Today: February 26, 2024

The Whisper In The Darkness

It’s fair to say that many cinemagoers have never heard of H.P. Lovecraft and, if they’ve seen one of the 100 plus movies inspired by his work, then they probably weren’t impressed.

It’s fair to say that many cinemagoers have never heard of
H.P. Lovecraft and, if they’ve seen one of the 100 plus movies inspired by his
work, then they probably weren’t impressed.

This has nothing to do with the quality of Lovecraft’s writing but rather the
perceived impossibility of bringing his tales to the big screen. Those who’ve
attempted it, generally do little more than borrow his characters and settings
and bolt them on some schlock horror story line. The results have varied in
quality from the curiously effective Boris
Karloff
vehicle, Die Monster Die!
(based on the much more intriguingly titled The Colour Out Of Space) to the cheesy cult classic The Unnameable Returns which used The Statement Of Randolph Carter as its
springboard.

During his life, Howard Phillips Lovecraft (1890-1937)
had a small but dedicated following. Since his death, though, he has come to be
recognised as one of the most original literary voices of the early 20th Century.
His tales were inspired, not by the gothic terrors which had so obsessed early
horror writers, but by the new scientific theories which had swept away many
long-held beliefs. Lovecraft’s vision was of the human race, overpowered by
cosmic forces beyond their understanding. Stephen
King
called Lovecraft “the 20th Century horror story’s dark and baroque
prince” and the mythos he created has inspired thousands of imitators and
celebrators. 75 years after his death, his reputation has never been stronger and
no matter how ripe the movie, the Lovecraft name still guarantees bums on
seats.

However, in 2005 Howard’s
hard-pressed fans finally got the film that they, and the great man, truly
deserved. That movie was The Call Of
Cthulu
, based on a story first published in Weird Tales magazine in 1928. Call was the brainchild of the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society
(HPLHP), who came up with the genius idea of filming in period, as a black and
white silent film. What began as a budgetary necessity became a stylistic
triumph and Call was hailed as one of the most faithful and atmospheric
Lovecraft adaptations ever.

HPLHS were founded in 1985 to
support the Live Action Role Playing activities of a group of Lovecraft
enthusiasts. Over time, the group evolved, producing their own props, audio
CDs, musicals and short films, but with The Call Of Cthulu they hit pay dirt.
Five years on, the team have returned with another Lovecraft classic, The Whisperer In Darkness – and this
time it’s a talkie.

Again the team have stayed in
period but, as the tale was first published in 1931, Whisperer benefits from
‘new’ sound technology. The result is what can only be described as horror noir
– beautifully lit with a soundtrack that turns every footstep into a hammering
heartbeat and every thunderclap into a horrifying howl. Purists will perhaps be
disappointed that the tale, adapted HPLHS founders Sean Branney and Andrew
Leman
, goes ‘off piste’ for the last third, adding new characters and some
very non-Lovecraftian action scenes, but filmically it works beautifully. Matt Foyer, who also starred in The
Call Of Cthulu, emotes away in fine 1930s style, despite spending most of the
film drenched in icy water. While Barry Lynch’s seriously sinister turn as Henry Akeley, will have the hair
crawling off your scalp.

Watching Whisperer is like
stumbling across some lost 1930s Universal
Horror
. The period details are perfect, right down to the RKO-inspired
Mythoscope logo and the carefully ‘aged’ film stock. In fact, it would be easy
to imagine that this wonderfully crafted and observed gem came from the same
stable as Dracula and Frankenstein. The only thing missing is
Bela Lugosi. Once again HPLHS have
shown that they can beat the big boys at their own game. Long may it continue.

Paula Hammond - Features Editor

Paula Hammond is a full-time, freelance journalist. She regularly writes for more magazines than is healthy and has over 25 books to her credit. When not frantically scribbling, she can be found indulging her passions for film, theatre, cult TV, sci-fi and real ale. If you should spot her in the pub, after five rounds rapid, she’ll be the one in the corner mumbling Ghostbusters quotes and waiting for the transporter to lock on to her signal… Email: writerpaula@icloud.com

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