The Unnamable (1988)


If I’d not written notes while watching “The Unnamable”, right now the morning after watching it, I’d have struggled to remember what went on. It’s not so much that It’s bad, it just commits the unforgivable crime of being boring.

Now I’ve given you the entire review in two lines, I suppose I ought to be a bit more thorough. At some point in the late 18th century, a chap has a creature locked up in his house. He releases it and tries to reason with it, but sucks to be you, my olde-timey friend! He’s done for, but luckily after he takes a dirt nap a bunch of witches imprison it inside the house, and as long as no light falls on it (in other words, keeping the curtains closed) it should stay there forever.

Then, suddenly and inexplicably, we leap into a really bad amateur dramatics class. Wait, what? This is actually still the movie? Present day, Miskatonic University, and a group of people who look a good decade too old to be students are discussing ghost stories and the legend of the “Unnamable”, which it turns out is the very namable Aylda Winthrop, daughter of our unfortunate first victim. Fortunately, though, that the house is on the campus, twenty feet away from them and they decide to go and spend the night there, having clearly never read any horror stories. Only one of them turns up and he immediately dies, but the next day, some cool jocks and sorority pledges decide to go, plus the dead fella’s two friends mill about as well.

The pulse-pounding library scene!

The pulse-pounding library scene!

The huge majority of the film is set inside the old “haunted” house. If you can ignore how a house has been left untouched for over 200 years with original stuff still inside it, considering how many people appear to be able to just wander in at will, then they at least try with this segment – interesting camera angles, not too much of that acting business, which is best left to professionals, and the pace moves from unbearably slow to just really slow. People are killed and other people try and figure out how to stop the creature.

If you’re wondering just how slow the movie was, my friends and I spent a good ten minutes discussing the torches they used. One of them is so awful that it actually makes things worse – one small circle of light that stops your eyes from adapting to the vast expanse of darkness that surrounds it. Is there a brightness level lower than 1 candles’ worth?

One of my friends made the excellent point that this feels a lot like a student production – they’ve been given permission to film on what looks like a real campus, the old house looks like a real old house, it’s the director’s first film, and there are no stars, big or small, in the cast. Plus, it’s really awful in a lot of ways – women are props, and pretty unpleasant sexual harassment is played for laughs; the soundtrack is amazingly bad; the monster appears to have failed to graduate from Scary Pose Academy; and when something exciting happens, it happens completely off-screen. Seriously, you thought you were all loaded up with thrills so you’d leave the fight against the skeletons to our imagination?

Well hello to you!

Well hello to you!

So, if you want to watch someone who looks like a stereotype of a gay guy from the 1930s take part in some of the worst conversations ever captured on film, this is the film for you. Otherwise, probably best you stay away. Lovecraft’s original short story works because, well, it’s short, and the monster in it is a great deal more scary than a woman in white makeup waving her arms about. But, as the sequel has the great John Rhys-Davies in it, I suppose we’ll be watching that soon too.

Rating: thumbs down


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