalming fluid and neutralizing agent. I hypothesized that Dr. West may have mixed the serum with these compounds to kill and preserve the traveling salesman so that they could try the serum when his assistant got back. However, someone on the message board (known on the message board as shoggothlord) pointed out that Dr. West actually put the salesman into a medically induced coma until his assistant came back. He then revised the salesman only to kill him to try the reanimation serum on a fresh body. I just wanted to point out this discrepancy. While West may have augmented his embalming fluid and the associated neutralizing agent with his reanimation fluid, this is highly unlikely. It looks like a flat out case of murder in order to obtain the “freshest” body possible for his experiment. As we previously mentioned, while it appeared to be a temporary success, it was very short-lived. Thank you shoggothlord for pointing that out.

re_animator_herbert_west___poster_by_xmattmurderx-d7rwnfe

Reanimator Herbert West by Xmattmurdersx (www.deviantart.com)

Stuart Gordon’s film H.P. Lovecraft’s Reanimator is interesting in the fact that in some aspects it is very close to Lovecraft’s original tale and in others it makes large deviations from the original text, which also includes the scientific aspects of the film. Dr. Herbert West does develop a reanimation serum although no background is given to its origin. An interesting component of the serum shown in the film is that it glows green, which is probably a type of bioluminescence. I hypothesize that the glowing green does not represent an active ingredient of reanimation serum but instead is a bio-indicator, identifying when the serum is in an active state.

Bioluminescence is frequently caused by a relatively simple biochemical reaction where the enzyme luciferase oxidizers luciferin and in its electronically excited state it emits a photon of light. Most people are familiar with bioluminescence by watching fireflies in the summer but many other organisms, including bacteria and algae such as dinoflagellates, utilize similar bioluminescence, biochemical pathways. I hypothesize that Dr. West included this bioluminescence compound in the reanimation serum as a simple indictor of when the serum is active.

As a previously mentioned, I believe the reanimation serum is a type of Stem Cell Therapy, using a combination of human cells and Deep One cells. However, once the cells are mixed and the serum is “activated” it has a specific period of time when it remains active before the cells start to degrade and decompose. A quick and easy way of determining whether the serum is active is to couple it with the luciferin compound and tag the cells with luciferin. Thus, active living cells tagged with luciferin would glow green once the luciferase is added.  Once the cells begin to degrade the green glow would fade, indicating that the serum is no longer active. Indeed in the director’s commentary for the film Stuart Gordon himself states that green glow would last only about 45 minutes. Thus, it appears that once active, the reanimation serum is only viable for less than an hour. However, refrigeration may extend the duration of viability. There were a number of instances when the glowing green serum was retrieved from a refrigerator. As shown below, bioluminescence has been used in an applied medical capacity such as identifying the size and location of cancer cells (see below).

Fig11_www.photobiology.info

Applied use of bioluminescence in the identification of cancer cells – is the green glow of the reanimation serum a bio-indicator of when it is in its active state? (from http://www.photobiology.info)

It should also be noted that unlike Lovecraft’s serum, Gordon’s serum may only have a limited duration of effectiveness before another injection is required. In Lovecraft’s tale, one injection was all it took to reanimate the dead with the individual living on for years. In contrast in Gordon’s film we have no indication if the serum will wear off over a period of time. Dean Halsey is the individual who is reanimated for the longest period of time and that was only for 24- 48 hours. In contrast, the decapitated Dr. Hill appeared to require both blood and more of the reanimation serum to keep at least his head alive. It may be possible that routine injections are required to keep separated body parts alive; however, this is not discussed in the film.

The last thought I want to bring up is the notorious “head giving head” scene. Unlike Stuart Gordon’s film From Beyond, where an increase in sexuality was a side effect of the biochemical impact the Resonator had on the pineal gland, there is no indication that the reanimation serum increases sexuality. We know from earlier in the film that Dr. Hill was attracted to Dean Halsey’s daughter Megan. Thus, I think the scene has nothing to do with the serum affecting Hill’s sexuality; I think the guy is just a creep.

hero_EB19851018REVIEWS510180303AR

The reanimated head of Dr. Hill from Stuart Gordon’s film H.P. Lovecraft’s Reanimator

To conclude this dissuasion of Reanimator I want to recommend two books. First, I strongly recommend Pete Rawlik’s book Reaniamtors (2013). It is a fun book documenting the adventures of a rival / competitor of Herbert West and it is well immersed in Lovecraft’s New England, Arkham and Miskatonic University. Also, Pete provides presents some really interesting scientific ideas in the novel.

