Another attempt to bring the works (or at least the inspiration) of H P Lovecraft to the screen in the early 1990s resulted in this uneven anthology film that, while not entirely successful by any means, turns out to be another of those pictures that time has been quite kind to.
It probably helps that there’s a period setting, at least for the framework story. It’s the 1930s and HP Lovecraft (Jeffrey Combs doing a very likeable version of HPL) is brought by a taxi driven by Brian Yuzna to a library where the fabled book of the title is being guarded by an order of monks. Pretending to be actually interested in volumes of alchemy Jeffrey has soon pinched the key to the chamber where the special / valuable / naughty books are kept and pretty soon he’s leafing through the book of the dead and making notes. It’s these notes that allow the film to then segue into three short stories.
First up is The Drowned, directed by Christophe Gans, who went on to make BROTHERHOOD OF THE WOLF and SILENT HILL. I enjoyed this more than either of those films, but I suspect that may in part be due to the fact that The Drowned so wants to be a Roger Corman Poe picture that it hurts, but in the best way. After the death of his wife in an accident for which he was responsible, Bruce Martin Payne buys a deliciously gloomy, windswept mansion on a cliff top where he learns that one of the previous owners (played by Richard Lynch) made a deal with the Deep Ones to bring back his own dead wife and child. It all went horribly wrong, of course, but that doesn’t stop Bruce from trying the same thing. There’s a whole film in here and sadly twenty minutes just isn’t long enough to do it justice, but there’s enough fine imagery and an atmosphere that’s just so right that I’m very willing to forgive its shortcomings, especially as the music for this segment, by Joseph LoDuca, is excellent as well.
Next is The Cold, an adaptation of HPL’s Cool Air starring David Warner as the scientist who can only survive in very low temperatures and who ends up pulling himself to pieces in a welter of special effects. It’s directed by Shusuke Kaneko and it’s not bad, often being cited in reviews as the best episode. I personally prefer The Drowned but some good performances and effects make this episode very watchable too.
The final story is Whispers, directed by Brian Yuzna and as different from the other two as you could possibly get. A female police officer on the trail of ‘The Butcher’ gets trapped in the depths of a building and ends up prey for some weird flapping things that like sucking bone marrow and use human brains to reproduce. It’s all a little bit silly and (dare I say it) far too over the top to work, especially after the relative restraint of what has come before. Oddly enough I found the flappy monsters more reminiscent of Frank Belknap Long’s The Hounds of Tindalos or Clark Ashton Smith’s horrific brain sucking things from The Vault of Yoh-Vombis than anything actually by Lovecraft. Then there’s just time for Jeffrey Combs to fight the otherworldly monks before the end of what is really a bit of a curate’s egg of a picture. The framework and the opening story made it more than worthwhile for me, and anyone who has an interest in Lovecraft's mythos horrors being translated to the screen could do much worse than spend 93 minutes with this.