Tuesday, May 18, 2010

H.P. Lovecraft Week: The Horrors of Dunwich, Part 2

So we saw what a modestly budgeted SyFy-licious take on "The Dunwich Horror" would look like. Now let's take a look at how some true independent filmmakers would tackle the subject.

BEYOND THE DUNWICH HORROR (2007) – I’m too lazy to write this plot out so here is they synopsis from the IMDb:

Kenny Crawford (Michael Reed) arrives in Dunwich after hearing that his brother Andrew (Jason McCormick) has been admitted to a psychiatric ward, and is suspected in a string of disappearances in the town. With the help of local reporter Marsha Calloway (Ruth Sullivan) and the eccentric Upton Armitage (Jeff Dylan Graham) he probes the last few weeks of his brother's life. As they do so, they uncover evidence of a plot in the works revolving around Andrew, his girlfriend Nikki Hartwell (Sarah Nicklin) and her twisted friend Otto Bellinger (Carlos Brum).

Lensed in Lovecraft territory (Providence, Rhode Island), this indie shot-on-video horror flick has a lot of things going for it. Unfortunately, the negatives swallow up the positives like a huge tsunami wave. For the first hour, you wouldn’t even think this has anything to do with Lovecraft outside of a few references here and there. I mean, when did Lovecraft write about goth clubs where people eat worms or frightening threesomes where a guy is raped? Then, roughly an hour and six minutes in, Upton Armitage gives the muther of all exposition speeches that reveals this is a sequel to “The Dunwich Horror” and that every major character is a relative of the Whateley or Armitage clan. Plus, we are introduced to the fabled Necronomicon as a major plot device. I liked that but, dude, could you have introduced the main plot a bit sooner? The scattershot plotting is a major problem here. But let’s look at the bright side first.


The filmmakers really tried. Even before seeing the film my interest was piqued by some amazing poster art, a well done trailer and some snazzy old school lobby cards. In my review of GRAVEYARD OF THE DEAD, I crucified filmmaker Vick Campbell for not even attempting to circumvent (or even acknowledge) budgetary problems. The same cannot be said for BEYOND’s writer-director Richard Griffin who clearly put his tiny budget ($75,000) to good use. The film opens with an aerial shot, so you know he isn’t going to be one of those whiney “We are low budget so we can’t do ‘big movie’ stuff” filmmakers. The film features some nice location photography, great sound work, moody lighting and some effective scare scenes. Also, the acting by most of the leads is decent, which is a rarity in low budget productions. Reed, Graham and Sullivan are all good in there roles and have some snappy exchanges. They even managed to snag Lynn Lowery (I DRINK YOUR BLOOD; THE CRAZIES) for a cameo. I also totally dug the downbeat ending, even if it is straight out of THE WICKER MAN (1973). By far the best thing about the film is the Fabio Frizzi-esque score by Tony Milano (check the trailer for a highlight).


Um, everything else? For all the positive work that Griffin does, there is always something there to undermine it. For every good line of dialog, there are two equally bad ones. For every good performance, there is one that will make you yog your kothag and go, “Oh, almighty Old Ones, you can’t be serious!” I hate to single folks out but rail-thin McCormick and rail-thinner Brum – who looks like an anemic Buster Poindexter – are particularly bad. And then there are THE sex scenes. Ouch! I get including stuff like this to add an exploitation element but this might contain the most unattractive threesome in the history of cinema (not to mention both guys look like they weigh 90-lbs. soaking wet). You know you are doing something wrong when I pine for the eroticism of the dreadful WITCHCRAFT series! This leads me to the biggest problem with the film: the bloated running time. BEYOND is one hefty sumbitch, clocking in at 1 hour and 44 minutes.  There is absolutely no reason this should run that long. I don’t mind long films at all; I just mind films that are pointlessly padded or not subject to some judicial editing. I was having a pity party for myself for having endured this until Tom informed me that MYSTERY OF THE NECRONOMICON ran a whopping 2 hours and 7 minutes.

In the end, BEYOND THE DUNWICH HORROR is a film that is halfway there. They get an A for effort on what is ultimate a C film. A solid 5 out of 10. Hell, these guys did better than Ulli "No sugar added" Lommel and he has been making flicks for 30 years! Shot-on-video horror can be done effectively. For example, Ivan Zuccon’s COLOUR FROM THE DARK (2008) cost just a tad more than this and blew it away. I’ll let Mr. Simmons elaborate more on that later. With this one, just check out the trailer below and call it a day. I always like to end on a positive note so let me say that BEYOND does have a place in Lovecraft cinema history as it is probably the only Lovecraft film to feature the following line of dialog:

“Look, just come down to the club this week. My band Suicide Pudding is performing.”

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