review by Dejan Ognjanovic
originally published on TWITCH


The Whisperer in Darkness is the first feature length film by the folks from the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society. Their version of The Call of Cthulhu (2005), directed by Andrew Leman, was a brave and surprisingly successful medium-length film (47 minutes) done with a lot of care and talent. Unlike numerous other flicks which (ab)use Lovecraft's name merely to sell yet another same-old creature feature and/or slasher, The Call of Cthulhu was obviously a labor of love, but also of knowledge about what makes the Great Old One truly great. 
It was shot in the style of a 1920s silent horror (which means: in glorious black and white), with period-style music and inter-titles. The Call... used the legacy of German expressionism in its high contrast photography and play of shadows, visible also in the stylized sets a la Cabinet of Dr Caligari with weird shapes and angles to depict surreal dreams and the non-Euclidean geometry in the city of R'Lyeh.   
The Whisperer in Darkness is a far more ambitious effort, and not only in terms of its running time (103 minutes). If Cthulhu was done as a re-enactment of 1920s horror, then The Whisperer, directed by Sean Branney, looks and feels like a long-lost noir-style horror from the 1940s. 
Shot in "Mythoscope", this time with sound, but still in black and white, it is clearly a letter of love and dedication to H. P. Lovecraft, one of the greatest horror writers of 20th century. 

It follows the novella it is based on (published in 1931) pretty closely, up to a point, and deals with Henry Akeley (Barry Lynch), a farmer secluded in the woods of Vermont who discovers strange, not-of-this-earth footprints (that is, hoofprints; or are they clawprints?) around his home and begins to suspect a race of creatures from the distant gulfs of space abducting some men and beginning a clandestine invasion of our wold. 
He corresponds with professor Albert Wilmarth (Matt Foyer) from the Miskatonic University, who decides to visit him and decide for himself if there is any truth behind the letters and curious photographs he was sent. 

This film is obviously made by Lovecraft's followers primarily for other like-minded individuals, with no big concessions made to turn it more commercial – although the action-packed ending, significantly altered from the one in the novella, may seem like an attempt to liven up things a bit and provide a more suspenseful climax than the original had, based as it was on a rather predictable "twist".  

The Whisperer in Darkness certainly has a far greater commercial appeal than its almost avant-garde experimental Cthulhu predecessor, but its intentionally old-fashioned approach (and black & white photography) will probably limit its appeal to the Lovecraft initiates, SF-horror enthusiasts and the remaining adventurous followers of the weird cinema as its primary target-audience.
Viewed as an adaptation of a genre classic, it is pretty well done, though the first half may seem too talky to some. It would've been nicer to see the creepy contents of the farmer-to-professor correspondence dramatized instead of mostly narrated and presented through dialogues. Charles Fort, a famous weird-phenomena enthusiast from the 1930s (when the story and film take place) has a clever cameo in an episode (not in the story) in which professor Wilmarth has a discussion with Fort, live on radio, about the modern science and its attitude to "wonders" and mysteries of existence. 
Lovecraft's twist about "the whisperer" is revealed shortly after one-hour mark, and the remaining 30 minutes or so offer events, action, chase sequences, creatures, horrors and visual concepts completely invented by the makers (the screenplay is written by Branney and Leman). 
Some Lovecraft purists may find the action-driven climax too different from what the novella is about, but others will be happy to see the well-made scenes of flying creatures chasing the small airplane and the ensuing struggle. 
The CGI aliens are the only obviously modern visual element in a film otherwise pretty minute and accurate in its period setting and dedication to the style of vintage horrors. The design of creatures and their various alien gadgets are excellent and rightfuly reminiscent of the retro-futuristic machinery from the covers of classic Weird Tales

My greatest complaint, other than too many "photographs of people talking" (as old Hitch would say) in the first half, would be the lack of sufficiently thick atmosphere in the Vermont woods. Lovecraft envisioned the plot based on his travels in the region, and conceived it as an exercise in mood and creeping hints of something sinister lurking in the silent and lonely hills and forests. 
There should've been more than a few brief shots of that in the film (some involving fine miniature work). Also, the ending resorts once again to the cliché of people in queer robes shouting incomprehensible things while invoking strange "Gods". This is not only done to death in practically every other "Lovecraftian" film, but is also utterly incongruent with this particular plot, in which the occult has absolutely nothing to do with its SF concepts. In a film pretty faithful to Lovecraft this is an unnecessary slip.

In terms of filmmaking, The Whisperer in Darkness is exquisitely shot and edited by David Robertson and very well directed by Sean Branney. The latter has already won the Audience award for Best director at the SFF-rated Festival of SF and Fantasy Film in Athens. The low budget origins are visible but expertly overcome by good costumes, elaborate production design and, of course, by the crisp photography. 
The loving attention to period detail is, after all, to be expected from the people who call themselves "H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society", and this adds to the intriguing viewing for those in the mood for such a blast from the past. The makers certainly showed that one doesn't need 150 million dollars, nor Tom Cruise, to make a very good HPL adaptation. Besides, their actors' motivation is enthusiasm, not dollars, and this clearly shows in every frame of the film. 
They deserve success for their efforts, and if they continue their evolution along the lines already sketched, after the 1920s and 1940s hommages, their next film will be probably in color, styled after Roger Corman's and other AIP Lovecraftian flicks from the 1960s. Let's just hope they remain closer to Lovecraft's spirit than those. 



