Saturday, September 17, 2011

In short: The Unnamable (1988)

Arkham, Massachusetts in Ye Olden Tymes as represented by costumes a high school play would be ashamed of and accents of particular ropy-ness. A man knowledgeable in magic - as evidenced by his large library of books about magic - is murdered by his rather inhuman looking daughter aka the Unnamable. The local officials decide to seal his house off forever.

But in the late 80s, interest in the old manse very suddenly rises again. Randolph Carter (Mark Kinsey Stephenson) and his student buddies have an intense discussion about the possibility of something being truly unnameable, a dispute that can only be solved by the sceptic of the team spending a night in the still sealed off house. Not surprisingly, the Unnamable is still alive and kicking and kills the poor guy dead.

The very next night, while Carter and his buddy Howard (Charles Klausmeyer) are still not thinking all that much about the disappearance of their friend, some other college kids - their relations to our heroes and each other too boring to explain - are also breaking into the old house and meet the Unnamable. A bit of killing and much running around and screaming ensues, until Randolph and Howard waddle in for the rescue. Let's just hope Randolph's library use roll succeeds before everyone else is dead.

Fans and admirers of Lovecraft aren't usually well served by what goes as movie adaptations of the author's work. Most of the adaptations don't have much to do with Lovecraft's world view (exceptions are just that), and even less with the works they are supposed to adapt, and those films that keep close to the master's work are usually pretty amateurish as films (again, there are exceptions, and you know them). It sure does not help filmmakers' case that Lovecraft's work with its de-emphasizing of action and it's unnameable and indescribable horrors generally isn't exactly ideal for adaptations at all.

The Unnamable manages the admirable feat of starting off pretty close to Lovecraft - well, at least the discussion about the unnameable is - but then runs out of material to adapt because the story it is based on is particularly short (and also a pretty minor part of Lovecraft's work). Instead of making up something interesting like Stuart Gordon would do, director Jean-Paul Ouellette decides to just go for that horror movie staple of non-characters running screaming through a derelict building for an hour or so. Except for Carter, who reads a book for most of the time until he conjures up the monster's father in form of a tree.

As this sort of films go, The Unnamable is neither particularly bad nor particularly entertaining, it's just kind of there. There are the usual flaws like the sometimes hilariously bad acting (especially Stephenson is big on the scenery chewing and the unfulfilled wish to be Vincent Price), and not much apart from running around happening - nothing I haven't experienced (or not experienced?) in dozens of other movies from the 80s on the same level of quality or anti-quality.

On the positive side, Ouellette does know how to light a scene moodily and is not an enemy of camera movement, the Unnamable's costume is rather neat (and even includes the hoofs from the original story, though in a less unnameable manner), and some of the dialogue is rather funny. It's difficult to say if consciously funny or un-, but I'll take what I can get.

I suspect neither the Lovecraft purists nor the fans of 80s low budget horror will be all that happy with the film, for there's just not enough Lovecraft or enough 80s cheese, yet I can't bring myself to hate the film, for I have seen so much worse.


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