Saturday, 6 September 2014

Halloween Horror: The Whisperer in Darkness

It is once again time to revisit the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society and their group of independent filmmakers. In 2005 they did a surprisingly impressive take on the classic horror story The Call of Cthulhu, presenting it in the form of a silent movie from the 1920's. Naturally when they got back into action during they opted to take their next project up a few notches with something more ambitious.

The story they settled on was The Whisperer in Darkness. Like The Call of Cthulhu, this one was filmed in "Genuine Mythoscope" meaning they used a mix of contemporary and old-fashioned filmmaking techniques. This time, however, they instead opted to make a talkie that would resemble something closer to the horror films of the 1930's. If you have not read the original Lovecraft novella, I would recommend you take a look at it. Like most of Lovecraft's writing it is public domain so you can find it for free (here is a website with the complete text).

This particular one would introduce a monster known as the Mi-Go. Now the Mi-Go are one of Lovecraft's slightly less disturbing creatures. They do not make you go crazy if you look at them, but they have a very peculiar biology. The look something like insects but are described as being more like fungi or crustaceans, and apparently are somehow composed in such a way that they do not show up on film. The only thing is that they have a strange way of seeing the world, and are more than happy to place your brain in a jar and carry you around outer space.

The basic story is told by Albert Wilmarth, a professor of folklore at Miskatonic University (a fictional institution which was frequently referred to in Lovecraft's stories). It begins with a massive flood in the hills of Vermont, during which people reportedly find a bunch of strange-looking bodies in the water. Wilmarth, being familiar with the old legends towards which the reports have been connected, remains skeptical. However, he begins corresponding with an old farmer named Henry Akeley who claims to have found evidence that there are in fact strange and seemingly malevolent beings in the area.

The movie had to take a few liberties with its source material. After all, it would have been a bit dull if the majority of it was just two men sending letters back and forth. Much of the actual correspondence from the book happens off-camera, and instead the focus is more on how Wilmarth and his colleagues react to the evidence. There is now a sub-plot about Wilmarth entering a debate with real-life writer and anomalistic researcher Charles Fort, as well as interactions between the two when presented with photographs of the Mi-Go. It involves a few new characters but the story is still about Wilmarth and Akeley.

The really daring move was to go past the ending of the book and add in a "third act" of sorts. This was a big risk that could have easily gone wrong. It has a bit more action than what Lovecraft originally wrote, but it does still manage to keep true to the themes of his writing. Aside from translating better to screen, some of the changes also have the advantage that they can even surprise people who read the original book (similar to what has frequently been done on The Walking Dead).

As with The Call of Cthulhu, the cast is made up more or less entirely of unknown b-list actors, all of whom do a reasonable job. Barry Lynch is suitably unsettling as Akeley when he finally meets Wilmarth (I won't spoil the reveal by saying why you should be unsettled during his scenes). Many of the new characters fit right into the narrative and help to flesh out the world Lovecraft envisioned, especially Wilmarth's colleague Nathaniel Ward. Anyone who knows Lovecraft's writings will know that Ward is a man you really should listen to.

The Whisperer in Darkness is a well-done treatment of H.P. Lovecraft's classic novella, and proof that his work is not, as many claim, "unfilmable". It does leave me to wonder if the HPLHS are open to the possibility of any more film projects. I personally think The Shadow Over Innsmouth might be a good one for them to tackle in the future, or perhaps The Thing On the Doorstep. This one will be harder to find, but if you can, it will have some good scares and a great story.


  1. Great job with these horror reviews. This is another I hadn't heard of, but it sounds very interesting.

    1. Well, that's the idea. This one might be a bit harder to find but you can it will be worth your time.

  2. This sounds quite creepy and I love that they used a 30's style to it

  3. Need to get my hands on this one. I'm a big Lovecraft fan, and I really loved their version of "Call of Cthulhu". I'm certainly open to a bit of modification to make the story work as a film, and your hints at a new third act sound intriguing. Thanks for the review.