It’s something of a surprise to see a film based on a Lovecraft story that captures the spirit of Lovecraft’s writing – not content to hint at the horrors behind the slightly open door, he wanted to throw that door wide open and let you gaze on the creatures he conjured up. This is a story about the opening of that door.
Jeffrey Combs is the guy you call if you want your Lovecraft film to have some pop- after I paused the film to find out, I discovered he’s been in at least 8, and probably more like 12, films based on the work or life of the good ol’ New England racist. He’s Crawford Tillinghast, working at the weird mansion at 666 Benevolent Street on an experiment to stimulate the pineal gland. This gland is, he believes, a former sense organ, and if we can get it going, then we can see…well, beyond. His boss is S&M loving full-on oddball Dr Pretorius (presumably deliberately named after the fantastically camp character from “Bride of Frankenstein”), and unfortunately with their special machine on, the two of them summon / can see a bunch of space-eels, then something else which eats Pretorius’ head.
Because people can’t leave well enough alone, Tillinghast is taken out of Arkham hospital by Dr McMichaels (Barbara Crampton, who was also in “Re-Animator” along with Combs), a famous researcher who is seen as something of a stunt-merchant by the hospital staff, ignoring patient well-being to get big results. Accompanied by cop Bubba Brownlee (the great Ken Foree), the three go back to the mansion to turn on the experiment again, to see if it really works or not.
Your response to what happens after the first time they turn the machine on will colour your enjoyment of the entire film. It works, but rather than leave – because they proved what they set out to prove – they hang around. Pretorius may not be as dead as his headless corpse would have them believe, the pineal gland stimulation increases McMichaels’ sex drive, Tillinghast gets sicker and Brownlee seems to get a mild headache, although there’s one scene where he runs through a water-filled room in his underwear and we all see rather more of Little Bubba than we ever expected.
While the humans are driving themselves harder, the machine seems to become more powerful, and apart from a too-long detour back to the hospital, this is the main thrust of the film. The really great thing about this film is how it manages to capture the nature of a Lovecraft story, where reality shifts and humanity is seen as a tiny candle in a very very large, very scary darkness. The three central performances are excellent, with top marks going to Barbara Crampton, who has to go from repressed to wildly over the top and manages to nail it all. The special effects, being “real” rather than CGI, are a bit ropey at times, but the transformation of Pretorius is surprisingly gross and well-done. What makes all this more odd is this is the from the director of “Dagon” and producer of “Lurking Fear”, two other Lovecraft adaptations that I really didn’t care for that much.
So, aside from way too long spent in the hospital in the middle of the film, it’s definitely the best of the Lovecraft adaptations the ISCFC has reviewed so far. Strong acting, good plot, and suitably gross special effects make this a winner.
Rating: thumbs up
PS. This is yet another Charles Band / Full Moon film. Those guys really did produce just about every film you could get from a video shop in the 1980s, didn’t they?