The Unnameable (1988)

APRIL 29, 2012


If you remove Stuart Gordon’s entries, there really aren’t a lot of Lovecraft adaptations out there, which is odd because his vague writing style would seemingly inspire more filmmakers to use his stories as a springboard, as opposed to Stephen King or Clive Barker. Their novels are often too vast and specific to properly adapt in one movie without making major changes, but with Lovecraft it seems you can meld his ideas with your own without getting his fans too upset. Then again, when movies turn out like The Unnameable, it’s easy to see the money men might not be too interested in backing his stories.

It’s a decent enough time-killer I guess, but the movie is somewhat obnoxiously bland and awkwardly structured (and has seemingly been forgotten for the most part). Most of the movie takes place in a big ol’ decrepit mansion, but our main characters don’t actually show up there until the 3rd act, making it hard to get too involved with the 2nd act, where four classmates of little to no importance to our main guys wander around the mansion and (slowly) die one by one. This also makes the movie needlessly repetitive; the first act has a guy exploring it by himself, then these guys show up, and finally our heroes come and ALSO wander around – 75% of this movie consists of people wandering down hallways. When your third act begins with your main characters more or less re-enacting the same stuff you already saw in the first hour, it makes it a bit hard to get too wrapped up in the movie, at a time when you should be at your most engrossed.

This also keeps the movie’s best character off-screen for far too long. Mark Stephenson plays Carter, and he’s basically a less dangerous version of Herbert West from Re-Animator. He’s arrogant and doesn’t care too much about the human life around him, but he’s also dryly hilarious, and has fun chemistry with his co-star, much like West’s relationship with Dan in Gordon’s classic. they even have the same approach to names – everyone refers to him by his last name and his pal by his first: (Randolph) Carter and Howard (Damon), (Herbert) West and Dan (Cain). But he barely appears in the film’s 2nd act, and even in the 3rd, when the two of them come to the mansion, they split up and we spend more time with Howard. It was a surprise to discover that this movie had a sequel, but not so much that it seemingly focuses on his character (the movie is titled The Unnameable II: The Statement Of Randolph Carter).

Besides him, there are really only two reasons to watch the movie, possibly with the fast forward button handy. One is the occasional death scenes; clearly knowing part of what made Re-Animator a classic, director Jean-Paul Ouellette delivers some gory goods, particularly for a guy that gets his head repeatedly slammed into a floor until the wood is covered with blood. It’s not played for laughs, nor is it very splatter-y, but it works well, and there are a few other choice gags to enjoy – I particularly liked the face ripping during the climax. Scenes like this make up for the film's oft-clumsy editing and direction, with head-shaking moments like when someone says "We should keep moving!" and they walk out of frame, and then we cut to a shot of them standing completely still in another room. Smooth.

The other perk is the title creature, because they actually did a pretty good job of living up to the fact that it’s supposed to be an indescribable “thing”. It’s got goat type legs and is clearly female, but otherwise it’s hard to describe, and one could probably name a dozen animals that it shares a trait with (while being humanoid, and totally white, and sort of demon-ish, and…). And they use it just enough – fleeting appearances throughout the film followed by a big showing in the finale, where the hero laughably keeps trying to kick its ass even though its injured and more or less ignoring him. Like it’ll howl and just sort of stand there, and the hero will run over to get another whack in, only for the Unnameable to smack him across the room yet again. Just leave it alone, dummy!

Shame that the movie has never gotten a DVD release in the US, apparently. Netflix is streaming a full frame and not particularly good transfer, though I am pretty sure it’s uncut at least (read something about the head smashing being cut from some versions). The sequel is available on DVD, oddly enough, but that too is full frame and probably shit because it’s a mid-00s release from Lion’s Gate, all of which seem to be awful, VHS transfers. It’s not a great movie, but it’s worth seeing properly to appreciate the creature design and practical bloodletting. Also to hear the film’s amazing end credits theme song, which sounds like a Ric Ocasek ballad. I leave you with it.

What say you?


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