Whisperer in Darkness [Blu-ray] (2012)

Actors: Barry Lynch, Stephen Blackehart, Annie Abrams, Matt Lagan, Andrew Leman
Director: Sean Branney
Format: Subtitled
Language: English
Subtitles: Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, German, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Swedish
Region: All Regions
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Number of discs: 1
Rated: Unrated
Studio: Microcinema
DVD Release Date: July 31, 2012
Run Time: 103 minutes



H.P Lovecraft has proven a notorious nut to crack when it comes to movie adaptations. The most successful ones – Alien and In the Mouth of Madness for example – merely riff on his themes, while more direct versions tend to founder on the shoals of low budgets and incomplete understanding.

The rare exceptions (Re-Animator and The Resurrected come to mind) often downplay his existential themes, with mere hints of the cosmic horrors he conjured so disturbingly well. It took a band of real devotees to break that code and deliver a Lovecraft adaptation that felt truly Lovecraftian.

The H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society hit upon the uncanny notion of adapting his stories as if they were his contemporaries: black-and-white photography, old-school acting techniques, and even stop-motion-style effects evocative of King Kong. Their first effort, The Call of Cthulhu, was a minor miracle: a modern-day silent film that turned the Society’s budgetary restraints into a magic bullet. Now they’ve followed it up with The Whisperer in Darkness, and I’m pleased to report that experience has only improved their technique.

Unlike Cthulhu, The Whisperer in Darkness uses sound. But it embraces the same elegantly simple approach as its predecessor, taking cues from classic 1930s monster movies like Dracula and Frankenstein (with a few touches of 1950s mad science thrown in for good measure). Whisperer poses a larger challenge than Cthulhu because the filmmakers need to take more liberties. You can’t film what Lovecraft wrote directly – the story essentially boils down to a series of letters – but director Sean Branney never loses track of the essence required to properly evoke it. The elaborations feel like perfect extensions of Lovecraft’s writing, and the final results are both wildly entertaining and appropriately eerie.

And the scenario itself follows the story quite closely, albeit with some elaboration. It concerns a farmer in rural Vermont named Henry Akeley (Barry Lynch), whose family suffers under a strange sort of haunting. Footprints appear outside of their home, hideous noises awaken them in the night and the local legends about flying monsters seem to take on a life of their own. In desperation, he reaches out to university professor Albert Wilmarth (Matt Foyer), begging him to come to his farm to discuss his theories. The skeptical Wilmarth agrees, seemingly unaware of the new tone in Akeley’s letters or the dangers that loom larger with each passing moment.

The stylization extends to more than just the period costumes and black-and-white cinematography. The actors employ deliberately melodramatic delivery – typical of a pre-Method era when films were just a little bit broader – while the orchestral scoring evokes those grand old scores of Hollywood’s Golden Age. None of it costs much, but it brings so much in terms of atmosphere and mood that the film’s microscopic budget hardly matters.

The same holds true for the Mi-Go, Lovecraft’s terrifying alien creations with sinister plans for both Wilmarth and humanity at large. The filmmakers ultimately rely on CG to bring them to life, but render it using the herky-jerky signature of old school stop-motion. The effects are thus quite crude, but also very fitting for the overall piece… again turning an obvious shortcoming into a viable asset.

The technique means nothing without a strong story, however, and The Whisperer in Darkness crafts one truly worthy of Lovecraft himself. Branney and his fellow filmmakers steep themselves deeply in his lore, their love borne from years of serious devotion (Call of Cthulhu RPG author Sandy Peterson serves as an executive producer, and many of the remaining filmmakers were eager enthusiasts of that game.) They spent two years on the script and wouldn’t rest until everything felt just right. The Whisperer in Darkness reflects that care and attention, creating an old-fashioned creepfest that easily holds its own against more prominent productions. The Society’s muse offered plenty more stories to develop in this manner. Judging by what we’ve seen so far, that’s reason to get excited.

THE DISC: For a low-budget production, the Blu-ray’s extra features are quite rich: two and a half hours of material covering the development of the script, the special effects, and the balls-to-the-wall shooting schedule. It’s topped by a forty-five minute documentary looking at the overall production, but includes numerous short subjects on specific elements, as well as an informative audio commentary. Like the film itself, the extras put much larger productions to shame – insightful, informative, and revealing a marvelous esprit de corps among the cast and crew. A set of trailers and a few deleted scenes complete the disc.

WORTH IT? Lovecraft fans need no further urging, but the film is very accessible to newcomers as well. It moves quickly, its scares are well-earned, and it never descends into gratuitous bloodshed (making it suitable for teens and more squeamish filmgoers who still enjoy a good scare).

RECOMMENDATION: The Whisperer in Darkness does more with less, an admirable quality in any film. For horror lovers, fans of the unusual, or even people curious as to who and what H.P. Lovecraft is all about, this makes a first-rate piece of existential sci-fi.



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