Blu-ray

{Blu-Ray Review} The Unnamable, Lovecraft and Horror From the 80’s.

“May what horror hides here be consigned behind these walls for all eternity.”

 The Unnamable and its 1992 sequel are among the only cinematic adaptations of the works of the Old Gent from Providence that I hadn’t ever seen, at least prior to sitting down with this Unearthed Films release.

I have even seen unfortunate stuff like Cthulhu Mansion, which I should really get them to do for an Analog Sunday at the Screenland one of these months.

I remember seeing the VHS artwork for The Unnamable when I was a kid, but I never got a chance to watch it, for whatever reason, in spite of there being an obvious monster right there on the box.

For anyone else who has seen that box, you probably already have some idea of what to expect here. For those who haven’t: Imagine if H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Unnamable” had been a community theater production of a slasher flick, complete with plenty of monster POV shots, and you’re on pretty solid ground.

In the marketing materials for the film, that titular monster is front and center. It was on the cover of those old VHS tapes, and it is perhaps even more prominently featured on the slipcase of this new Blu-ray release.

It’s a solid choice, as the Unnamable in question is a pretty good monster, brought to life with latex make-up, yak-fur leggings, and big, clompy hooves. It can’t compete with Lovecraft’s predictably purple descriptions (“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.”) but it’s not bad.

However, the real star of the show is Mark Kinsey Stephenson as Randolph Carter.

In Lovecraft’s stories, Carter is usually accepted as an authorial stand-in for ol’ HPL himself, and here Stephenson plays Carter with a full dose of Lovecraft camp, talking in stilted, slightly archaic language and syntax and reading books by candlelight in the middle of a haunted house while his companions are being murdered by a monster upstairs.

Aside from this and its ’92 follow-up, Stephenson has only a handful of credits, most of which appear to be supporting roles or bit parts. Which is a shame, because in a movie where he had a little more to do, I feel like Stephenson’s Randolph Carter could have been a fan favorite to rival the likes of Jeffrey Combs’ Dr. Herbert West.

So, there’s a pretty decent monster and a great supporting performance; what else does this movie have? The answer, unfortunately, is: not a lot.

There’s the spooky old house which is the location for most of the action, somewhere out in the woods and surrounded by what look to be plywood tombstones. Lit primarily in blues and oranges, the house is also suitably filled with rotting furniture, peeling wallpaper, plenty of cobwebs, and, by the final reel, dismembered bodies.

There’s even a spinning wheel conspicuously placed just outside the door of the monster’s room, as if to set up a fairy tale tone that the rest of the movie never even tries to deliver.

Our story kicks off with a flashback to colonial times as we see the titular creature slay its caretaker before some trepid townsfolk come to bury his body in a nearby grave and seal up the house forever.

Then we cut to the present day, where Carter and his friends are sitting on graves telling spooky stories and discussing whether or not “there are things in this universe that are so horrific that the human mind isn’t able to conceive of them.” So, basically the same spot where the Lovecraft story starts off.

Beginning with a dare, a handful of students from nearby Miskatonic University end up spending the night in the old house, where they are killed off one-by-one in the aftermath of long periods of wandering the darkened halls in search of quiet corners in which to have sex.

Eventually Carter shows up and, in a low-rent nod to Evil Dead, figures out how to make the trees come to life in order to help stop the creature, a plan that he picks up from the warlock who was the creature’s former caretaker, who had intended to put it into motion, but “trees grow very slowly.”

This is the kind of film that you probably have fond memories of if you saw it when you were younger, and has some small joys to offer those, like me, who are in for just about any movie with cobwebbed houses, occult jibber-jabber, and unspeakable rubber monsters.

For everyone else, though, pretty much all of the film’s most memorable scenes are immortalized in the artwork on the Unearthed Films slipcover, including skeletal hands reaching up from beyond the grave and “our lovemaking disturbed a severed head.”

Having never seen the film previously, I can’t speak to how much better the picture quality is on Blu-ray, but I can imagine that The Unnamable may have been pretty unwatchably dark in its earlier incarnations.

Here it looks clear enough, even while the low budget shines through in many places. The sound mix, on the other hand, leaves something to be desired.

At least on my player, the surround sound carried an echo effect on just about all of the foley work, while the stereo and “grindhouse” options did what was probably a good job of reproducing the experience of watching this thing on video, with a constant crackle of background noise behind the otherwise pretty clear tracks.

Have your say