The cinema industry has a poor track record when it comes to films of H. P. Lovecraft’s stories. Despite his often turgid prose, the piling of adjective upon adjective for effect and his ill-concealed snobbery, Lovecraft was a very atmospheric writer. His power comes from what he hints at, as well as from his over-blown descriptive passages. He was also as much a writer of Weird Fantasy as Horror, citing Lord Dunsany as a big influence and constantly exchanging ideas and themes with his friend Clark Ashton Smith. Personality wise I always imagine him as being a bit like a Gothic version of Brian Sewell.
Mainstream films of his tales fall into the trap of delivering his stories via whatever style is the flavour of the month in Cinema Horror. The Re-Animator movies and From Beyond were ridiculously grotesque slasher comedies that owed more to Evil Dead than Lovecraft. The Resurrected was perhaps the closest to its original material (The Case of Charles Dexter Ward). All the rest are Body Horror/Monster film clones that have little to offer the Lovecraft fan.
The H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society have turned the tables round with two indie-produced movies. The first was a silent black and white interpretation of the famous short story Call of Cthulhu. The second, just released, is a full-length film based on the story The Whisperer in Darkness. In a stroke of genius both films were made in the style of movie genres contemporary with Lovecraft himself. Call of Cthulhu pays homage to Expressionist silent movies of the 1920s like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Metropolis. The Whisperer in Darkness combines the mood of the Universal Pictures horror films of the 1930s with the acting styles of later Film Noir masterpieces like The Big Sleep. Gore and elaborate CGI effects are eschewed in favour of stop-motion monsters, stage sets and miniatures. Black and white photography allows for some very atmospheric scenes.
Both films work extremely well. The Whisperer in Darkness, with a bigger budget, showcases some excellent performances and has a real sense of impending dread. The only very minor problem both films suffer from is that the retro style is occasionally undercut by the too-real quality of the video. It would have been better if both films had really gone to town with more stylised Expressionist UFA-style direction and a bit of post-production to age the quality of the film. Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow did both of these to great effect.
Neither film has gone on general release and are available only by mail-order from the H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society. Please buy the movies. Minor quibbles aside these really are labours of love and Lovecraft’s stories well deserve the respectful treatment these guys have meted out.
Go here for Call of Cthulhu
And here for The Whisperer in Darkness