Reanimators_

The second book I am half way through and really enjoying. It is Chaosium’s Legacy of the Reanimator: Chronicles of Dr. Herbert West (2015). I was lucky enough to pick up a copy at the NecronomiCon in August; it should be available for purchase very soon and I highly recommend it. It includes tales from various authors documenting various portions of West’s life and includes two round-robin stories. The book is edited by Peter Rawik and Brian M. Sammons. Pick it up when it’s out!

LegacyofReanimator

Next time we will be discussing some of Lovecraft’s lesser known sentient species such as those found in “The Doom That Came to Sarnath” and “The Nameless City.” Thank you and Happy Halloween everyone! Fred.

The Science of Reanimation, Part 3

Previously I suggested that there appears to be three “phases of progress” associated with Herbert West’s reanimation serum. Phase I of the serum is described from Part I: From the Dark to Part III: Six Shots by Midnight in Lovecraft’s tale “Herbert West – Reanimator” and the previous article focused on this phase of the serum. It could reanimate the dead but bodies had to be largely intact with a minimal amount of organ / tissue damage. Also, while it appears that the longer the individual is dead, the more brain damaged experienced once reanimated. However, to date, it has not been determined if this brain damage is due to solely to the brain receiving no oxygen and nutrients over a prolonged period of time or if the serum itself actually contributes toward this brain damage.

herber_west_tagg_by_verreaux

Herbert West by Verreaux (www.deviantart.com)

To at least partially address the issue associated with brain damage and the resulting irrational and dangerous behavior of the reanimated, Dr. West went to Phase II, which is described in Part IV: The Scream of the Dead. In this chapter a traveling salesman supposedly dies right at West’s home / lab in Bolton. Since West’s assistant is not around at the time, West decided to try his new embalming compound. Typically embalming compounds are a mix of chemicals designed to preserve bodies to prevent or minimize decomposition. In West’s case, his embalming compounds was also designed to prevent decomposition; however, it did not use toxic chemicals such as formaldehyde or methanol. Instead, West’s formula prevents decomposition and preserves the tissues and organs so they could be reanimated with his serum. However, the real purpose of these compounds was to eliminate the brain damage that occurs with the onset of death.

When Cain (West’s assistant) came back to Bolton, the experiment resumed. The first thing West did was inject another compound into the well preserved body to neutralize the embalming compound and “…release the system to a normal relaxation so that the reanimating solution might freely work when injected.” What is interesting is that after this neutralizing agent was injected the body started to twitch and West put a pillow over its face to make sure the individual was dead. This raises the question; did the embalming solution and accompanying neutralizing agent have similar but limiting reanimating properties?

tumblr_static_tumblr_static__640

The end of the chapter Part IV: Scream of the Dead

Once all movement of the corpse ceased, West then injected it with the reanimating serum. The individual began to show signs of life – body and eye movement as well as breathe fogging a mirror. This experiment was the closest to success for West and Cain. When Cain asked the reanimated salesman “Where have you been?” he observed the salesman’s lips silently reply, “only now.” This may be a reference to Lovecraft’s own mechanistic materialism – that is, nothing was seen beyond. The words “only now “may have been a reference to the salesman being cognizant and aware only at the point in time he was reanimated.

As Cain describes, the fact that the reanimated salesman responded to his question was a triumph; bringing rational and articulate thought back to the reanimated. Unfortunately the salesman re-died in a “final dissolution from which there could be no return…” However, before re-dying it was revealed to Cain that Herbert West murdered him to get a fresh corpse. Getting back to the experiment, while a temporary triumph in reanimation, it ultimately ended in a failure with the “dissolution” of the individual. No additional information is given as to if the embalming solution and neutralizing agent were responsible for the failure or if it is due to a reformulation of the reanimation serum.

tumblr_ncjq8oqMhw1tlk49ho1_1280

Reanimation serum (www.innsmouthtradingcompany.tumblr.com)

The third phase of the reanimation serum is documented in Part V: The Horror from the Shadows. Here the modification of the serum is substantial; at this point West is talking about “…wild and original ideas on the independent vital properties of organic cells and nerve-tissue separated from natural physiological systems; and achieved some hideous preliminary results in the form of never-dying, artificially nourished tissue obtained from the nearly hatched eggs of an indescribable tropical reptile.” Associated with this there were two hypotheses West wanted to test:  First, determine if any organs or tissues can produce rational action independent of direct association with the brain, spinal cord and nervous system. Second, determine if there is any “ethereal, intangible relation” between separated tissues and organs including the brain.

