The Summer of Lovecraft: Necronomicon (1993)

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Directed by Brian Yuzna, Christophe Gans and Shusuke Kaneko
Starring Jeffrey Combs, Bruce Payne, Maria Ford and David Warner

The Story

The Necronomicon itself is one of Lovecraft’s most famous creations, a tome that serves sometimes as a grimoire, sometimes as a secret history of the universe. Lovecraft wrote a cod history of it. The short stories that appear in this anthology are based on “The Rats in the Walls,” “Cool Air” and “The Whisperer in Darkness.”

The Film

We start with a brief framing segment (‘The Library’) in which Lovecraft (Jeffrey Combs) steals the Necronomicon from a bunch of monks. He opens it up and begins to read the stories; we return to this narrative between segments.

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The Drowned

Bruce Payne plays the last member of the Delapoer family returning to his ancestral homeland — so far, so “Rats in the Walls.” But then the story takes a turn for the weird; apparently Delapoer’s ancestor Jethro was into some black magic-type stuff, which he used to resurrect his dead wife and son. Sadly for him, they came back as monsters and he killed himself, crazed with grief. But Bruce doesn’t care about that part; he’s got a dead wife of his own (Maria Ford) to resurrect. She comes back with her nudity obscured by her long tresses again! I guess her last appearance as Braidsy McMonsterson was only the previous year. Anyhow, surprise, surprise, she’s a monster, or rather a sort of of anglerfish lure on the tentacle of a larger monster (perhaps “Cathloo”) in the basement. Fortunately, like all creepy Gothic houses, this one has some swords lying around. Edward chops his “wife” up, then frightens the monster with sunlight (but he was just asleep in bed a minute ago) and drops a pointy chandelier in its big starey eye.

I have to tell you, even if getting taken out by a steamship is not amazing, getting taken out by Bruce Payne with a chandelier is an even worse way for “Cathlu” to go.

Back to the library, where the monks are looking for ol’ HPL and he’s starting the next story. Jeffrey Combs’ chin prosthetic is really distracting. In the Necronomicon safe, doors are opening; under the book cage, a pool is a-bubbling. I am convinced that this is poor conservation for delicate manuscripts.

The Cold

Boston in a heatwave, but one woman’s house is freezing. Reporter Dale Porkel (note to future screenwriters: do not name characters “Porkel”) is investigating a series of murders. The woman tells him the story of her mother Emily coming to live in the house. When she moves in, the only other tenant is Dr Madden (David Warner). Then: a totally called-for shower sequence! Her abusive stepfather comes to bring her home; she struggles with him, but as he’s getting the upper hand, bluey-white David Warner steps in and scalpels a bitch. He gives her the spiel about his rare disease … oh, you know, it’s “Cool Air” but with blood spatter, boobs and jump scares. And I guess he kills people to harvest their spinal fluid? Also, like Jethro Delapoer, he’s got the Necronomicon, but this one is full of fun facts about the water bear.

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Sooo cute! Also, there was an episode of The Octonauts about these little darlings. Explore! Rescue! Protect!

Anyway, David Warner is creepily in love with Emily and he undeadly, freezingly sexes her up amid the roses of his super-cold hothouse. David Warner, who a) is David Warner, and b) we have established is a cool-to-the-touch corpse, but the whole thing is pitched as a romantic moment, including a lingering shot of Dr Madden’s O-face. Then Lena the landlady flips out and threatens Emily with a knife because she too is enamoured of David Warner! Clearly he knows something I don’t. When Emily interferes in Madden and Lena’s murder spree, an unconvincing fire starts. David Warner starts to melt and Lena shoots Emily, then spares her because she’s pregnant. But with Madden melted, who’s doing the murders? Porkel figures out that his host is really Emily but OH SHIIIIIIIIT she’s poisoned him for his fluids the end.

Back in the library, Lovecraft is still reading. More doors open. More bubbles bubble.

Whispers

Some cops are driving around inner-city Philadelphia chasing a guy; they enter the territory of the murderous psychopath known as “The Butcher.” Apparently cops Paul (Obba Babatunde) and Sarah (Signy Coleman) have some history together and she is pregnant.  We know this because they discuss it during the high speed pursuit. Their car crashes, but before Sarah can grab him Paul is dragged away by someone … or some thing. She follows the blood trail into one of those convenient deserted warehouses and falls down a hole. A random old man tells her the Butcher is in the building, but she insists on pursuing the trail. The old man and his wife have a copy of the Necronomicon. She shouts at them a lot. The old lady tells her the Butcher is an alien.

I promise it’s not my summary of the plot that is disjointed.

