NOVEMBER 18, 2009
As I am sick of writing “I haven’t read the source material” when it comes to reviewing Lovecraft adaptations, I went and read both “Dreams In The Witch-House” and “The Music Of Erich Zann” after I watched The Shunned House (Italian: La Casa Sfuggita), in order to better acquaint myself not only with the stories on which the film was based (along with the title story, which I could not find to read for free online so oh well), but with Lovecraft as well, whom I hadn’t given a look at since my early days in college (over a decade ago now!).
My opinion hasn’t changed much (at least, based on these two tales - if time allots (HA!) I will try to check out a few more and get a better idea of the whole scope), unfortunately. I find his prose slightly over-wordy, with far too many made up words to wrap my head around, and characters I never quite get a good handle on. The one-line summary for any of his stories is usually interesting to me (for example - “Witch-House” is about a guy who moves into a strange house and becomes increasingly drawn into its dark power, and is also apparently menaced by rats. Cool.), but the execution just doesn’t grab me the way Poe or King does. Sorry, HPL fans. I am trying though!
Anyway, The Shunned House is an odd fit for the Decrepit Crypt set. It’s still shot on low grade consumer video, but it’s A. largely competent on a technical level and B. pretty good to boot. There are a lot of problems, but you gotta grade these things on a curve, and there is definitely more genuine ambition and dedication to making a good film in any 5 minutes of this film than you can find on any other film on this set (with the exception of the legit 70s film Scream Bloody Murder (aka Matthew), which got tossed on the set (on this same disc in fact!) for reasons I’ll never understand).
The biggest problem with House isn’t the source material, surprisingly enough, but rather the production’s odd decision to shoot the film with Italian actors speaking English, despite the fact that they clearly don’t know how. Folks talking about being “poonished” (punished) or declaring “I ate rats!” (I think she meant “hate”) is, of course, worth a chuckle, but the script is dead serious, and thus the broken voices constantly distract away from the narrative. Although, there is nothing more awesome than hearing a woman shout in a thick Italian accent "Shut up; I'm telling you my fucking dream, shut up!"
Also distracting is director Ivan Zuccon's habit of switching from one story to another with little to no seamless bridge between them. See, the movie takes one HPL story (“Shunned House”) and makes it the sort of wrap-around for two other stories (“Witch-House” and “Eric Zann”), intercutting back and forth throughout the film. Sometimes it makes sense - the guy in the wraparound will start reading a diary of the hero from “Witch-House”, and it will fade to the guy writing that entry. But other times it just cuts from “Witch” to “Zann”, and the fact that all three stories take place in the same house and that all of the not very well lit actors sound alike due to using their forced English makes these transitions jarring and confusing.
But with a better director (or even editor) and actors speaking their native tongue, this would actually be a pretty damn good movie. The stories are interesting, and even though (as I have discovered) they aren’t entirely faithful to the source material, Zuccon (with co-writer Enrico Saletti) captures the atmosphere of the tales quite well. Again, the movies on the Decrepit set tend to be super cheesy and unparalleled in their terrible-ness, so to see a film with not only a real story but some legit scares on the same disc as Vampire Hunter is something of a minor miracle.
There are also a lot of creepy visuals to enjoy. A woman eating her own wrist, several bloodied folks (dead or alive) wandering about, etc. They seemingly forgot about the rat monster from “Witch-House” (which was adapted by Stuart Gordon in the first season of Masters of Horror, unfortunately I recall little about the episode anymore, other than that it was OK), but that’s forgivable - the budget is clearly low, and any attempt at a “monster” likely would have looked terrible. Zuccon was wise to keep the scares based more in reality (i.e. bloody people) and get the idea of the story across instead of the specifics.
So HPL fans will likely balk for changing the stories (actually the plots are the same, but they change everything else - setting, characters, etc), and of course, those who are used to Gordon’s productions will feel short-changed by this no-budget incarnation, but I found myself largely entertained by it. Some of it was a bit confusing, and like I said, the accents never stopped distracting me, but its heart was definitely in the right place, and unlike the other films on the set, I wasn’t appalled that the filmmakers expected people to pay money in order to watch it. And hey, it got me to read some Lovecraft, which makes it the Reading Rainbow of no-budget independent horror movies.
What say you?