Colin Timothy Gagnon (sacredspud) wrote,
Colin Timothy Gagnon

31 Days of Halloween: H.P. Lovecraft's Necronomicon

Back when I was first discovering H.P. Lovecraft, a friend whose name I won't mention raved to me about H.P. Lovecraft's Necronomicon. This was around the year 2000. It wasn't out on DVD, and VHS tapes were dying a slow, quiet death. I couldn't find a copy to purchase or buy locally. I checked Amazon--just for the sake of looking--but $27 seemed too much to pay for a movie I hadn't seen in a format that wasn't going to last.

In fact, I'm not sure if Necronomicon ever got a proper Region 1 DVD release. Common sense tells me that it must have, because DVDs are cheap to manufacture, and it was a good format for cult classics, but I don't can't find a copy, and I don't really care very much.

I finally did manage to track a copy down through one of those not-entirely-legal bootleg DVD sites which sold movies that were not otherwise available. This might have been 2004 or so.

I have not watched the movie since then, and thought I'd revisit it tonight.

This may not have been a good idea.

Necronomicon is one of those anthology movies that crams multiple shorter stories into a larger one. The large one, in this case, follows H.P. Lovecraft (a heavily made-up Jeffrey Combs) as he pages through a copy of The Necronomicon the library of a monestery. The Necronomicon is part of a special collection, and Lovecraft shouldn't be here; the monks believe he is studying the Alchemical Encyclopedia. As Lovecraft pages through the tome, we see unfolded the stories therein. Or maybe the stories Lovecraft plans to write based on the book's revelations. The movie never makes this clear.

The first story, according to the credits at the end of the movie, is called "The Drowned", and follows Edward De LaPoer, a widower who has recently inherited the a lavish, abandoned hotel where he finds a letter from his uncle, Jethro. Jethro's narrative recounts the loss of his wife and son in a shipwreck, his renunciation of Christianity, and the strange midnight visit from an icthyic stranger bearing an altogether different sort of mystical book. This is, of course, the Necronomicon, and Jethro uses it to revive his family...who are now demon-possessed fishpeople. Jethro commits suicide.

Edward, completely missing the point of Jethro's confession, locates the Necronomicon and brings his wife back to life. The results are not ideal.

Back in the library, Lovecraft shifts uncomfortably in his seat and the monks notice that he's not where he's supposed to be. Oh, well. On to "The Cold", in which a young woman, runs away from her abusive stepfather, and into the arms of the elderly Dr. Madden (David Warner), who requires constant freezing temperature because he's already dead and has devised a means of keeping himself in an artificially alive state--as long a he doesn't get too warm.

Back in the present--by which I mean the 1920s--the monks discover that Lovecraft is, in fact, skimming the Necronomicon, which is definitely outside of his privileges as an outsider. Lovecraft sallies onward into...

"Whispers", in which a couple of cops, Paul and Sarah, pursue a murderer known as "The Butcher". They get into an accident, and when Sarah comes to, Paul is gone. She follows the trail of blood into a warehouse, and takes the service elevator down to a lower level where she meets Mr. and Mrs. Benedict who may or may not be married, may or may not be The Butcher, and may or may not be working in the service of an ancient, alien buried beneath the earth. Also, there are flying bat-mushrooms, and Sarah is pregnant.

Finally, back in the library, the head monk confronts Lovecraft, who has conveniently lost the key to the door that separates them. The monk becomes furious and reveals himself not to be human. Then some kind of scary, Nameless Thing comes out of nowhere and eats the monk, and drips a lot of K-Y Jelly on the floor. Lovecraft makes his exit, gets into his waiting taxi, and goes home, presumably to publish his stories and make a lot of money and become a bestselling author.

Necronomicon is the kind of movie that believes Lovecraft was some kind of combination of Stephen King and Indiana Jones, which is a depiction we see depressingly often. The other popular depiction of Lovecraft is the extremely-pedantic xenophobe who never left Providence, Rhode Island. The truth falls somewhere in the middle. He was a gentleman skeptic who traveled as far North as Quebec and as far south as Florida, but he did a lot more buckling than swashing, and never, as far as I know, lied his way into a Rare Book Room. He was worth about $500 when he died, because his outmoded sense of propriety prevented him from taking much credit for his work, and yes, he was racist in ways that nobody even thinks about anymore. The Hollywood Lovecraft makes a better story, but it annoys people like me.

Brain Yuzna tends to like him, though. Yuzna produced Necronomicon, and directed the "Library" wraparound and "Whispers". Yuzna is responsible, either as director or producer, for several mediocre Lovecraft adaptations, I like him when he works with Stuart Gordon, but on his own, he tends to miss the point. His films are not bad if you're looking for cheap splatter, but they're all on the trashier side.

The other two segments were directed by other directors; Christophe Gans did "The Drowned", and Shusuke Kaneko did "The Cold". Both have written and directed horror movies, but not much that I'm familiar with.

Lovecraft is mostly known for his short stories, and I assume that Yuzna believed that the anthology format would justify making movies out of shorter material, but the only chapter that really fares well here is "The Cold", which is based the short story "Cool Air". It's got the standard Hollywood problems--superfluous love story, extra action, etc., but the story is pretty much all there, and doesn't suffer much in the execution. The other two main stories are pretty terrible. "The Drowned" is a combination of "The Rats in the Walls" (about a man who, during restoration of the old family estate, discovers horrible things about his family's past) and "The Shadow Over Innsmouth" (in which a traveler escapes a town full of fishmen, only to discover that he, too, is a fishman) which does little justice to either story. "Whispers" is a far more offensive "adaptation" of "The Whisperer in Darkness". The original story follows a professional skeptic as he slowly learns that rural Vermont is populated by flying mushroom-lobsters from space, and is far less stupid than it sounds. The Yuzna version is just stupid, and cramming it into a meager half hour does not help.

The movie did well overseas but went straight to video in the United States, which suggests that its distributors knew exactly who to market it to; high school-age stoners (like the one who recommended it to me) might enjoy this movie. If you're watching it alone, though, it's a slog.

Click here for the trailer
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