Nothing good is easy.
I’m sure I’m not the first person to say that but I will tell you to carve that in stone. Be it in work, play, life or love; it’s just one of those universal truths. And while we’re on the subject, let’s add this little nugget onto that list: the stories of H.P. Lovecraft are difficult to adapt to film. There may be some of you snickering at that remark because you know the vast amounts of understatement I just used. For those who haven’t clambered aboard the Lovecraft bandwagon, please allow me to explain. Lovecraft’s favorite themes had to do with the vastness of infinity and how unknowable it was to mankind’s limited existence. Often, his protagonists would encounter something so mind shattering that it could not be described, explained or even named.
Now try filming that on a typical Hollywood budget.
And not even a big typical budget, but the below ten million dollar budget usually relegated for horror films – which with the current popularity of the cinéma vérité movement in horror, that number is probably closer to just one million dollars. Especially since Hollywood and mainstream audiences demand spectacle from their movies: you have to show the monster. Unnameable and unshowable usually lead you straight to unfilmable.
Unless you’re the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society.
In that case, you get a wonderful adaptation of “the Whisperer in Darkness”.
As in Lovecraft’s original story, we follow Miskatonic University professor Albert Wilmarth (Matt Foyer) as he attempts to disprove the existence of aliens who supposedly occupy the hills of New England. A series of letters from a man (Barry Lynch) in an isolated part of Vermont lures him out to find the truth out for himself.
“The Whisperer in Darkness” is the second film put out by the HPLHS (their first, a silent film version of “The Call of Cthulhu”). As with their first film, the philosophy they have it to shoot the film in the period style of when the story was published – which in this case is 1931. So, we get this gorgeous shadow-heavy, noir-style B&W film much in the style of the classic Universal monster features. I have only two real gripes with the technical side of the film and they are mostly aesthetic. One, as I mentioned before, the film is beautiful and even in standard definition the picture is sharp and clear. However, since I’m expecting the film to emulate the period style, the clarity felt out of place. My other nitpick – and yes, I feel these are nitpicks – is that the CG is a bit dodgy in more than a few spots. There’s a lot of rain in this movie, most of it is CG and it just doesn’t look very good. There are some practical effects glitches as well, but they don’t take away from the whole.
Otherwise, the movie works exceedingly well – as one would expect when you have a group as passionate and knowledgeable of the source material as the HPLHS. One thing particularly noteworthy is the last third of the film. In the original story, Lovecraft ended it after one particularly shocking revelation. In a “standard three act” film, that would have been the end of the second act. And it was here as well, but screenwriters Andrew Leman and Sean Branney (who also directed “Whisperer”) did an excellent job of creating the additional material that felt organic to the original story.
Additionally, the cast does a good job, from top to bottom. Foyer is perfect as the prototypical Lovecraftian hero, Wilmarth. Lynch, as the mysterious Henry Akley, is likewise great and – thanks to some amazing practical effects work from Dave Snyder – doesn’t even need all of his body present to be effective.
“The Whisperer in Darkness” is a respectable sophomore showing for HPLHS Films. It is a “must-see” for fans of all things Lovecraftian and a nice throwback feature for horror fans in general. It’s safe to say their hard work paid off in a nice little film.