Dejan Ognjanovic

St. Martin's Griffin, New York, 2011 
176 pp

Zombies are in!
After decades of mindless shambling in the confines of pulp magazines and B-movies, the living dead have finally reached the mainstream with the box-office success of 28 Days Later (2002) and its sequel, followed by the Resident Evil series, but especially after Zombieland (2009) gripped the mass-audiences. The book stalls are cluttered with the titles like Zombie Apocalypse, The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection from the Living Dead, World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War, The Zombie Survival Guide: How to Live Like a King After the Outbreak, and the like "manuals", topped only by the runaway success of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: The Classic Regency Romance - Now with Ultraviolent Zombie Mayhem!
Zombies! An Illustrated History of the Undead by Jovanka Vuckovic is a timely overview of these creatures, from their origins in Haitian folklore through their literary and cinematic incarnations all the way through comics, video games and phenomena like "zombie walks". After a brief tongue-in-cheek introduction from the inevitable George A. Romero (in which he talks about his own relation to the living dead), the book opens with the history of zombies. These chapters provide a necessary insight into the background which includes not only the voodoo beliefs but also hints of the racist and degrading American influence on Haiti, later reflected in equally racist steretypes which accompanied most of early zombie comics, pulp stories and horror films. These facts are commonly neglected in popular texts on zombies, and it is to Ms Vuckovic's credit that she does not omit unpleasant truths in between the lines of her subject.
The greatest part of the book is devoted to zombies in cinema, beginning with the poverty row Z-classics like White Zombie (1932) and the rightfully forgotten trash curios from the 1950s. Zombie renaissance begins with Romero's Night of the Living Dead (1968), which gets a special chapter, the same as its follow-up, Dawn of the Dead (1978) and unofficial sequel (cash-in), Fulci's Zombie (1979). Pre-Fulci Euro-zombies (the Blind Dead series; Manchester Morgue...) get their due just like the spaghetti-undead (with plenty of red sauce) of the 1980s. American highlights of that decade include the cult faves Dead and Buried (1982), Re-Animator (1984), The Return of the Living Dead (1985) and the initially misunderstood and unloved Day of the Dead (1985), which Vuckovic labels as the best of the Romero bunch (those who prefer Dawn of the Dead would tend to disagree). Post-Millennial zombies are there, too, including Dawn of the Dead remake (2004) which, strangely, gets equal space in the book to Romero's original, in spite of author's accurately calling it "unnecessary" and pointing to its numerous flaws. The Japanese undead are there, accompanied by the most recent popular TV series like the British Dead Set and American The Walking Dead.
Jovanka Vuckovic is a Canadian author of Serbian origin: award-winning writer, editor and film critic who was recently labelled one of the top-13 most important women in the history of horror! To lovers of horror she's probably best known as the editor-in-chief of one of the leading genre magazines, Rue Morgue (she held that title for seven years, until 2009). She is, therefore, knowledgeable when it comes to horror, and her writing shows that rarely found talent of recognizing the relevant, meaningful and interesting details to choose from, especially when one deals with the over-rich and over-ripe history of the undead. The book is not too analitical and may not be as detailed as some might like: its ambitions are obviously more towards the popular than towards the academic. This doesn't mean that it is lacking in insight: quite the opposite. But, due to limited space, and desire for lavish illustrations (full color throughout!), many intriguing readings and arguments are only sketched. The author readily admits these limitations, and offers helpful lists of 100 Zombie films and 100 Zombie fiction titles for further investigation.
I have very few complaints about this book, the greatest being that Pupi Avati's Zeder (aka Revenge of the Dead, 1983) is inexplicably lumped together with Lenzi's, Mattei's and Bianchi's trash flicks, dismissed all together as "mediocre to abysmal outings that manage to make quick work of undressing beautiful women in raunchy scenes that often have little to do with the plot" (page 85). Regardless of one's evaluation of this title (I tend to find it way above "mediocre"), the references to raunchy scenes and the like have absolutely nothing to do with this particular film. While Zeder is far from perfect, the quoted complaint against it has no ground in the film itself. Also, one might wish there was more space for discussing some of the more unconventional titles, barely mentioned here, like Pet Sematary (1989), Dead Heat (1987) and Les revenants (aka They Came Back, 2004). On the other hand, it is commendable that not even patriotic inclinations could make Ms Vuckovic include the truly abysmal Serbian Zone of the Dead (2009).  
Zombies! is a quality introduction to and overview of the plaguing problem of our near-apocalyptic times. More ambitious students are referred to the popular culture classes in Zombie Studies offered by The University of Baltimore and to other books of this growing phenomenon. Be prepared: they're coming to get you, and Ms Vuckovic's book (especially in its hardcover edition) may come handy!