HP Lovecraft’s short story “The Lurking Fear” has already been covered twice by us at the ISCFC, in 1989’s “Dark Heritage” and 1994’s “Lurking Fear”, and it’s a fascinating exercise in how different groups treat the same source material. “Dark Heritage” sticks closest while giving us a ton of gay subtext; “Lurking Fear” sadly doesn’t have much lurking or fear in it, relegating Lovecraft’s story to the B-plot, opposed to an A-plot about bank robbers hiding their stash in a graveyard; and now “Bleeders” (aka “Hemoglobin”) uses the main beats – underground-dwelling de-evolved trolls, family with heterochromia (two different-coloured eyes) – and uses them to tell yet another different story. But who wins the “Lurking Fear Adaptation Competition”?
On a beautiful clear day – surprising for a Lovecraft story – a bored sounding narrator accompanies a boat sailing into a small town’s harbour. The Van Daam family moved to the USA a couple of centuries ago, to escape the people in Europe who weren’t thrilled by incest; after keeping completely to themselves for centuries, if you know what I mean, they eventually died off in the 1920s, and their mansion has sat empty ever since. John and Kathleen Strauss, the couple on the boat are a curious pair, partly because they have absolutely zero chemistry, partly because John spends a good two-thirds of the movie either unconscious or laying about, sickly-looking. At the same time, the town’s cheapskate undertaker has been forced to dig up all the town’s corpses due to her substandard coffins, but hasn’t learned her lesson, and decides to re-bury a few of them on the Van Daam land, because screw them, they’re all dead, right?
The ugliest, cheapest looking trolls it’s ever been my misfortune to see are annoyed at the removal of the coffins, so they start to move further afield than their warren of tunnels underneath the town; and there lies the movie. Rutger Hauer, who was presumably in town, had a few spare days and needed the cash, plays the doctor who tries to figure out what’s wrong with John, autopsies a troll and discovers – shock horror! – both sets of sex organs, and generally acts like the only person in town who has a clue. Will John (well, his wife) find his family? Why are his eyes different colours? If you’ve read the other reviews or seen the other movies, you’ll know already but don’t spoil it for everyone else.
One question you don’t get the answer to is “why are there virtually no men in this town?” The grave-digging crew is all women, and the only men left are Hauer and an old drunk fella. A reference is made to them all being out on a fishing trip, and it’s not like anything creepy is going on as there are kids around, but it feels weird, like they decided to change the plot three-quarters of the way through filming and left this in as a massive red herring.
Lovecraft’s stories are perfect for TV and movie adaptation, because there’s interesting locations, not too much in the way of “special effects” (with a few notable examples, of course), and they often have a narrator character who can be turned into the typical movie leading man with no problems. That’s the case with the story here, but for some reason “Bleeders” has gotten rid of that chap and replaced him with…nobody, really. And that’s a pretty substantial problem – who’s the lead in this movie? It’s not John, as he’s mostly comatose. It’s not his wife, as she’s just there to help him, forgives him remarkably quickly for trying to rape her, etc. Hauer’s only in it for 15 minutes or so and there’s no-one else who does much of anything. Not all movies need the classic protagonist, but this is a story designed to have one!
Add to this barrel of laughs a complete “TV movie” feel in terms of acting and cinematography, and perhaps the ugliest most stupid ending I’ve seen in a long time, and you’ve got yourself a loser. Honestly, and it surprises me to say this, but I’d rather watch “Dark Heritage” again than this. At least that movie had a point – this is just a poorly guy with weird coloured eyes wondering why the hideous troll-mutant-things don’t attack him, and a whole pile of plot strands that don’t come close to tying together.
There’s one more curious name attached to this, and it’s not director Peter Svatek, who went on to a career in awful TV movies before breaking a 5 year drought with a documentary about MMA superstar Georges Saint-Pierre. It’s Dan O’Bannon, writer of “Dark Star”, “Alien”, “Total Recall”, and “Return Of The Living Dead”, a genuine shlock superstar. He’s got previous Lovecraft form, having directed “The Resurrected”, but his involvement her is still a puzzler. Maybe he was bored one weekend and knocked a script out, or maybe he was paid to add his name to the script, as he did with “Dead and Buried”? I guess we’ll never know.
Rating: thumbs down