on March 6, 2012
It is a strange tradition that indie filmmakers with shoestring budgets inevitably want to make science fiction films. One has trouble discerning why; dramas and comedies are far cheaper and period pieces are just as exotic without the need for special effects. Yet the small film maker continues to pound out high-concept science fiction films regardless of their obvious limitations in this regard.
Then sometimes one of them knocks it out of the park.
The HPLHS already struck gold with Call of Cthulhu, a tremendously faithful 30s expressionist film based on the short story of the same name. With Whisperer they attempt to give a similar treatment to a more narrative Lovecraft story, this time in the trappings of a 1940s talkie. Success in this area is mixed- the feel starts off on target but quickly migrates to the atmosphere of a 60s creature feature... Not that there is anything wrong with that. If anything gives away the film's truly modern nature it is that the photography is a little too clean- again not a problem, and it left me wishing this movie was available on BD as well. The soundtrack is tremendously well done and moody, just like in Call.
Without giving too much away, Whisperer follows the short story faithfully until the end at which point it concludes with an action setpiece not present in the original plot. As if by way of apology, the new ending is actually much more grim than the original, placing the protagonist in a much dimmer situation.
Just as with Call of Cthulhu, the effects here are far better than the film's small scale would suggest. The alien Mi-go in particular are a wonderfully steampunk mashup of creature and clockwork, realized with a very effective mix of models, costuming and CG. Locations are beautifully shot, and the actors fairly douse the production in character- in particular Daniel Kaemon, who plays the cult leader Mr. Noyse, lapses into a fantastic Mid-Atlantic radio presenter accent when he is (unknowingly?) recorded during his dark rituals- it sounds like it should be corny, yet it is eerily effective.
Purists may gape at the liberties taken with the source material, but this is a fantastically solid sci-fi horror flick that is true to the spirit of its source material and for my money far outstrips Lovecraft films with much costlier productions. A must buy if you enjoyed Call, or if you are a fan of old-school horror literature and cinema. This movie proves that epic sci-fi is possible in a small-scale production, and one is left wondering how so many other filmmakers drop the ball.
NOTE: buy with confidence, packaging and shipping are prompt and thorough. Even the invoice that comes with this movie is fun.
A stunning adaptation of a Lovecraft classic! I am not sure how they pulled it off, but this is straight out of the Golden Age of 1930s horror films even though it is brand new! Filmed in "Mythoscope" a style which strives to make it look true to a 1930s Black and White Noir film, they've taken what was a good Lovecraft story and made it a brilliant piece of film making. They kept true to the spirit of the plot and turned it up to eleven. If you are unfamiliar with Lovecraft's stories or style, this is a perfect start as you don't need any background - it is all self-explanatory. It is a mystery, sci fi and horror all wrapping into one ball of goodness and takes you on a roller coaster ride from start to finish. It kind of reminds me of Twilight Zone or the Outer Limits, because much of Lovecraft eventually became many plots in those shows. Filmed on location in Vermont, set during the Vermont Floods of 1927, the film's release coincidentally came during the Vermont Floods of 2011. The filmmakers pitched in to help the great people of Vermont recover from the disaster. This is the second effort of the filmmakers, the first being The Call of Cthulhu. It was a new, old-style silent film and won critical acclaim. This is on the same track, winning awards and acclaim, and in my opinion, is a much more engaging film.
The actors are also top notch. Matt Foyer is an amazingly expressive actor and does a perfect job portraying Albert Wilmarth. He brings such a real human element (which you rarely if ever see in horror) you can't help but get drawn in. Barry Lynch creates both one of the creepiest scenes in horror history without blood, gore or anything but his voice and yet also manages to create one of the most heart-wrenching and human scenes I've seen in the genre.