West’s latest experiment where he injected the decapitated body of Major Sir Eric Moreland Clapham-Lee with the serum appeared to support both of these hypotheses. The separated head and body both appeared to operate independently as well as actually communicate with one another in some manner. It should be noted that West stored the head in a vat with the pulpy reptile-tissue for preservation while the body was injected with the reanimation serum.

lizard

What is the source of artificially nourished tissue of the indescribable tropical reptile? (art by Steve Maschuck)

As previously described, I hypothesize that the reanimation serum is a type of Stem Cell Therapy, which involves injecting living cells into an individual as a sort of immunotherapy. However, the reanimation therapy probably involves foreign stem cells, mixed with the cells of the species being treated with the serum. The successful reanimation of a dead organism would essentially be a pathway to immortality and there is an immortal species that is very closely related to humans on both an immuno- and genetic level and that is the Deep Ones.

The Deep One hybrids are well known to be immortal once they complete their metamorphosis from human to Deep Ones. In fact, depending on if “full” Deep Ones exist, it is possible that humans and Deep Ones are essentially the same species. Even if Deep Ones and humans are separate species they are still very closely related, which means West may be using stem cells from Deep Ones to develop his reanimation serum.

deep_ones_in_the_sanitarium_by_nightserpent_Carrick

Are Deep One stem cells a key component of Herbert West’s reanimation serum? (illustration by Carrick)

The “nearly hatched eggs of an indescribable tropical reptile” may be an added component to the reanimation serum’s formula, which allows separated body parts to operate on their own volition. Reptiles and amphibians have remarkable regenerative properties as well as utilize pheromones through glandular secretions. The pheromones are used primarily for attracting and selecting mates; however, such chemical communication over distances may be how the separate body parts, say for example a head and its body, can work with one another while separated. So what is this indescribable tropical reptile? While I have no data to support this, it may be possible that this “reptile” is the long-lost race of reptilian beings that inhabit “The Nameless City.” Perhaps a previous Miskatonic University expedition to the nameless city collected and brought back biological samples that were then used to culture the pulpy reptile-tissues that West then used for his experiments.

reptilan_inhabitant_of_nameless_city__early_attemp_by_kingovrats-d7qi4bp

Reptilian Inhabitant of the Nameless City (by King Ovrats; http://www.deviantart.com)

There is obviously a considerable amount of additional research required into the West reanimation serum to identify the exact composition of the serum itself, test the hypotheses cited above, and answer additional questions that have not yet been raised, such as how do the separated yet functioning body parts survive and live without a constant supply of oxygen for respiration and nutrients for cellular operation. I’m sure the staff of the Miskatonic University Medical School is hard at work on the West serum. Next time we will discuss the science behind Stuart Gordon’s film Herbert West – Reanimator. Thank you – Fred.

The Science of Reanimation, Part 2

Last time we discussed how the brain can survive for up to six minutes after the heart stops.  Cardiac arrest can lead to death due to the fact that the heart is no longer pumping blood throughout the body supplying nutrients and oxygen, specifically to the brain.  Thus, the objective of any reanimating substance is to get the heart beating again to re-supply the brain with nutrients and oxygen.

HW_menton3_d45qecw

Herbert West by Menton3 (www.deviantart.com)

There are drugs that can treat varying types of arrhythmias (irregular or abnormal heartbeats) such as epinephrine, atropine and lidocaine. However, at this time there is no medicine that actually works to re-start a stopped heart. Certain medications can make the heart more susceptible to defibrillation, which is re-starting the heart with a specific pulse of electricity. Defibrillation was first demonstrated by two Swiss physiologists in 1899, where they observed that electrical shocks could induce ventricular fibrillation in dogs.

The defibrillator device was invented by William Kouwenhoven in 1930 and was first used on a human in 1947. However, this device could only be used when the chest cavity was open during surgery. It was not until the early 1950’s that the close-chested “paddle” defibrillator was invented. Essentially these devices apply an alternating voltage greater than 1,00 volts on the individual’s chest to re-start the heart.

 

CLIP_ID = 01QNSN5E5ACPLeCP8U8RT3D91GR
Paddle Defibrillator in use (www.biology-forums.com)

With this brief history of defibrillation in mind, it is easy to see that over most of Lovecraft’s life the concept of “reanimation” did not appear to be feasible. With the development and refinement of defibrillation as well as other medical procedures, such as artificial respiration, from the 1930’s through the early 21st century, the reanimation of the “dead” does not seem so strange and mysterious today. However, in the early 20th century such concepts were in the realm of science fiction or in Lovecraft’s case horror.

