The Whisperer in Darkness
Director: Sean Branney
Caster: Matt Foyer, Barry Lynch, Daniel Kaemon
Review by Brian M. Sammons
H.P. Lovecraft is a giant in the field of horror, sci-fi, and the weird. His shadow is longer and darker than almost any other genre author, and I would include the classic biggies of Shelly, Stoker, and Poe to that list. And while his stories have been adapted to film for years, or at least they’ve been the basis (oftentimes only very thinly) of countless movies, it took the plucky cultists of The HPLHS (H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society) to do it right and on less than a shoestring budget to boot. Sure there have been other good movies with ties to Lovecraft, but few if any have been this faithful to not only the overall spirit of Lovecraft, but to the source story. So for those that say HPL doesn’t adapt well to film, sit back, relax, and let me show you how it can and should be done.
The Whisperer in Darkness is the HPLHS’ second motion picture, the first being the daringly silent The Call of Cthulhu. Yes the HPLHS brought silent films back long before The Artist did, but did they get any Oscar buzz? No, but I digress. This full length black and white feature film, while low budget, looks great and is incredibly ambitious. How ambitious? Well the filmmakers bought a biplane just for this movie. Yeah, try to name the last independent flick you saw that went that far.
“But wait,” you say, “I don’t remember a biplane in HPL’s story.” Well you’re right; the filmmakers changed a few things and made some additions to the original tale. However before you grab the torches and pitchforks and start chanting “that’s not Lovecraft, that’s not Lovecraft”, relax. All additions or changes are well implemented and actually add a lot to the story. But enough of the generalities, let’s get to the specifics.
All of Lovecraft’s famous story is intact here, starting with a series of heavy rains in Vermont causing the locals to notice the corpses of strange critters washing away in the swollen rivers. A farmer named Akeley, beset by the alien-looking beasts, writes to a professor at Miskatonic University for help. Professor Albert Wilmarth doesn’t believe in such hooey, but he is a folklorist and curious, so he heads out to the wilds of Vermont to get to the bottom of the mystery. He meets up with farmer Akeley, who’s acting very strangely, and before you can say “creepy alien invaders who practice un-elective surgery”, Professor Wilmarth learns how wrong he was to dismiss all those wild tales out of hand.
Now I know you know what happens next, because you’ve read HPL’s original story, right? I mean it is only a true classic of horror in every sense of the word, so there is no way you could not have read it, right? Yeah, I thought so. Well here is one of the added bits not from the story that I mentioned earlier that I really liked. The Professor Wilmarth in this movie is far more adamant about the strange stories being hokum than ever before. So much so that he even engages in a lively debate with none other than the champion of all things weird at the time, Charles Fort. While not a completely necessary addition to the movie, I sure enjoyed this bit and thought it went a long way in helping flesh out the professor character. That and it was just plain old fun.
Then there is the famous “plugging the ‘jar’ into the machine” part of the story. What’s in the jar? Well if you don’t know you’ll have to watch the movie to find out, but this film captures the creepiness and wonder of that moment perfectly. It also adds a few stylistic twists to make things a bit more lively, which was a wise choice as jars by themselves are pretty boring. Also the strange machine was especially well realized.
And if I say “the big reveal,” you know what I’m talking about, right? Yeah, it was the best and most memorable OMG moment from the story. You know, when Wilmarth learned … well I hate to say just in case you have no clue of what I’m so vaguely hinting at. Trust me when I say that you’ll know it when you see it. Well that scene has two surprises here. First, it happens about halfway into the film, which means there’s still a whole lot of movie after it. Second, I was impressed at just how damn creepy it was. I watched this movie with a friend who is not a Lovecraft fan and had no idea what was coming and when “the big reveal” happened she literally said, “What the hell?” in a hushed whisper. I cannot think of higher praise for that scene than that.
Lastly there is the aforementioned biplane which provides a far more thrilling ending to the movie than what was written in the original story. Yes, in that way this film improves on Lovecraft, which is not an easy thing to do. Whisperer has the best scene with biplanes in it since the original King Kong and even with this film’s low budget, it is pulled off very well.
I keep mentioning the film’s tiny budget because some of its limitations do show around the edges of this movie. A few of you out there may watch this film and hold that against it, especially when some of the more ambitious CGI effects enter the scene. Such effects don’t look horrible, in fact they appear to be on par with a lot of what you see in TV shows, but they are noticeable. If you watch this film just waiting to pick some nits, then the CGI will be an easy target for you. However if you can just go with it and enjoy the excellent story, fine acting, good direction, and impressive attention to detail, then you will get a whole hell of a lot out of this movie.
Now we come to the part of the review where I must look objective and list the things about the movie that I did not like.
Ok, now that we got that out of the way, let’s get to the Blu-ray specs.
The HD transfer of this film is clear and sharp to the point of eye-cutting. In fact, it might actually look too good, something I rarely say. For a flick that’s supposed to be a classic horror movie right out of the ’30s or ’40s, I’d actually hsve preferred if it had more of a grainy film look to it. That’s a minor quibble at best, and if anyone from Gen Y (or are we up to Gen Z now?) watches it I’m sure they won’t see anything wrong with the way it looks thanks to years of exposure to High-Def buff and polish. The disc comes loaded with some nice extras including a bunch of featurettes on the making of the movie that total over two and a half hours. There is a nice selection of deleted and extended scenes. And exclusively on the Blu-ray is an audio commentary track with members of the HPLHS that I found both informative and entertaining.
The Whisperer in Darkness is a hell of a fine film, one of the best adaptations of a Lovecraft story ever made and it’s far superior to the vast majority of bigger budgeted films that have “H. P. Lovecraft’s” before their titles. Whisperer is faithful to a fault to the source material and what changes it does make are very welcome and actually enhance the story, as opposed to just padding things out like so many other movies based on Lovecraft’s short stories do. It is an obvious labor of love and when movie makers care this much it shows in every frame of the film. If you’re a fan of H. P. Lovecraft then this is mandatory viewing. If you’ve never read anything by HPL and always wanted to see what all the hoopla was about, this is a great place to start to get a handle of his unique and genre-changing brand of horror. I thoroughly enjoyed this film and highly recommend it. If you would like to get a copy of this movie for yourself, and you really, really should, you can order the Blu-ray directly from the creators at their website or from their distributor. It will also be available through the usual online retailers like Amazon and Deep Discount on July 31.