“Short Retro Review of
‘The Man Who Was Dead’
by Thomas H. Knight"
by Jordan S. Bassior
This is both a horror story and a monster story, but the essence of the monster at its core is not exactly what one might think. It’s about a very wicked man who seduced and abandoned a young woman, then came back to taunt the woman’s father, and then killed the father when he reacted to this taunting. He was then executed by the State, but a scientist was able to bring him back to life.
The monster in the story is not monstrous because he is a reanimated corpse. He was monstrous when he was still alive, and the only difference now that he is undead is that he is a bit more dangerous than he was before, because he is harder to kill. In the end, of course, he is slain, and the scientist regrets that he ever reanimated him.
The type of monster this story is about is a sadistic sociopath, a creature born without normal human empathy who enjoys causing pain and suffering to others, and sees no reason why he should not do so. Careful readers may have noticed that the titular Man Who Was Dead describes the evil deeds he committed before he was reanimated: we have no idea if he’s done anything foul since his revival, though given his personality I would hardly put it past him.
Indeed, that’s the really radical notion in this story. The monstrousness in the man did not come from his undeath, it is of his own nature. Nowadays, we are familiar with the concept of medical resuscitation; which in 1930 was but a science-fictional and an eerie one at that. A less-imaginative writer would have centered the horror on the notion of returning from the dead: Knight instead centers it on the man’s very real human evil.
Which is what makes the story great.