The role of electricity in the operation of the human heart was initially discovered in 1906 with the development of the electrocardiogram by Willem Einthoven in 1924. Again, much of this information was largely unknown to Lovecraft. Thus, with a knowledge of chemistry it made sense that Lovecraft’s mode of reanimation would be some type of therapeutic drug or treatment. The result is Dr. Herbert West’s serum.

maxresdefault

Herbert West – Reanimator from H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society

From what we know of reanimation today, that the goal is getting the heart to start beating again as quickly as possible, it is interesting to note that Dr. West’s serum is not injected into the heart but instead, typically in the arm. This is an indication that West’s serum does not act like many of the drugs cited earlier used to treat cardiac arrhythmia. The West serum does not function by re-starting the heart; instead the serum probably kick starts or turns on all of the cells and tissues of the individual. While this does include re-starting the heart (in a number of instances West uses his stethoscope to determine if the individual is now alive), the serum operates on a more cellular yet holistic basis. I hypothesize that the serum actually increases the efficiency of the physiology of the individual’s entire body – circulation, respiration, immunity and nervous systems – all operate at a higher level of efficiency and performance. This would explain the super-human feats that all individuals injected with the serum can do. However, the only apparent limitation associated with the serum is the brain. The serum does not appear to have the ability to repair the damage incurred by the brain between the time of death and the point of reanimation. Additionally, there may be other side effects associated with the serum itself that are largely unknown and not well documented by the doctor. West may have been so obsessed with finding intact bodies that were extremely fresh, thinking that brain damage was the factor responsible for the irrational and violent reaction of the test subject that he may not even have considered that the serum itself may be causing some of the damage to the brain tissue.

herbert_west_by_224umi-d4iz180

Herbert West by 224umi (www.deivantart.com)

So what exactly is the serum? We know that it is species-specific; that a serum designed for humans could not be used on a dog or cat. In fact, West himself thought this high degree of specialization for the serum may have also been race-specific as well. In the chapter Part III: Six Shots by Midnight when West and Cain obtained the body of an African-American boxer who is injected with the serum, the initial lack of response is thought by West to be result of the serum being prepared for “white specimens.” As Leslie S. Klinger notes in The New Annotated H.P. Lovecraft (2014) this racist sentiment is unjustified for the serum does indeed work on the boxer. This supports the hypothesis that the serum is specific-species. If the serum was based say on blood type then it would work on some individuals and not others.  This is clearly not the case; a human-specific serum should work on all Homo sapiens and not be “race” specific. Variability associated with the results of the serum is largely dependent on the size / weight of the individual as well as how long the brain has been inactive, not race.

In addition to being specific to the individual species being treated, the serum was always being refined and modified by West. In fact, there appear to be three main “phases of progress” associated with the serum. Phase I of the serum is the one described from Part I: From the Dark to Part III: Six Shots by Midnight in Lovecraft’s tale “Herbert West – Reanimator.” Phases II and III will be discussed in the next article. However, based on a review of the three identified Phases of the serum and other available information I hypothesize that the serum is a type of Cell Therapy, which involves injecting living cells into an individual as a sort of immunotherapy.

stem-cell-applications

Potential applications for Stem Cell Therapy – is the West serum a type of cell therapy designed to reanimate dead tissue (www.howstuffworks.com)?

An example of cell therapy is injecting T cells into an individual as a means of fighting cancer cells through immunotherapy. More recently, Stem Cell Therapy has been noted as a very promising means of treating neurological or genetic diseases. In the case of West’s serum, the serum can reanimate dead tissues. While some of these cells are obviously the same as those for the individual species being treated (human carrier cells for humans being treated), some other cells are involved in the treatment. What are these “other” cells? This will be discussed, as well as how West modified the serum and treatment in Phases II and III, in the next article. Thank you – Fred.

The Science of Reanimation, Part 1

liberal_arts5_mikatonic-university.org

Miskatonic University (www.miskatonic-university.org)

While Miskatonic University is well known for its Department of Metaphysics and various other departments representing the physical and natural sciences, Miskatonic also has a well-established Medical School. Herbert West received his medical degree from Miskatonic; his own personal research involved reanimating the dead. His colleague and assistant Dan Cain, not named in H.P. Lovecraft’s tale “Herbert West – Reanimator” but named so in Stuart Gordon’s film Reanimator, also received his medical degree from Miskatonic University. It is Cain who documents West’s progress and their adventures through the tale.