If you at all love great classic horror films, ones that don't rely on grossing you out, but give a great ride with your mind like Dracula, Frankenstein or the Mummy, then do yourself a HUGE favor and pick this one up.
on December 19, 2011
High quality Lovecraftian movies are in short supply. Most of us agree that The Thing by John Carpenter is the best overall Lovecraftian movie. Straight up adaptations of HPL are even rarer. Not surprising, as most of HPL's works are rather wordy and cerebral, with little in the way of action or human interaction to hold interest on the screen, and all those unfortunately indescribable creatures. Previously, with The Call of Cthulhu, The HP Lovecraft Historical Society showed that this is an art best left to those who are true fans of these stories (I include Mr. del Toro and regret the shelving of At the Mountains of Madness as much as anyone). Well now the bar has been set even higher. The Whisperer in Darkness is by any account a resounding triumph. I would even say it deserves a nod at the Oscars for adapted screenplay, although that will never happen. A larger studio may have had a bigger budget or marquee stars, but there is no way anyone could have made a better film.
Of course this movie is an *adaptation* so it is not exactly the same as the novella/short story on which it was based. I think the changes and compromises wrought by the screen play authors Sean Branney and Andrew Leman do a superb job of conveying the Lovecraftian cosmicism and the important aspects of the story, while allowing the film to work as a piece of cinema. They added some human interest, by introducing a young girl, the daughter of one of Akeley's neighbors, and also gave the work some thrilling action sequences.
The creature effects by Jason Shulman, Chris Peterson and Jon Gourley merit special praise. On a shoestring budget they developed Mi-Go that are terrible to look at and fascinating to watch. Wisely the director does not tip his hand by revealing the Mi-Go too soon. The use of black and white photography allows for lighting and cinematography with a period feel. Atmospheric music by Troy Sterling Nies marvelously enhances the tension.
I think all of the performers were wonderful.Too bad Matt Foyer won't receive any special awards for his incredible and believable performance as Wilmarth. I think child actress Autumn Wendell as Hannah deserves particular kudos, as does Caspar Marsh as Hannah's father and Andrew Leman as Charles Fort (in fact the entire sequence in Arkham had me shaking my head in appreciation for the talents of the entire cast and crew).
I have read HPL's story countless times and yet I was absorbed from the opening sequence to the ending credits. I think anyone who loves thoughtful horror or science fiction could find much to appreciate here, even those who are unfamiliar with Lovecraft or who have never heard of HPL's story.
As I said, this is a resounding triumph, an achievement for the ages. All of us are in debt to the HPLHS. I cannot wait to see what they do next. I only regret there was no widespread distribution on the big screen. Maybe this can gets run on an adventurous cable channel to give it the exposure it so richly deserves. Bravo to all.
on June 4, 2012
It's amazing in itself the cast and crew are a bunch of LARPers. If you don't know what that means, go Google it, and make sure you watch the "Lightning Bolt" video that is floating around. Now that you're in on the joke, watch the movie.
While not as true to the original HPL tale of horrible science fiction, the Whisperer in Darkness does a wonderful job of presenting the Old Man's story to modern film buffs. On BD, the first thing you notice is an enchanting score in 5.1 surround and a hauntingly lit stage that is frightfully stark in contrast and detail. The images are almost "too real". The original story ends abruptly, and so the HPLHS took it upon themselves to make the story a bit longer with a bit more of an emotional, dare I say, 'heroic' ending (something that never happens in a HP Lovecraft story).
For the uninitiated, the plot involves a linguistics and folklore scholar taking a trip into rural Vermont on a quest to find definitive truth behind what amounts to a rash of 'alien sightings'. Over the course of the tale, the protagonist begins to uncover bit by bit, mostly due to a shut-in farmer who has seen a bit too much of the truth. For the fans, the ending is FAR removed from the original while remaining very much in vein and intent as possible. No spoilers here. Sorry. But the Mi-Go... pretty well done, and afforded a lot more on-screen time than the high priest of R'lyeh.
The BD itself has a tonne of extras, most of which are frikkin' hilarious. Lots of behind the scenes and technical details - a lot more than on their previous Call of Cthulhu picture. But there is one glaring omission that I can't forgive:
No subtitles at all. And this is after their first film that had 24 languages.
