The Whisperer in Darkness (2011)
This is the sophomore effort by the H.P.Lovecraft Historical Society following their much praised Call of Cthulhu a few years back. Their mission is to create films that adhere more closely to Lovecraft’s original tales while recreating vintage era film styles. Cthulhu is loved for its novelty, for its underdog effort, and for its ingenious ‘no-budget’ filming techniques. It is a silent movie praised by both Lovecraft fans and vintage film enthusiasts. Their second film also calls upon historical styles to tell its tale. It is modeled in the style of early horror films, from the 1930’s – and yes it is a ‘talkie’ – not a silent film.
For those who are not familiar with ‘The Whisperer’ story I will give you the brief. After the Vermont floods of 1927, Professor Albert Wilmarth (Matt Foyer) of the Miskatonic University in Arkham MA, begins to receive letters from Vermont farmer Henry Akeley (Barry Lynch). Professor Wilmarth, a studier of folklore and legends ignores the strange tales until he is approached by George Akeley (Henry’s son) who claims to have evidence of these strange creatures. Wilmarth is given photos and a wax cylinder recording of a ritual ceremony that includes the strange voices of these beasts. Intrigued, Wilmarth communicates with Henry Akeley regularly by mail. Henry’s letters increase with frequency, relaying his paranoia and fear regarding the mysterious creatures which are closing in and surrounding his farm. He minces no words about their malevolent nature. Then suddenly, Henry sends a letter claiming he had been mistaken about the creature’s evil nature and invites Wilmarth to his farm so he can give a full explanation about his encounters. Once at Henry’s farm, Wilmarth discovers the local townspeople are in allegiance with these creatures and he uncovers their plan to open a portal and bring the elders of this alien race to our world.
If you’re a fan of early horror films (1930’s) and regard this film as being made in that time period, you will be quite pleased. The crisp B&W image and the old-style special-fx are consistent with a film from that era. The film has the feel, look and social mindset of films like, The Invisible Man, Frankenstein and Dracula. Even the opening credits are congruent to films of that age. The first glimpse of the creatures are lobster-like shadows cast upon a wooden floor – pincers, claws and insectile legs – a familiar technique used in that age. Troy Sterling Nies delivers an epic, classic score, utilizing an orchestra to produce plodding ominous main themes with hard brass and forceful string arrangements. He utilizes creepy oboe pieces for mood and atmosphere. In the special features you see the filmmaker’s commitment to their ideas. Having no choice in putting their complex monster upon the screen but to use CGI, they tell the animator, we want the CGI to look like old-time stop-motion FX. The FX animator must have been scratching his head at this but he successfully mimicked the style for the film.
Although much of the script is faithful to Lovecraft’s story, the writing team added to the plot and extended the ending for a more dramatic conclusion. Many of Lovecraft’s stories conclude with the main character fleeing the horror – having done nothing – leading the reader to believe that the atrocity continues to this day. The ambiguous ending is great for a short story but not for a film ending. I think what Branney and Lemman (writing team/director/producer) added is fantastic. Wilmarth struggles to save a young girl from the clutches of the beasts while trying to stop the townsfolk from opening the portal to their dimension. The young lady, who plays Hannah (Autumn Wendel), is outstanding and adds an extra layer of emotional depth to the film. You can’t help but root for Hannah and Wilmarth to make their brave escape in the end.
As much as I like Call of Cthulhu, this is a much better made film, smoother and more consistent throughout. Even the HPLHS Logo introduction looks better. It’s rare that I look forward to a filmmaking team’s next projects with such enthusiasm. But even as I finish this review I can’t wait for announcements on what Lovecraft story they will conquer next. Is it on par with the action and themes of today’s modern horror films? Probably not. While I found it intriguing, it fails to capture the true feeling of terror associated with modern horror. What I like most about the film is also what holds it back. No one would think Frankenstein (1931) is scary when watching it today, either. However, is it a successful throw-back to earlier films in style and conception? Yes – and that is what I like about it.