Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Lovecraft Corner #8: The Unnamable

Hi, guys, RBY back. I'd like to open with another mini-explanation, similar to last time. In all honesty, Lovecraft is something that Hollywood really should shy away from adapting. Lovecraft managed to explain why in one of his short stories, in which his author avatar (Randolph Carter) and another character discuss whether or not it's possible for something to be so hideous as to be indescribable. To spoil the ending, the two are attacked and, when Randolph wakes up in the hospital and asks his friend what it was, this is his reply:

"It was everywhere - a gelatin - a slime - yet it had shapes, a thousand shapes of horror beyond all memory. There were eyes - and a blemish. It was the pit - the maelstrom - the ultimate abomination. Carter, it was the unnamable!"

...Yes, in some twisted logic, it was a story that had an indescribable monster and was saying how some things can't be described that was adapted into this month's movie. A medium in which there's little left to the imagination and description is always plausible (perhaps there's a film that's pulled off the concept of an indescribable beast, but I never saw it). ....why would you do this, Hollywood?

As always spoilers ahead.

It's your favorite slasher film with Lovecraft references.

....that didn't work, huh. Okay, let's start again...

The film opens onto a dark and stormy night, back in the late 1600s/early 1700s, where a horrible shrieking can be heard for nearly five minutes, set over a man reading. He goes up to the attic to let the breathing sound effect out and, for his troubles, is killed brutally. The story returns to present-day, where it's revealed to be a story told by one Randolph Carter. He follows this with a story about a boy who, 50 years ago, broke inside, and what he saw drove him insane. It turns out he's telling this story to two friends: Howard, who doesn't know what to think, and Joel, who thinks Carter calling the creature 'unnamable' is stupid and is determined to prove Carter wrong. Joel asks about the house where the creature supposedly lives, and it turns out it's the house that's right in front of them. Joel decides he'll spend the night to prove Carter wrong. Carter, realizing he's in a slasher film under the guide of a Lovecraftian tale, wisely hightails it.

Joel stays the night and Howard goes back to Miskatonic University (hi, Dan and West! Lot of bodies incoming!) with Carter, concerned for Joel but unwilling to go back. After Carter reassures Howard, Howard introduces us to the first of our cannon fodder - I mean cast - Wendy, whom he has a crush on. Now that it's nightfall, Joel finally enters the house (despite being there while it still had daylight). When he's inside, the door suddenly closes and he thinks it's just a prank. He goes upstairs with a lit candle and finds a noose and a bloody bowl before a shadow passes by, catching his attention. He follows it up to the attic and finds a face etched into the window before the door up there breaks open. Of course, Joel dies.

The next day, Howard finds Carter in the library and tells him Joel never showed back up. Carter, refusing to get entangled in this mess and ramp up the body count, says Joel is just trying to scare them. Wendy is also at the library with her meat shield, I mean, friend, Tanya. The two are talking about boys, and two frat boys (Bruce and John) approach them. After some conversation, they invite them to the house to join a sorority. The girls agree, though Tanya's worried.

That night, all four arrive at the house and, like Joel, are magically locked in. This doesn't seem to bother them much, nor does finding Joel's shoeprints. Back at the college, Howard catches up with Carter to tell him Joel was supposed to have gone home for the weekend, but he never showed up. Carter, unable to brush off the plot any longer without sounding like an idiot, agrees to go back to the house to find him. Back at the house, the girls decide to explore, and the four walk around, going upstairs, and provoking this comment: "Seems bigger inside than it looks." never know. There are jump scares to be had while they investigate, and then John takes Wendy, splitting up the group. If I got the names wrong, forgive me; after a while, I couldn't remember who was who. Side effect of being a slasher flick. Tanya and Bruce go look for the two, narrowly missing discovering a body and seeing the moving shadow. The breathing sound effect stalks them, but when Tanya hears it, it hides.

John and Wendy end up having sex, ensuring their demises. Bruce tries it too, but Tanya shames him into stopping. Wendy's enjoying herself until Joel's mutilated head rolls to a stop next to her, which, understandably, ruins the mood. Wendy flees and passes out in front of Tanya and Bruce, and John is killed by the monster. When the three find John, they decide to flee, and we get a glimpse of the 'unnamable' monster, which does NOT live up to its reputation in the slightest. In fact, let me describe it for you: albino Jersey Devil. It's not completely accurate, but it's not far off.