The sheer effort in the production is incredible and fans anywhere will likely be driven insane from their own enjoyment (unless of course they don't understand English, and then the whole motion picture is lost on them). It leaves us wondering what the crew will try to produce next - the crew comments specifically on Shadow over Innsmouth and the Dunwich Horror, but these suggestions seem more of a wish list. Whatever their effort, they have proven the impossible: Lovecraft's works are indeed film-able.
on March 15, 2012
Leave it to a small devoted group -- as they did with THE CALL OF CTHULHU -- bring Lovecraft's story to life in a way no major studio has ever been able to do. I won't go into goofy spoilers and detail it all. Leave to other idiots who seem to think this is a venue for being critics. Leave it to say, if you love Lovecraft then you WILL enjoy this. Done with TLC, as only those truly devoted to Uncle Theobald can, it does justice to this tale and is incredibly well done. You don't need a mega-million dollar budget to do these things right. I look forward to the HPLHS next venture ... THE DUNWICH HORROR, AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS, THE COLOUR OUT OF SPACE, hint, hint...
on December 24, 2011
Just finished watching. I'm a huge HPL fan, and while many of the movie adaptations are less than great, I was looking forward to this one. The HPLHS's previous movie, 'The Call of Cthulhu' was good on so many levels. And they do not disappoint here. There is additions to the story, to well, make a movie out of a story that's mostly letters back and forth, but it's not forced. Each bit makes sense in the overall story. Plus, they did a great job in making the movie feel like a 30's talkie. So yes, if you like HPL, you will enjoy this movie.
on December 5, 2013
HPLS hit a home-run with their 'Call of Cthulhu', by making it a silent movie. It made their use of silent-era effects and acting charming...and, added to the dreamlike effect of having your mind's view of a book come to life.
With 'Whisperer', they opted to make a sound movie...in homage to the Universal 'creature features' of the 1930's. Unfortunately, when you add sound, the increased verisimilitude makes it imperative that sure-handed direction, taut editing, a compelling script, decent effects and solid acting are all present. 'Whisperer in Darkness' misses to some degree on almost all of these...especially acting. Matt Foyer as Albert Wilmarth is the biggest problem here. His entire acting range is limited to mugging, while looking sour, pensive or frightened. In 'Cluthu', that worked very well, as those were the only emotions his character was supposed to register...and, silent movies call for exaggerated facial expressions. In a sound movie, subtle body language is key, along with coordinated use of voice and facial expressions.
Martin Wately as Walter Brown is another key offender...broadcasting his vile character's intentions with all the subtlety of Snidely Whiplash. The director shares blame for this, as it was his job to keep the performances of his actors in service to the overall tale. Its a shame, because most of the supporting cast does a terrific job with their characterizations.
The script works rather well for the first two acts...when they are following Lovecraft's original tale. However, the tacked-on third act suffers from having Wilmarth suddenly transform from a clueless dick, into Dick Tracy. Suddenly, he follows clues, makes discoveries, thwarts the villains...and, even knows how to fly a bi-plane! Other than the fact that none of it jibes with his character up to that point, its just dandy. In addition, a young girl is added to the story/script as a very weak deus ex machina, to shore up the poor writing...then, quickly killed off.
Oh, about that bi-plane flight: It added nothing whatsoever to the narrative...other then padding the film's running time; and, the opening credits of Mystery Science Theater 3000 can boast much better effects. The laugh-ability of the scene was exacerbated by flaccid editing; so, what should have been the script's highlight turned into yet another 'jumped shark'.
If I sound harsh, its because there was so much to admire and enjoy in the first two acts of 'Whisperer'. Even the off-key performances were tolerable in light of the spooky tale being well-told. However, the third act took what should have been a memorable new-old spookfest, and made it merely mediocre.
on January 4, 2012
If you are a H.P. Lovecraft fan, get this. You are committing a crime against yourself if you don't. The Whisperer in Darkness and HPLHS last movie, Call of Cthulhu, are the best H.P. Lovecraft adaptations to date. Where a lot of other attempts failed, this black and white (now with voices!) movie really got that "Lovecraft" feeling of dread and terror to it. The actors are awesome, especially Matt Foyer and Barry Lynch. The story was modified a bit there and there to make it a more enjoyable film experience, but I assure you no undescriptible blasphemies were done. I won't go further into it, I don't want to spoil anything.
Also included is a "Making of" that is really well done and interesting. It is amazing to see how they did some of the shots with their very low budget.
At the end of it some of the guys talks about making "Shadow over Innsmouth" next. Please, I mean, I BEG YOU, DO IT!!! (SoI is my favorite HPL story)
There is a Blu-ray version coming soon, and I will buy it too just to support these guys.
