DVD Review: The Whisperer In Darkness (2011)
Review by Annie Riordan
Sometimes, stalking pays off. I offer my recent 4,000+ mile move from Northern California to remote Rhode Island as proof. The final resting place of H.P. Lovecraft, the father of cosmic horror, is now a mere 10 minute drive from my front door. But hey, stalking a dead guy is easy. My relocation from west to east made my stalking of the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society, based in Glendale, CA. much more difficult. But after seeing their maiden voyage into cinema back in ’05 (I refer, of course, to the silent adaptation of “The Call Of Cthulhu”) I made it my mission to invite myself to their party and overstay my welcome.
Thankfully, actor/writer/producer/director Sean Branney is pretty tolerant of rude gatecrashers such as myself and remembered me when the time came to pass out screeners of the long-awaited and much-anticipated Mythoscopic follow up to Cthulhu: a feature length adaptation of “The Whisperer In Darkness” whose teaser trailer has been bopping around the interwebs since ’07. Go me!
Filmed in glorious black and white, the crew at HPLHS have once again managed to create a genuine, nostalgia ridden throwback to the good old days of Universal creature features with a noticeable nod in the direction of 40s film noir to boot. TWID is the story of Albert Wilmarth, a WASPy, fussy little folklore professor at good old Miskatonic U. Albert is a man of science, fastidious in his rimless spectacles and neat sweater vests, and determined in his efforts to expose the myths and legends of old for what they are: products of overactive imaginations. He even agrees to go head to head with Charles Fort in a radio broadcast debate which leaves him looking a tad shortsighted, and not just a little bit pigheaded. Still smarting from his public humiliation, Albert quickly finds himself challenged to put his money where his mouth is and investigate for himself a series of strange goings-on in nearby Vermont.
Recent heavy rains and torrential flooding have washed some strange looking remains down from the hills and into the river valleys, corpses of huge crustaceous things with wings and pincers. Lifelong resident Henry Akeley has been pleading with Albert for months to see for himself the hideous creatures which populate the dark hills and who have made even darker bargains with mankind. Confronted with compelling physical evidence in the form of photographs and some chilling audio recordings of the creatures allegedly imitating human speech whilst conducting a demonic ritual, Albert’s curiosity finally gets the better of him and off he goes into backwoods Vermont, certain that science will reign supreme and all these foolish tales of monsters will be easily explained away as the primitive fancies of the uneducated mind. But Albert soon finds both his life and his sanity in mortal peril when he discovers that the tales are not only true and the creatures not only real, but that all of mankind is precariously balanced on the precipice of a cosmic apocalypse so vast, it is beyond the grasp of even the most brilliant of human minds.
The one thing that really resonated with fans of the HPLHS’s film version of Cthulhu was its staggering faithfulness. It was perhaps the most faithful interpretation of Lovecraft’s most famous tale, wisely not seeking to do anything more than to tell the story exactly the way that Lovecraft wrote it. Having done such, the HPLHS has earned the right to flex a bit and – while staying true to the tale – expands upon it this time around, and finishes the story which, admittedly, Lovecraft sort of ended in the middle.
All of the basic elements remain intact: the period costumes, the dry academics, the horror lurking just below the surface of rawboned country folk. None of Lovecraft’s original story is tampered with in any way, but Lovecraft wasn’t a screenwriter either. The bulk of his stories, if they were put on screen exactly as written, would be dead boring. The lions share of action lies in the inner dialogue of his protagonists. That doesn’t work well in a film. So, Albert is given a backstory, a personality and someone to care about other than himself in the form of a gutsy little girl. Girls seldom made an appearance in Lovecraft’s writing, a neverending source of frustration for me personally, so it was nice to see one at long last. A thrilling, climactic chase scene involving a biplane is thrown in for good measure, because – as the filmmakers rightly note in the ample making-of featurette – what’s the point of having monsters that can fly if you neglect to have a midair chase scene? It doesn’t change the story, it just suggests: “what if?” And hey, why not? Ludo Fore Putavimus, after all!
Perhaps if the filmmakers had had anything less to work with than a cast and crew of totally dedicated professionals, the liberties taken with the tale would not have worked in their favor. But the acting – particularly by lead man Matt Foyer (ain’t gonna lie, gotta bad crush on this dweeby little thespian, who suggests something of Herbert West in his uptight, slightly smug portrayal of Albert Wilmarth) – is flawless and totally convincing. How refreshing – a low budget horror flick with ACTUAL GOOD ACTORS in it! No slouch either is the special effects crew, who strive for the slightly corny feel of a 50s sci-fi flick without ever descending into utter ridiculousness. Some of it is even downright ghastly gross!
This double disc set is stuffed to bursting with extras, which demand to be watched if only so that the hard work and loyalty of the company can be fully appreciated. And I must personally say that the wait for this film – what was it, about 3 years? 4? – was worth it. I was as satisfied as a rusty widow on the receiving end of a professional gigolo screwing after a ten year dry spell.
But now the wait begins for their next film. What will it be? The Shunned House? The Shadow Over Innsmouth? The Rats In The Walls? I don’r know, but I hope to see the HPLHS churn out all of them and more, eventually. Lovecraft Mythos – they’re doin’ it right.