Written and directed by: Matt Hundley
Reviewed by: Dave Dunwoody
Bear in mind closely that I did not see any actual visual horror at the end. To say that a mental shock was the cause of what I inferred - that last straw which sent me racing out of the lonely Akeley farmhouse and through the wild domed hills of Vermont in a commandeered motor at night - is to ignore the plainest facts of my final experience. Notwithstanding the deep things I saw and heard, and the admitted vividness the impression produced on me by these things, I cannot prove even now whether I was right or wrong in my hideous inference. For after all Akeley's disappearance establishes nothing. People found nothing amiss in his house despite the bullet-marks on the outside and inside. It was just as though he had walked out casually for a ramble in the hills and failed to return. There was not even a sign that a guest had been there, or that those horrible cylinders and machines had been stored in the study. That he had mortally feared the crowded green hills and endless trickle of brooks among which he had been born and reared, means nothing at all, either; for thousands are subject to just such morbid fears. Eccentricity, moreover, could easily account for his strange acts and apprehensions toward the last.
So begins H.P. Lovecraft's tale "The Whisperer in Darkness", and so begins this film - with the above lines being recited by a man bound in a blood-stained straitjacket, locked away in an Arkham, Massachusetts insane asylum.
The Whisperer in Darkness was shot over two weeks in Tennessee on a next-to-nothing budget. My aunt, who met the filmmakers in Oak Ridge, knows I’m a Lovecraft buff and sent me a signed copy of the DVD from Gravehill Productions. At first, I was more than a little skeptical – the two review sites singing praise on the DVD’s cover don’t appear to exist – at least not anymore. Either this is the Mi-Go’s attempt to suppress publicity for the film or there’s something a little shady going on. I hope it’s the former, because this is a pretty good flick and one of the most faithful Lovecraft adaptations I’ve seen.
The aforementioned guy in a straitjacket is Albert Wilmarth (Ken MacGregor), a former Miskatonic University professor who recounts the tale of his maddening encounter with one Henry Akeley (Mike Sexton). Akeley, a Vermont farmer, is a nice enough guy (and well-played by producer Sexton), but it’s the strange horrors surrounding his property that foreshadow MacGregor’s insanity. Seems that, following the historic 1927 flood season, reports of bizarre corpses have been reported in mountain streams. Neither animal nor human, these decaying things have drifted a bit too close to Akeley’s property – or, in the opinion of the still-living aliens, Akeley’s gotten too close to them.
So begins a white-knuckle war between Akeley and the mysterious creatures, as well as human agents in their employ. Again, this was made on a shoestring budget, yet the gunfight between Akeley and the unseen human spies is a tense, tense sequence – probably because there’s no flashy gunplay, just an old guy huddled beneath a window while strangers take potshots at his house.
Wilmarth, who has met Akeley and begun corresponding with him from Arkham, Massachusetts, is regaled with tales of these encounters through letters he receives. As the professor, Ken MacGregor’s performance starts out a bit stiff, too stiff even for an early twentieth-century scholar (even one drawn from Lovecraft’s antiquated prose) – but he grows on you. The story grows on you, with a creeping dread, and this is achieved by sticking to the source material, along with a great minimalist score by Grant Sexton.
The final act of the film is where things really get weird, building to a gruesome-yet-bloodless payoff that precedes present-day imitators by eighty years. Wilmarth travels to meet with Akeley at the old man’s behest – Akeley now claiming that he’s met with the alien creatures, and that they are a benevolent race wanting to share their miraculous technology with humankind. Sexton’s performance as Akeley is critical in these last scenes and he pulls it off wonderfully.
The Gravehill DVD release has a director’s commentary, a technical commentary and outtakes included along with the trailer. If you’re an admirer of Lovecraft’s work, this is definitely worth checking out – though be warned, this isn’t the pulpy, darkly-humorous tone of Re-Animator (a story that Lovecraft himself didn’t like – he probably wouldn’t have cared for the movie either, on which I’d have to respectfully disagree). If it still sounds like your cup of tea, support independent horror and Buy it!
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