The Summer of Lovecraft: The Whisperer in Darkness (2011)

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“A Talking H.P. Lovecraft Picture Thrill!”

Directed by Sean Branney
Starring Matt Foyer, Barry Lynch and Andrew Leman

The Story

Written in 1930 and published in 1931, “The Whisperer in Darkness” tells the tale of Albert Wilmarth, a professor at good ol’ Miskatonic University who is initially skeptical of claims that alien beings inhabit remote Vermont hills. He gets into correspondence with a farmer, Henry Akeley, who claims to have proof. The evidence becomes more and more convincing — but suddenly, Akeley tells Wilmarth that he got it all wrong and invites him to visit him in Vermont. And don’t forget to bring all the evidence! It’s a trap, from which Wilmarth barely escapes, but the real centre of the story is the scene where Wilmarth sits in a darkened room, talking to Akeley and gradually starting to realise that all is not as it seems.

The film

The HPLHS’s previous project, The Call of Cthulhu, was a very story-accurate adaptation of the tale into a silent film. Here, they’ve tried to turn the story into something more like a Universal film of the 1930s, which means adding quite a lot of new material. There’s a debate with Charles Fort (Leman) at the beginning and a long, slam-bang action sequence at the end, together with the setup of a group of … well, of Call of Cthulhu investigators that never really goes anywhere. The aliens themselves are represented by some pretty ropey effects, and you can see how much the earlier film benefited from its intentionally stylised look.

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What’s wrong with it?

There’s more wrong with Whisperer than Call in proportion to its greater ambition. The ending action scene is just beyond the production’s means, and unfortunately that means there are places it looks ridiculous, with monsters just sort of looming menacingly near Wilmarth. It has that problem where in order for the hero to triumph the monsters have to look like a bunch of chumps. It also spends a fair amount of time in its first act on setup that doesn’t really go anywhere — one wonders if there’s a sequel planned!

What’s right with it?

Well, it’s still an amazing project, and it has some wonderfully atmospheric scenes. The conversations with the minds in canisters are a lot of fun, and the Akeley conversations in general are good. Wilmarth’s home and university life are neatly, if perhaps needlessly, depicted.

How bad is it really?

It’s fine; it’s just not quite as impressive as its predecessor.

Best bit (if such there is)?

The whole Miskatonic University debate is good; the locations and costumes are charming, and Andrew Leman is a lot of fun as Charles Fort. The tense Akeley scenes are good and the locations manage to evoke several different aspects of a particular period, which is sometimes tough.

What’s up with…? 

  • The Call of Cthulhu investigator party? I was certain they were going to show up at the end to save the day. Ah, OK, the internet tells me these actually are cameos by the filmmakers’ Call of Cthulhu characters. Well, fair enough; it’s not like they haven’t earned a little self-indulgence.

Ratings

Production values Again, an amazing effort — most indie filmmakers wouldn’t mess with a period sci-fi/horror piece. But there are definitely places where the effects are … less than convincing. Even given the period conceit. 10.
Dialogue and performances Good to OK. More dialogue means more chances for things to be a little shaky. 6.
Plot and execution A strong central premise bends a little under the weight of accretions. 4.
Randomness A little odder than the story, with its digressions and cameos. 5.
Waste of potential If you had asked me, I would have said this story was close to unfilmable. Shows what I know! 3.

Overall 28%

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