In the tale West develops a serum that can bring the dead back to life. While he experimented on a variety of mammals he eventually came up with a serum specifically designed for humans. Although there is no detailed explanation on the biochemical components of the serum, or on how it specifically operates to reanimate the dead, apparently the serum was species-specific. Thus to perfect the serum West needed human test subjects; lab animals were not effective surrogate models for the serum.

herbert_west__reanimator_by_cowboy_lucas

Herbert West – Reanimator by Cowboy Lucas (www.deviantart.com)

In addition to being species-specific, there are some additional limitations associated with the serum. For example, the “condition of the tissues” is an important factor in determining the success of the procedure. The serum does not work if actual decomposition has set in or if vital organs are missing or damaged. In addition, it should be emphasized that the reanimated are not undead – that is, they are not zombies. Physiologically the body is operating; in a sense it has been “kick started” back to life. However, it is the limitations associated with the brain that prevents full recovery.

The brain controls of our bodily functions and actions; electrical impulses travel from the brain down our spinal cord and into the nervous system throughout our body. Thus, when you reach for a glass of water your brain is giving the command, it travels down the spinal cord and into your nerve cells in your hand, which commands your muscles to contract and your bones to move to grab that glass. This is a two-way street. If you pick up a hot cup of coffee and it burns your hand, the pain is registered as an electrical impulse, which travels to your brain warning you, “hey this is really hot!” You immediately drop the coffee but the brain is warning you about the heat – through pain – so you don’t experience large-scale tissue damage.

Sobo_1909_623

The human brain (www.wikipedia.com)

Ironically, while the brain can feel pain from all over the body, it cannot feel pain itself (www.science.howstuffworks.com). Additionally, the brain cannot store oxygen or nutrients (glucose) so it is highly dependent on the rest of the body to keep it fueled. Brain death occurs when the brain is not receiving the oxygen and nutrients it needs to operate.  Fueling the brain and the rest of the body is the job of the circulation system, which obviously includes the heart.

The brain can survive for up to six minutes after the heart stops. After six minute the brain begins to die. However, even within the six minutes a certain amount of brain damage may occur, which is why anyone experiencing a cardiac arrest needs cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) as soon as possible – to get oxygen and nutrients back to the brain and minimize brain damage. Still, even with some types of brain damage medical care and rehabilitation may restore lost functions and individuals can re-learn essential activities. In the case of Dr. West the line “they just weren’t fresh enough” is referring to brain death. The wild, erratic and murderous actions of the reanimated are at least partially due to the varying degrees of brain damage the patients experienced prior to reanimation. However, a large part of their wild behavior and other symptoms, such as super-strength, must be side-effects associated with West’s serum.

Reanimator_zps7d9b358c

Reanimator by Jeff Powers (www.deviantart.com)

West tries to circumvent this limitation associated with the brain in a number of ways and we will get into that in later episodes. However, I would like to conclude this discussion with the philosophy of Herbert West. Much like H.P. Lovecraft West is a Materialist in his view of reality – that is…”all life is a chemical and physical process, and that the so-called “soul” is a myth.” This point was made by a number of others including S.T. Joshi (I Am Providences: The Life and Times of H.P. Lovecraft, 2013) and Kenneth Hite (Tour de Lovecraft: The Tales, 2011), that Lovecraft’s Mechanistic Materialism philosophy is clearly shared by Herbert West. While Cain also seems to share this Materialist philosophy twice in the tale, once toward the beginning and once toward the end, Cain expresses some curiosity for what the patients can tell them about what is beyond death.

Early in the tale Cain states he “…wondered what sights this placid youth might have seen in inaccessible spheres, and what he could relate if fully restored to life.” Later, when referring to West’s Materialist philosophy Cain states, “I did not wholly disagree with him theoretically, yet held vague instinctive remnant of the primitive faith of my forefathers; so that I could not help eyeing the corpse with a certain amount of awe and terrible expectation.” According to Joshi, Lovecraft is poking fun at both his own Materialist philosophy as well as those who are religious and believe in the existence of a soul (Joshi, 2013). However, I think this could also be part of Lovecraft’s curiosity peeking out. While a staunch Materialist, I’m sure Lovecraft would have been very excited to hear what someone who has died and come back to life had to say; while he was a strict atheist, I’m sure he would have been interested to hear what a reanimated corpse saw in the inaccessible spheres.

Next time we will discuss in more detail the reanimated serum and how it may have worked. Thank you – Fred.

HerbertWest_www.dibujantes.org

Herbert West (www.dibujantes.org)