The Whisperer in Darkness (2011)
By: Fin H. on May 9, 2013 | Comments
Monster Pictures | Region 4, NTSC | 1.78:1 (16:9 enhanced) | English DD 5.1 | 103 minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: Sean Branney
Starring: Barry Lynch, Stephen Blackehart, Annie Abrams, P.J. King, Zack Gold
Screenplay: Sean Branney, Andrew Leman
Country: USA
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The body of work of H.P. Lovecraft, the immeasurably influential godfather of cosmic horror, has had so many whacks taken at it by filmmakers over the years that it has started to resemble a sort of tentacled, long-suffering piñata. Approaches taken have varied from the darkly comical zombie bloodbath (Reanimator) to the lush and campy classic Gothic horror (The Haunted Palace) to giving Al from Quantum Leap a sex offender mo and surrounding him with hippy-dippy psychedelic light effects (The Dunwich Horror). Whilst each of these strategies have been effective in their own ways, it seems fair to say that somebody has finally gone about it the right way. That somebody is the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society, and it's strikingly evident from the outset that this film is a labour of love.

That's not to say that the H.P.L.H.S. has adhered slavishly to every detail of Lovecraft's classic tale of intergalactic flying crab monsters buzzing around rural Vermont: on the contrary, it expands greatly upon the source material and adds an entirely new third act, complete with a rollicking, ripping yarns-style chase scene near the end. The fact that the film does not suffer for this speaks volumes about the vast gulf between the written word and the moving picture as story-telling media. Even the most ardent Lovecraft aficionado (and I count myself among their ranks) would admit that the great man wasn't big on endings; once the big reveal had happened and the mind-warping horror in question had been exposed, that was pretty much your dollar's worth and the narrator would usually obligingly blow his brains out or resign himself to a lifetime of daubing arcane symbols on the wall in his own poo at Arkham Asylum. This works well on the page but tends to be a bit dissatisfying for the average film goer.

In this rendition, then, we are guided through the journey of Professor Albert Wilmarth as he is lured out into the backwoods by a paranoid, reclusive correspondent and learns the truth about the insidious Mi-Go, but are treated to a dramatic conclusion to proceedings without sacrificing Lovecraft's trademark nihilistic gloominess. The entire affair is done in the style of a 30's-era Universal Pictures type horror and it is gratifying to see the pains which the H.P.L.H.S. has taken to perfectly replicate that feel and the outstanding dedication shown to period authenticity.

Given the budget restrictions, it was somewhat inevitable that a few cracks would show in the production values (cave interiors that look like those from a Saturday-morning 80's cartoon, rain which seems oddly localised around the protagonists) but overall the work on show is sterling: they even make a credible stab at recreating the bizarre Mi-Go (creatures who were, frankly, always doomed to look a bit hokey and ridiculous even from their descriptions in the source material). The story dates from a time when Lovecraft's writing was beginning to venture into the realms of true science fiction, and the sci-fi devices, particularly the "brain machine", have a gloriously authentic, old-school look to them.

The performances are commendable all round, but Autumn Wendel stands out in her role as young Hannah, an innocent country girl caught up in the Mi-Go's trans-dimensional machinations. The scarcity of female characters in the writings of Lovecraft has been well-documented, but the inclusion of this character, entirely invented by the filmmakers, adds an extra dimension to the drama and, crucially, gives the audience someone to empathise with and fear for. The wet fish Professor Wilmarth fits snugly in the mould of the classic Lovecraftian protagonist: more of a plot device than a person, and hard to really sympathise with (no matter how anguished he looks later on his earlier scepticism pretty much dooms him to get what's coming to him).
The Disc
The picture quality is excellent – almost so much so that it detracts a tiny bit from the old-timey 30's vibe the creators were going for. Nevertheless, the black and white is crisp and strong. The sound, too, is top notch, almost belying the low-budget, "gifted amateurs" type origins of the film. A special mention must go to Troy Sterling Nies' rich, atmospheric orchestral score, which also seems like it belongs in a much more expensive, grander film. No audio options are given, though.

A fairly substantial 'making of' brings home to the viewer just how much the makers cared about getting this right, and gives a bit of insight into the process, although less time could perhaps have been lavished on telling us how they made it rain (incidentally, the colour footage seen here demonstrates that The Whisperer in Darkness could almost have stood up as a colour production). The real find, however, is the recent silent film version of Lovecraft's signature piece The Call of Cthulhu in its entirety. This predecessor to Whisperer is a superb film and finding it here is rather like buying Pulp Fiction and finding Reservoir Dogs in the extras menu (don't cry, I'm not comparing those films to these ones…). Trailers for both and a highly informative commentary are also included.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
Any shortcomings or flaws are eclipsed by the simple fact that The Whisperer in Darkness accomplishes exactly what it sets out to do, which is to recreate in cinematic form the unique atmosphere and flavour of the writings of possibly the single most important author of weird fiction in the 20th century. The quaint, anachronistic feel of the film is entirely deliberate and, though it may be slow-moving in parts, the end result is a qualified success.
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