The Summer of Lovecraft: The Unnamable (1988)

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“There are things on God’s earth that we can’t explain and we can’t describe.”

Directed by Jean-Paul Ouellette
Starring Charles Klausmeyer, Mark Kinsey Stephenson and Alexandra Durrell

The Story

This 1923 short (published in 1925) is basically a brief literary joke. Randolph Carter (although he’s not actually called that in the story; he’s just “Carter”) and his friend Joel Manton are arguing about weird fiction — specifically, Manton is making fun of Carter’s habit of referring to things as “unnamable” or “indescribable.” This conversation parallels debates between Lovecraft and his friend Maurice W. Moe. But when Manton has a run-in with a real monster, the only thing he can say about it to Carter is that it was “unnamable.” Jooooookes!

The film

Back in Olden Tymes, a man in a daft hat has a monster in his house. He keeps it locked up, but when he finally lets it out, it does a predictable murder on him. Superstitious neighbours, apparently dressed up for their school’s Thanksgiving pageant, order the house sealed. They bury him in a convenient nearby buryin’-ground.

summerattemp2

Cut to our modern characters talking in the buryin’-ground and having an argument about whether things can be described. Carter (Stephenson) is our author, Manton (Mark Parra) is a smug scientist and either they’re just ignoring their friend Damon (Charles “King” Klausmeyer) or he’s actually a ghost and neither of them can see him. They use overdone dialogue to arrange the usual spend-the-night-in-the-haunted-house dare.

Howard is sweet on fellow student Wendy, who prefers Carter. She accuses him of following her around; he is shamefaced.

Meanwhile, back at the house, Manton is poking around, exploring by candlelight. When spoooooky things start to happen, he naturally thinks Carter and Howard are playing pranks on him. Eventually, he runs into the actual monster, who gives him the crunchy, squelchy, blood-spray-y bum’s rush. Howard gets worried and tries to get Carter to help look for the missing Joel in a scene that lasts approximately one million years, while two fratboy doofuses try to recruit Wendy and her oddly-accented friend Tanya (Durrell) to visit the spooky house as part of a fraternity initiation.

Wendy, Tanya and the oaves explore the house, only to find themselves locked in like Joel was. Back at the university, Howard is worried about Joel, and tries to persuade Carter to help a-gain. The hapless dipshits wander around the old house some more. No flashlight-shining into an empty room is left unfilmed. Wendy gets it on with Lunkhead A — totally called-for boobs! — while Lunkhead B tries to get things started with Tanya. When she spurns him, he chalks it up to a misunderstanding and apologises. In a scene that has never happened in any previous horror movie, Wendy finds Joel’s severed head during a moment of intimacy. Then it’s back to slightly quicker house-around-wandering for the next little while. Lunkhead A gets murdered by the creature while running around in a blind panic. Lunkhead B is curiously unmoved when he finds him.

Finally the alleged protagonists show up, having spent forever and a day getting some lanterns from Carter’s house. Howard and Tanya flirt unconvincingly. Lunkhead B gets murdered by the monster, which has big fun-fur yeti feet but is otherwise wisely kept backlit for most of its appearances.

Carter, who is still manifestly refusing to believe the plot exists, finds the requisite copy of the Necronomicon. This starts the flashback that tells him about the origin of the monster and the “ancient secrets of the tree spirits” that might help defeat it. After some more wandering, Wendy loses her shit and attacks Howard, whom she blames for Lunkhead’s death because something has to be done to extend the narrative. Just as she’s about to do him in, he faints or something and the beast kills her. Meanwhile, Carter has been reading and the heat-death of the universe is just getting closer and closer.

More and more and more wandering around the house; the monster chases them a bit while the soundtrack goes deedly-deedly. Carter prays to some trees; the camera shakes to indicate that this is important. I think we’re meant to think the trees are moving? Finally we see the monster in all its monstery glory; it claws Carter and Tanya and throws them around a bit. Tanya whacks it with a maglite and breaks its arm, which is pretty cool. Then a tree attacks and it seems unhappy.

Oh, and apparently its name is Alyda, which … guys … you know what The Unnamable should not have? A motherfucking name what is wrong with you.

Tanya and Howard smooch, but then some skellington hands appear for no reason and grab Howard. Don’t worry, it’s just Carter making an entrance. He and Howard fight them off with a styrofoam gravestone.

What’s wrong with it?

It’s boring. I mean it’s really boring. A huge chunk of it is just unlikeable stereotypes wandering around an old house pointing lights at things; there’s no tension, partly because the filmmakers forgot to do the whole aura-of-menace thing and partly because the characters you might care about are AWOL.

The dialogue is delivered with a bland awkwardness that fits well with the writing.

The music is … well, it’s not great.

The killings aren’t gory enough to be shocking or artsy enough to be interesting.

There is a smoove synth jam over the credits.

BREAKING: Holy shit it’s on YouTube:

What’s right with it?

Randolph Carter is sort of charmingly dweeby?

How bad is it really?

It’s just so very boring and formulaic. The original story isn’t feature-length material, so the creators just bolted on some common-or-garden haunted house crap and called it a day.

Best bit (if such there is)?

  • Tanya: “what do guys see in Wendy?” Howard: “I think most guys just see her as a good time.” Tanya: “it’s her big tits, isn’t it?”
  • Carter, on hearing about the monster; “unnamable, hmmmmm?”
  • Howard: “Joel’s dead!” Carter: “That’s to be expected.”

What’s up with…? 

  • The Necronomicon? Are the pages written in invisible ink? Most of them appear to be blank.
  • The outfits? Did university students in the late 1980s really wear jackets and ties to class?
  • Randolph Carter? He seems to have wandered in from another — and possibly better — film; at least a film that is aware it is garbage and is just having fun.
  • The monster’s hairy little goat-feets? They really needed to come up with something a little scarier.
  • Tree … spirits … ?
  • The disembodied voice of the monster’s dad says it’s “time to come home,” but … the monster is home.

Ratings

Production values The best 1988 DTV horror has to offer; i.e. it sucks. 14
Dialogue and performances I’m hungry for a big slice of ham. And cardboard. Actually, what I could go for right now is a  big pile of cardboard with just a little bit of ham. 15.
Plot and execution Wander, wander, boobs, claw, tree spirits. 16.
Randomness I believe I mentioned the tree spirits. Other than, this movie’s problem is predictability, not randomness. 13.
Waste of potential Whoah, some people are making a movie of a barely-there Lovecraft gag story with no budget, stars or good ideas? I bet that’s gonna be great. 12.

Overall 70%

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