Tuesday, 9 March 2021

The Unnamable (1988)

The works of H. P. Lovecraft have been adapted into film form with expected varying results. His work often revolves around the kind of horrors that can barely be described, lest anyone be driven mad, and trying to convey that cinematically is very difficult. Film, of course, is a visual medium, first and foremost, so it's not best suited for stories about the indescribable.

I don't think I have read the short story that this film is based on, but it's clear from the title that it's in line with many other Lovecraft tales. Although it's worth noting, for anyone after some bizarre movie trivia, that "the unnamable" is actually named Alyda. I guess The Namable just wouldn't have been as enticing a movie title for horror fans stumbling upon this when it was stocked in video stores.

There's an old "haunted" house, one in which a monstrous creature lives. A bunch of people end up in that house. Things get spooky and dangerous, and the one person who may be best-equipped to deal with the whole situation is the studious and intelligent Randolph Carter (Mark Kinsey Stephenson).

What does this get right, and what does it do to keep it in line with some other Lovecraft movie adaptations? First, the central lore is decent. You get some backstory, a mixture of standard horror and something slightly sad, and you get Randolph Carter as a typical Lovecraft character, and one who could so easily have been a villain, with just a few tweaks. You also get some very impressive creature design, displayed prominently in the third act after a lot of time spent keeping it hidden away for the majority of the preceding runtime.

What does it get wrong? Well, the other characters don't feel right. Howard Damon (Charles Klausmeyer) is the main companion of Carter for most of the movie, and he's relatively inept and unlikable, while Tanya Heller (Alexandra Durrell) and Wendy Barnes (Laura Albert) are young women who end up visiting the house to be scared and hit on by Bruce Weeks (Eben Ham) and John Babcock (Blane Wheatley). None of these five characters feel right for the material, especially with the old-fashioned way in which things play out in between occasional moments of gore. The actors vary in the quality of their performances, but at least Stephenson just about does well enough to make you forget that he's not Jeffrey Combs.

Writer-director Jean-Paul Ouellette has only a few films to his credit, with another one of those being the sequel to this, and he handles everything capably enough to avoid it feeling like his debut directorial feature, which it is. This is more of an oddity than a completely satisfying movie experience, but it's one that I'd easily recommend to horror fans with the patience for it. The middle section may feel a bit padded out, because it is, but there are too many good little touches scattered throughout to make it an easy film to dismiss.

6/10

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