Those madcap fellows at the H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society have done it again. Back in 2005 they released the marvelous short film, THE CALL OF CHTHULU—and because the original short story was published in 1927 during the era of silent films, they made it a b & w silent film. THE WHISPERER IN DARKNESS is another short gem from the master of gothic horror, H. P. Lovecraft—and because this one was published in 1931, the onset of the era of the great Universal International black & white horror goodies (Frankenstein, The Wolfman, The Mummy, ect) this one is also done in b & w, with a soundtrack, and is a full length feature film.
Lovecraft’s work has always been a challenge to film makers, both independent and Hollywood. His tales tend to be brief, descriptive, short on action and often with truncated plots that end with the terror of the first contact between narrator and monster. Thing is, the descriptions are often so compelling readers forgive Lovecraft his narrative flaws. Film makers, on the other hand, have to compensate for them. Typically, big budget films mine his material for concepts and characters, redirecting the tales themselves from uneven confrontations between staid rationality and blasphemous cosmic horror to more clichéd fare.
In their first effort, also very low budget, the HPLHS chose a long enough story that they could remain almost faithful to it, paring away rather than adding to the tale. Here, given the abruptness of the ending of the original short fiction, they have added characters and a completely new third act, once the protagonist is motivated to reach beyond his desire to flee the beasties infesting the Vermont back woods and their dark magic/science. The first two thirds of the film are heavy on conversation and mood making, including a long winded public debate between a believer and a disbeliever of things that go bump in the night. Once the film makers get to their own part of the story, however, the action is nonstop.
The story takes place during a period of unusual torrential rains (that actually happened in 1927) and the poor lead actor, Matt Foyer, gets drenched throughout the film almost to the point of unintentional humor. He is obviously a trooper, but the experience was trying, which he freely admits on the bonus CD about the making of the film. Exteriors are always overcast, or filmed at night, and interiors, once the action moves from the relative security of Miskatonic University tend to be dark and menacing. The Mi-Go, the extraterrestrials, are nifty crab-people with exposed brains and tentacles for faces, although at one point their wings appear to be organic and at another they look to be mechanical. (They are actually fungoid in the story.) And the biplane verses alien confrontation is not to be missed.
Matt Foyer (who had a small role in CALL OF CHTHULU) as the bespectacled Professor Albert Wilmarth deadpans his transformation from scoffing disbeliever, to earnest seeker, to horrified witness, to unlikely hero… Barry Lynch gets the fun role of Henry Akeley, the grizzled farmer who first reaches out to Wilmarth for help against the beasties surrounding his farm after he has stolen an artifact and killed one of them (unfortunately, their alien composition does not lend itself to being filmed—fortunately there is a gizmo at the university which allows them to be seen in the otherwise blurry image, lending credence to Lynch’s wild allegations and momentum to the tale) before inexplicably deciding the aliens are actually benign. The film also introduces child actor, Autumn Wendel, as the eleven year old heroine who saves and motivates Wilmarth to action. She appears to be headed for stardom.
While not entirely faithful to the 1930’s film style, due to budget constraints and differing technologies, the film faithfully captures much of the look and spirit of those efforts to both frighten and teach their audience through lighting, miniatures, props, soundtrack and costumes. Back in those days, film was still a new enough medium to completely dazzle, with only stage acting and radio for competition. There was no TV to lull the audience to complacency or internet to instantly debunk any of the fanciful concepts or dubious interpretations flickering upon the big screen.
Filmed over a two year period, WHISPERER features many actor friends of the director/producers, and the accompanying tale of its making is as entertaining as the film itself. Released in 2011 at numerous film festivals, WHISPERER has garnered much critical acclaim and is available through Gathr Films for public viewing. http://gathr.us/films/the-whisperer-in-darkness
Or you can just buy a copy for yourself http://www.amazon.com/Whisperer-Darkness-Matt-Foyer/dp/B006LMRMMA/ref=sr_1_1?s=movies-tv&ie=UTF8&qid=1382140664&sr=1-1&keywords=whisperer+in+darkness+dvd
Or you can just cheap out and borrow it from your local library. Miss it at your own peril, however. The Mi-go are here, and they can put thoughts in our minds!
© Paul L. Bates, 2013