Into the tunnels below the building they go; it’s like a haunted house down there, with all carvings and sconces and whatnot. She argues a bit with the man, then the blind lady lights her on fire and throws her into a pit. There’s a lot of shouting about whether there is or isn’t a god, as if to give this all significance. Down the hole there are corpses, and Sarah rolls around in them and gets all bloody until she winds up on an altar, going on about her baby as if anyone cared.

Unconvincing flying aliens appear! I guess they’re meant to be Mi-Go or similar? Paul appears as a sort of zombielike hollow shell and Sarah knocks him out. Oh snap! Inside is an unconvincing alien, which speaks with Paul’s voice. He is preserved as a brain in the alien, I guess as a sort of echo of the canisters in “The Whisperer in Darkness”?

Then the old man and the blind lady reappear, but maybe they are unconvincing aliens? They extend sawlike probosci which they use to saw off Sarah’s limbs; cut to a hospital where she wakes up recovering from a near-death experience in the car crash. The old man and woman are her mother and the doctor — but no they’re not! It’s all just a hallucination. The aliens saw her limbs off and nom up the bone marrow, and maybe they steal the baby? I don’t know at this point. Sarah goes mad; the end!

Back in the library, Lovecraft closes the book with this “what the fuck did I just read?” expression on his face. The Necronomicon starts acting weird, the monks come after him, and Lovecraft goes full action hero, stabbing up “Cathlu” with his sword cane and literally ripping the head monk’s face off, although it doesn’t seem to bother him much. A monster comes flying out of the wall; HPL stabs the monk up and feeds him to it, then runs off with the book. The end!

What’s wrong with it?

Well, like any anthology film, it’s multiple distinct parts. Unfortunately, they go downhill a bit. “The Drowned” would have made an ordinary episode of a supernatural anthology show from the 90s, like Demons or Friday the Thirteenth. “The Cold” is like that but a little shabbier. And “Whispers” has no plot or weight; it’s just a series of images, some of them evocative, most of them ridiculous. Even poor old Jeffrey Combs — usually so reliable — doesn’t get to do much – aside from HPL, action ninja! – possibly because all his prosthetics are weighing him down.

What’s right with it?

Nope.

How bad is it really?

It’s wretched. It starts out boringly adequate but with a few good images and ends up a goofy mess.

Best bit (if such there is)?

Probably Bruce Payne taking out “Cathlu” with a chandelier. I mean, it’s stupid, but it’s definitely a thing. And we certainly didn’t see it coming!

What’s up with…? 

  • Bruce Payne’s random flirty estate agent? She’s there to show that he’s not tempted because he’s still in love with Maria Ford, but still it’s not clear why she’s just randomly and really intensively coming on to him.
  • Cathlu? Seriously, did no-one give Bruce Payne advice on pronunciation? Because I’ve heard a few variants, but that’s a new one.
  • The Satellite of Love doors in the monks’ temple? They go to some other dimension where the head-biting gods live, I guess … but surely that’s what the Necronomicon is for. And the doorway is really like the Satellite of Love, especially at the end when they all close in a sequence.
  • Bruce Payne’s accent? The original story is set in Britain, Bruce Payne is British, everybody else in it is Russian or German or something except Jethro — why not just make it Britain?
  • Brian Yuzna? I mean, like, in general. He has the hallmarks and flaws of Stuart Gordon with none of the restraint or deftness of touch. Or sense of humour, for that matter.
  • Rubber monk? Yeah, the monk squeezes between the bars of the book cage because he’s an alien or something, but previously he’s all ‘open the door with the key you nicked!’

Ratings

Production values  Production on this bad-boy is slightly below par, and I mean for Brian Yuzna. Thick, gloppy gore effects and flailing tentacles abound. 16
Dialogue and performances  This is a variable quality through the film. ‘The Drowned’ isn’t bad and ‘The Cold’ is okay, at least when David Warner isn’t hitting on a woman half his age, but ‘Whispers’ is atrocious. 14
Plot and execution – Being a portmanteau, there isn’t much of an overarching plot apart from HPL exploring the secrets of the past and… well, actually just of the future while a monster tries to escape from the wall safe. The individual plots of ‘The Drowned’ and ‘The Cold’ are okay, but again Whispers is just a hot mess, and even ‘The Cold’ is laden with needless digressions. 14
Randomness – Flirty estate agents, rubber monks, Satellite of Love, God, babies, aliens, whatever16
Waste of potential – So, waste of potential marks have kind of been dropping with expectations, but this was a stinkburger even within the field. 18

Overall 78%

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