Anyways, when Tanya reaches the door - alone - she sees a strange silhouette that makes her faint. It's just Carter and Howard, though; Carter starts checking out the books while Howard revives Tanya so she can explain what's been happening. Carter theorizes it's a frat joke or Joel gone mad, and Howard and Tanya go upstairs. Bruce, meanwhile, chooses to use himself as bait to protect Wendy, and the monster kills him by....lifting up up a few feet and dropping him. Repeatedly. Words really don't do the hilarity of this scene any kind of justice. Meanwhile, Howard and Tanya find that John's body is gone, supporting the 'frat prank' theory. They search for Wendy, and Tanya admits she likes Howard. Back downstairs, Carter finds a copy of.... the Necronomicon.

If I haven't said it yet, another rule to the drinking game: take a shot every time some tome of eldritch lore is inserted into a story it wasn't in before.

Anyhow, during a rather random conversation, Howard and Tanya find Joel's headless body, making Howard realize it's not a prank and Joel's not responsible. However, with this revelation, Tanya is locked into a room. Howard leaves to go find help. He asks Carter, but Carter says he needs more time to find an answer before he can act. When they hear Wendy, Howard goes to find her while Carter learns that the monster is actually a child of evil, bound to the house by a spell and held back by the structure and the trees. When Howard goes downstairs, he finds Wendy, who blames him for the night's events and tries to kill him. He's knocked out but, before she can do more, the monster kills her and drags her body away.

Carter finally figures out a solution, but he's still locked in. To remedy this, he tries a few incantations from the Necronomicon until the door opens. He goes into one of the tombs, using a rather familiar-sounding incantation to protect himself (even if you weren't sure, you hear Cthulhu's name and R'lyeh. They weren't trying, it seems). At this point, Howard wakes up - Wendy's gone, Carter's no longer on the ground floor, Tanya's not answering... Tanya, by this time, had gotten out and, in her efforts to escape, stumbled across a body that makes her scream. Howard finds her and comforts her, only for the two to be confronted by the monster. They flee to the attic and barricade the door. They then find the trapdoor - how the monster had been moving - and block that too. Back in the tomb, Carter uses the Necronomicon to summon the 'tree spirits' (just roll with it), causing the camera to shake and the tomb to close over him, trapping him.

Back in the attic, the creature finally seems to leave, and Howard and Tanya heave a sigh of relief. Tanya then checks the window and screams, saying she could see the monster. Howard, thinking it's just the etching, goes to show her it's harmless. Except it IS the monster, and it leaps through and attacks. Oops. Knocking them both down, the monster....uh, dances over to Howard and pins him. Of course, Howard and Tanya fight back - Tanya successfully breaks one of its arms by lightly tapping it with a flashlight, and Howard rips off part of its face. Then, a tree branch breaks in and, with the help of a voiceover, takes the monster away, presumably to its demise. Howard and Tanya flee the house (after Howard does a cursory search for Carter) and the two embrace outside the house - just before the ground opens up and hands try dragging Howard down. A human hand reaches up - it's Carter, who uses Howard to get above ground before helping Tanya save his friend and closing off the hole. Carter announces he's seen the 'unnamable' (Riiiight) and delivers the last line of the movie, saying "It was Hell."

As you might've guessed, this movie's a pretty poor adaptation of the short story. I'll admit, they didn't have much to work with - they adapted all but the proper ending of the original story in the first ten minutes. That being said, it doesn't excuse this becoming a slasher flick - blood and gore were not Lovecraft's style; if they wanted to be more faithful, inspiring characters to insanity might've been better. The two named characters in the story - Carter and Joel - are close friends, something that's not really apparent here because Joel's obvious cannon fodder. The one thing that really bugs me, though, is Randolph Carter's character here. Now, it's possible I'm wrong, but I've always figured Carter is pretty much the closest you can get to a badass human in the Lovecraft universe - he's gone into Kadath, home of the Dream Gods; he's chatted with Nyarlathotep and Yog-sothoth; and he, unlike most Lovecraft protagonists, comes out with no major psychoses or phobias. Yet here he says that whatever was in the house would be beyond him and refuses to get involved. To me, that just seems so unlike him - but again, I might be wrong in my interpretation. It doesn't change the fact that, as a Lovecraft adaptation, this fails.

But how about as a film? Kriken?

As a film, I could only classify this as a generic slasher that doesn't really try to distinguish itself from the rest of the pack. This movie felt like it was trying to follow a lot of the slasher movie cliches and the monster itself was a complete joke when we actually got to see it. The characters were not interesting in the slightest, the story about the monster made no sense, the effects were average at best, and overall it was really boring. I don't know if it would have helped, but I think that it could have been a bit better if everytime the monster had a scene, it was shot through the eyes of the monster or the monster itself was always slightly offscreen (I probably would have called it as a way to cheapen the special effects budget, but it would have improved the concept of "It's indescribable"). In short, this really isn't worth watching as it's not memorable at all, it doesn't follow the Lovecraft story and there are far better slasher flicks out there if you want to see a slasher.

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