Throughout the month of October, horror fans celebrate by binging on our favorite tales of the macabre. We bust out our favorite Blu-rays, scour our collections and watch our old favorites from Romero, Craven, and Carpenter, while also checking out newer offerings. In my humble opinion, you really can’t have a proper Halloween season without the inclusion of H.P. Lovecraft. His stories made an indelible mark and influenced horror and science fiction for years to come. The genre wouldn't be what it is today without his work and the way he inspired other storytellers, and the inclusion of a Lovecraft story is essential in any October viewing schedule.
The Whisperer in Darkness is a classic entry in Lovecraft’s oeuvre (and one of my personal favorites). It was adapted for the screen in 2011 by Sean Branney (who also directed) and co-writer Andrew Leman. The story tells the tale of Albert Wilmarth (Matt Foyer), a noted scholar of folklore and legend studying at Miskatonic University. He becomes aware of strange happenings in Vermont through the correspondence of a local farmer, Henry Akeley (Barry Lynch). Akeley has experienced unidentifiable noises, seen mysterious figures, and has observed strange, almost crab-like footprints on his property. Over the course of several weeks, Akeley has gathered a great amount of evidence and data concerning the events and the strange beings he believes to be the cause, and at his insistence, Wilmarth ventures north to discuss the findings. When he arrives, he discovers that both he and Akeley have become entangled in a plot that is both larger and more terrifying than either could have imagined.
The original story is great in the way it paces itself and builds suspense over the course of the story. Bridging horror and science fiction and finding terror in the expanse of the unknown, it unfolds as only a Lovecraft tale can, bringing the reader into its world and leaving us with a lingering fear that all we know is insignificant and that the sheer vastness of the universe is something to be feared.
This adaptation of the story is brilliant in the way it captures Lovecraft’s original story and expands upon it. The source material ends on a cliffhanger that is more than appropriate for a novella, but would leave a film lacking. Here, Branney and Leman are faithful to Lovecraft’s original work, while also developing a fitting third act to give the story a more film-appropriate closure. This addition is great because it caps off the story nicely, but still captures the tone of Lovecraft’s original vision. The Mi-go creatures that Lovecraft first introduced in the story play a large role in the finale, and seeing them brought to life on screen is an exciting and unsettling experience.
Filmed in black and white and setting the story in the late 1920s (its original time period), the filmmakers do a fantastic job of bringing Lovecraft’s story to the screen. Making a few adjustments here and there to make the story a bit more compatible with the medium, it remains largely the same. It is clear that the filmmakers (operating as the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society) had a great deal of respect for the source material and worked to bring its essence to their adaptation. The whole thing plays like a late addition to Universal’s horror cycle of the 1930s. The music, the lighting, the whole thing harkens back to a classic period of horror cinema when the creatures on screen were larger than life and their stories sent shivers down your spine.
Adapting Lovecraft is an exciting game, with a lot of avenues for creativity on the part of filmmakers. Many choose to do modern adaptations, bringing his stories into our present. Here, the filmmakers bring us to Lovecraft. We find ourselves in his era and see the world as he saw it: a fascinating and potentially terrifying place with many points of entry for unknown creatures from outside our sphere of knowledge. Whether you’re a seasoned Lovecraft fan or a horror fan who is looking to check out something a little different, The Whisperer in Darkness is an excellent offering for the Halloween season.
In case you missed it, check here to read our other special features that celebrate the Halloween season!