As I’ve said here, here, and here, I’ve been looking forward to seeing the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society‘s film adaptation of HPL’s “The Whisperer in Darkness,” one of his most famous stories. The movie arrived last week and, a couple days ago, I sat down to watch both it and the accompanying “extras” DVD.
Executive Summary: If you like Lovecraft’s horror tales and aren’t a “no deviations from the text” purist; if you enjoy horror movies from the 1930s in the “Universal style;” or if you’re a fan of well-done independent film-making, I think you’ll greatly like “Whisperer.” Grab a hot dog, popcorn, and coke, sit back, and enjoy.
Full Review: In brief, “Whisperer” tells the story of Dr. Albert Wilmarth, Professor of Folklore at Miskatonic University and a deep skeptic of the idea that there is anything real behind the legends of strange beings haunting the hill of northern Vermont. When Wilmarth receives an invitation from a regular correspondent in the area, Henry Akeley, to come for a visit to discuss the legends and strange happenings more deeply, he accepts.
And then Very Bad Things happen.
One thing to bear in mind is that, conforming to the styles and standards of the period, there is little blood and gore in Whisperer. “Halloween” this isn’t, and I say that’s a good thing. Rather than trying to make you throw up by overwhelming you with buckets of guts and severed limbs, and without resorting to yet another nubile 20-something ingenue pretending to be a nubile teen who’s investigating a strange noise while dressed only in her lingerie (1), we’re presented with a patient (but never slow) build up of tension and mood that brings us into the movie’s world and lets us get to know Wilmarth before the action really gets going.
The use of black and white film, albeit required for the genre, fit the filmmaker’s needs perfectly; I don’t think this story could be done right in color. And special praise goes to whoever was in charge of the lighting (there’s no lighting credit on the site); at times I was reminded of the wonderful use of light and shadow from German Expressionist films of the 1920s and 30s.
Other technical matters were equally well-handled: costuming, makeup effects (God save me if I ever have to wear a life-mask as Barry Lynch did.), modelling and miniatures, the works. Special note has to be taken of the Mi-Go, the hyper-intelligent brain-stealing jumbo shrimp from space who are the monsters behind the legends. Originally planned to be done with models, the creators finally had to resort to CGI, but I didn’t feel them out of place with the rest of the movie’s look.
(It’s a this point, also that I commend to you the DVD extras disc. Not only does it have deleted scenes and the trailers, but a series of neat documentaries on the making of Whisperer, one general, the others being short treatments of specific topics. They were as interesting as the movie itself.)
As for the cast, everyone was good to excellent, but two stand out: Matt Foyer as “Albert Wilmarth” and Barry Lynch as “Henry Akeley.” It’s safe to say that their performances “make” the movie: Foyer portrays Wilmarth as a good-natured rational man of the 20th century brought face-to-face with The Horrifying Truth(tm), while Akeley wins the award for the creepiest old man in movie history. His rasping giggle could make Dracula’s servant Renfield cringe.
The secondary cast all play their parts well, and I was impressed by 11-year old Autumn Wendell, who played Hannah Masterson: a very disciplined and good actress.
One thing I alluded to above is deviations from Lovecraft’s original story. They’re considerable and of necessity in order to make a good movie. Some are little, such as giving Wilmarth some background that comes into play later in the story and adding minor characters in a few scenes. Others are more substantial: “Hannah” is an addition, used to hook Wilmarth through his family’s past and to give him something to care about and fight for.
The other is a continuation of the story past the ending Lovecraft gave it, which, as I’ve described before, is typical of the style of the weird fiction of the time: ending on a weird, horrific revelation with no definite conclusion.
This would be, for most people, unsatisfying in a movie, so the filmmakers decided this moment was the end of Act II and added an entirely new “Act III.” Purists might object to this and other changes made, but I think they all came together in a way that improves the story and works better for an audience. I’d like to think old HPL would approve.
Of any complaints I have, they’re all minor: I would like to have seen the deleted scenes left in. (The setting of Wilmarth’s discovery of an old manuscript wasn’t clear to me until after I saw the deleted scene.) I thought Daniel Kaemon, who plays cult leader P.F. Noyes, played his part a bit over the top, but not out of line for the period and genre. And the disc menus and “subtitle” text in the making-of featurettes were way too small: the text was very hard to read at a normal viewing distance.
Yes, those are quibbles. As I said at the start, I was greatly looking forward to this movie and I wasn’t let down. I had a blast watching it, and I think you will, too.
Just stay away from Vermont. Trust me.
(1) It’s not that I object to nubile 20-somethings running around in lingerie, but it’s such a cliche…