The Whisperer in Darkness. Film Review

THE WHISPERER IN DARKNESS

Starring Matt Foyer and Barry Lynch, Directed by Sean Branney

Running time 104 minutes. The HP Lovecraft Historical Society. www.cthulhulives.org

DVD $24.50

Reviewed by Mike Chinn

It’s been a long time coming, but the anticipated HPLHS follow-up to their wonderful silent movie version of The Call of Cthulhu is finally here. The producers continue with the same conceit as the previous DVD: since Whisperer was published in 1931, it follows that a movie adaptation would be a ‘talkie’. Contemporaneous with Universal’s Frankenstein and Dracula.

Albert Wilmarth (Foyer) of Miskatonic University has been aware for years of New England stories concerning strange flying creatures, but dismisses them as nothing more than folklore – similar to myths found all over the world, with the same motifs and symbolism. A long correspondence with Henry Akeley (Lynch) ofTownshend,Vermont, warning him about the creatures and their motives, does nothing to persuade him otherwise. On the night of a university debate with none other than Charles Fort – which Wilmarth loses – Akeley’s nephew arrives with photographs – one of which apparently shows a dead thing when viewed through a special lens – and a wax recording of both a human voice and non-human sounds. Wilmarth is intrigued but still sceptical. Only when Akeley writes one last time – the tone of his letter so different to before – asking Wilmarth to visit, bringing the Kodak prints and wax cylinder, is he persuaded to travel toVermont.

This is a thoughtful opening-out of the original short story, even if the climax – the third act which Lovecraft didn’t supply – may not appeal to purists. Personally I loved it, though I admit it’s more suited to a wider Pulp tradition that Lovecraft himself. The creatures themselves – the Mi-Go – are tentacle-headed lobsters with a ‘futuristic’ alien technology which looks appropriately quaint and dated. Inevitably digitally created – stop-motion had been planned from the start, but would have taken too long – great pains have been taken to make the final images look more stop-motion that CGI.

Indeed the whole production is a labour of love, filmed on a budget that wouldn’t cover the coffee bill for a Hollywood movie. (A three-quarters full size biplane replica which plays a major part in the film was bought off eBay…). The standards of acting and production values are incredibly high with admirable attention to detail (although one shot of Wilmarth waiting for his train clearly shows a modern diesel locomotive approaching from the background). This is a two-disc set: the extras containing a variety of original trailers, interviews and documentaries for anyone interested in the process of film-making (interesting fact: the teaser trailer was shot months before they had a script – or, obviously, the 1927 hairstyle Foyer wore for filming).

It’s gratifying to watch an adaption of Lovecraft done with love and respect for the original; and it’s a pity it didn’t get a decent theatre release. The producers aren’t saying what they’ll do next (let’s face it, they probably don’t know yet) but Shadow over Innsmouth and The Dunwich Horror were banded about. I would love to see these guys tackle either of those stories. Or both.

About Phil Lunt (877 Articles)
Hailing from the rain-sodden, North Western wastelands of England, Phil has dabbled in many an arcane vocation. From rock-star to conveyor-belt scraper at a bread factory, 'Dairy Logistics Technician' to world's worst waiter. He's currently a freelance designer, actor, sometime writer/editor and Chair of the British Fantasy Society. He is on the Global Frequency and is still considering becoming an astronaut when he grows up.