Look, I could go on and on praising this truly epic masterpiece. Just make yourself a favor and get it.
The man from Providence would be very, VERY proud.
on December 25, 2011
Although a small, independent production, HPLHS has given us a second film (the first being CALL OF CTHUHLU, done as a silent film from the 1920's) shot in the style and look of a 1930's Universal horror film that is marvelous on every conceivable level. The film has amazing production values and is FAR better than anything being churned out for the movie-plexes. These guys are pros, and they are not fooling around. But most important, they have, for the second time, done what others can't seem to do...they have made a film that is utterly faithful to HPL without falling into the pratfalls of pretentiousness OR camp that others seem to inevitably do. And as is the norm from HPLHS, the second disc is LOADED with extras, making it a bargain. I cannot say enough good things about this movie. Wonderful!!!
on April 8, 2012
If anyone ought to be able to turn out a decent, relatively faithful cinematic adaptation of an H.P. Lovecraft story, then it should be an outfit that calls itself the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society and that is precisely what they have done. In fact this is their second film effort following on the heels of 2005's THE CALL OF CTHULHU which was also a first class adaptation. What makes both of these films so remarkable is that they were done on what would today be considered shoestring budgets. It just goes to show what can be done with today's visual technology if you have the necessary skills and vision. A wise and extremely clever decision made by HPLHS was to film both movies as if they were shot in the years that Lovecraft wrote them (1927, 1931). That means that CTHULHU was shot as a modern day silent film (before THE ARTIST) and WHISPERER was shot as if it were an early Universal horror film.
THE WHISPERER IN DARKNESS begins at Lovecraft's legendary Miskatonic University in Arkham, Massachusetts (shot at Mount Holyoke College) where we meet professor Albert Wilmarth (Matt Foyer), a skeptical folklore specialist who likes to use science to debunk old myths and legends. After a failed radio show attempt to triumph over a believer in the supernatural (Andrew Leman), he goes to an isolated farm in Vermont to speak with its owner (Barry Lynch) and discovers the type of cataclysmic horror that H. P. Lovecraft specialized in. Fans already know what it is but this review is primarily addressed to those readers who are not familiar with Lovecraft. The film is beautifully made from the opening parody of the old Universal logo (instead of a plane circling the globe it's a zeppelin that crosses over the North Pole) to the period costumes, the old school editing, and an extremely effective soundtrack. The performances by all concerned especially Foyer, Lynch and Autumn Wendel as the young girl Hannah (who is not in the original story) are all you could ask for in an undertaking of this nature. My only reservations, and they are minor ones, are as follows.
1) Every modern day attempt I have seen to shoot a black & white film set in the 1920s and 30's (and this includes THE ARTIST) is clearly shot in color first with the color then removed (HPLHS's MythoScope). This creates a sharp focus picture with harsh lighting instead of a soft focus one with subtle lighting although this was likely done out of budget considerations and is therefore understandable. 2) The rather cynical ending (not Lovecraft's own as the last third is an extension by the filmmakers) would not have occured in a film set in 1931. The tone yes (this would have been a pre-Code movie before censorship clamped down) but not the ending. From a visual standpoint, however, it is remarkably effective. 3) I would not have shown the creatures in close-up at the end as a lot of Lovecraft's horror deals with the human mind being unable to process what it sees and they didn't match my imagination's depictions of them. Unfortunately, subtlety and discretion are not trademarks of the 21st century.
I offer these observations as a film historian in a purely pedantic way out of a desire to provide some additional background on how films in the 1930s were made, not in an attempt to criticize the film or the filmmakers. I think THE WHISPERER IN DARKNESS and its companion piece THE CALL OF CTHULHU to be minor masterpieces which are truly exceptional when you consider their budgetary limitations (check out the special features on Disc 2 for a true appreciation). I not only look forward to more cinematic endeavors from the HPLHS (so buy this DVD which is available on a made-to-order basis and help to finance their next project) but I wish that other low budget filmmakers as well as big budget ones who attempt to do H.P. Lovecraft would follow in their footsteps. They have proved conclusively that is possible to do cinematic adaptations which are faithful in spirit and execution to HPL's work.