Directed by Stuart Gordon
Starring Ezra Godden and Chelah Horsdal
Lovecraft wrote “The Dreams in the Witch House” in 1932; it was published in 1933. The story follows a Miskatonic University student named Walter Gilman who moves into a rooming house once inhabited by a famous 17th-century witch, Keziah Mason. Gilman thinks that his research in physics and mathematics is actually bringing him close to understanding Keziah’s magic. Spoilers: he’s right. Even more spoilers: it doesn’t do him any good.
Gordon’s adaptation of “Dreams” is a pretty faithful retelling of the Lovecraft story, albeit with less interdimensional travel to weird alien cities and high-gravity worlds and more boobs and jump scares. The story is updated to the modern day along with the physics (the film is set only 10 years ago, but already Gilman’s computer looks hilariously dated), and helpful neighbour Frank Elwood is replaced by distressed single mother and potential love interest Frances.
What’s wrong with it?
Following a pattern seen in Dagon, Gordon tries to make Lovecraft’s horror more visceral and intimate, but only succeeds in making it more like everything else. You have to really work to shoehorn tits into most Lovecraft’s stories, especially as the only female character in this one is a crooked old crone. But no — old Keziah first appears in the form of Gilman’s attractive neighbour. And then claws his back up with scratch marks in the form of a pentagram.
Without the weird interdimensional stuff — which is referred to here, but never really seen — this is more or less just a story about a guy who moves into a spooky old house with a g-g-g-ghost! It also runs on a bizarre coincidence, in that Gilman’s research just happens to dovetail with what he finds in the old house. In the story, by contrast, he’s come to the house where Keziah lived because he’s looking for evidence that magic and weird physics are the same.
What’s right with it?
Also as in previous Lovecraft adaptations, Gordon nails the atmosphere perfectly. The house is just the right combination of seedy and eerie, and Ezra Godden (who was also the lead in Dagon) plays Gilman as someone who might just be crazy. There may be a bunch of corny old horror-movie tropes here, but never let it be said that Stuart Gordon can’t execute a corny old horror-movie trope with the best of them.
And when it goes nutso, it goes effectively nutso. Lovecraft didn’t include Gilman gouging out Keziah’s eyes in their climactic final battle, but I’m sure he would have if he’d thought of it.
How bad is it really?
It’s … OK. It could be a lot worse. Poor old happyfett, as a dad, hates it when kids are in peril in movies, so I don’t think he enjoyed it very much, but on its own terms it’s OK. It’s very well-made, even if it isn’t as ambitious as the story.
Best bit (if such there is)?
Gilman attempts to explain string theory using a teacup and saucer, only to splash tea all over himself and realise that Frances is looking at him like he’s an idiot.
Or, actually, it’s Gilman waking up in the Miskatonic University library to meet an outraged librarian who’s shocked that he’s reading the forbidden Necronomicon … in his boxers.
What’s up with…?
- Boobs? I mean, OK, many people like to look at pretty girls naked, but I have to admit they seem out of place here. Boobs are almost never shocking.
- The police turning up so quickly in response to the screams coming out of Frances’s room? Someone in this house — whether Gilman, Frances or surprisingly knowledgeable neighbour Mr Mazurewicz — screams their head off most evenings. Mr Dombrowski must have a sixth sense for which screams to ignore.
- Gilman’s Miskatonic University t-shirt? I know he’s broke, but he gets a lot of wear out of that thing.
- Mazurewicz’s anti-witch plan? I mean, I get that he’s trying to pray to stop Keziah, but if a witch made me do a shitload of child murders and I got away from her evil spell, I would got a lot farther away than downstairs.
- No Nyarlathotep? I mean, he doesn’t do much, but I’m amazed they didn’t go for the chance to include a sinister high-priest figure. Did I miss him?
Production values Yeah, not bad. 6.
Dialogue and performances Pretty good. Ezra Godden is better here than he was in Dagon, for sure. 10.
Plot and execution I am not completely convinced by some of the adaptation choices. 12.
Randomness Bizarre, but based on a bizarre story. Let’s split the difference. 10
Waste of potential Could have been better, but could have been a lot worse. 10.
The thing of mixing Keziah Mason up with a pretty love interest for Walter seems to be a thing: the rock opera Dreams in the Witch House appears to do it as well. I don’t think we’ve ever done a rock opera here …