HP Lovecraft’s The Dunwich Horror

****

Reviewed by: George Williamson

Few horror writers have had the lasting impact of Howard Phillips Lovecraft, and even fewer have been as reliably butchered on screen. Lovecraft's writing is littered with detailed descriptions of unspeakable horrors; sights to burn the mind and sear the retinas; visions of such unnatural evil that the human psyche would snap after the slightest glance. So when presented with rubber tentacles that have been slathered in KY jelly or some identikit CGI that looks like rubber tentacles slathered in KY jelly, it rather fails to live up to the version from your mind's eye. So what better way is there to present The Dunwich Horror than in pure audio form? Close your eyes and let your imagination draw the unspeakable pictures…

The Dunwich Horror, our narrator outlines, occurred in 1928 in the rural Massachusetts village of the same name. For hundreds of years there have been whispered reports of ancient evil lurking in the hills and glens - in recent times the locals say that the old Whateley farm has become the focal point of these dark energies. They're a close family - just grizzled Old Whateley and his hunched albino daughter, Lavinia - they keep to themselves, shunning strangers, avoiding the outside world.

Neighbours circulate rumours of flirtations with magicks, sorcery and witchcraft, and when Lavinia falls pregnant with no father to be found, it's clear that something horrible is coming. There's a sickness on the wind; in the groaning of trees; in the screaming of the whippoorwills calling lost souls to hell. They speak of terrible deeds on the summit of Sentinel hill - of Yog Sothoth and the eldritch Old Ones, trapped between the dimensions, yearning to break free once more...

The Dunwich Horror is one of the central stories of the Cthulhu mythos and frequently borrowed from but, aside from amateur productions, is rarely presented in a literal version. Loose adaptations transpose the action to contemporary settings, often cherry picking the juicy parts - cue betentacled monsters, things from another dimension, crazy hillbilly demon summoners, government cover-ups etc, etc - and tend to lose the creepy charm of the original. This production is pretty much the original short story verbatim and is one of the best bits of Lovecraft of recent years.

The most interesting part of the production is obviously the lack of any visuals, fortunately it doesn't feel like a large budget audiobook or radio play, it very much lives up to the "audio movie" title which it is sold as. Eschewing visuals means that the usual money sink of slimy special effects and monster design can be avoided, diverting funding into the rest of the production, notably the sound design; it is far in advance of similarly budgeted short films, and is on a par with a blockbuster movie soundtrack.

The audio for the creatures is lovingly textured, and the well-populated foley effects present an engrossing backdrop to the actors. It manages to excellently conjure up visions of the action, providing your mind with more than enough information to paint vivid pictures of the proceedings.

The central performances are generally good - a little stagey, but never camped up to the point of a Hammer movie, or delivered in too much of a schlocky ironic fashion - quite a feat given the pulpy nature of Lovecraft's writing. The Scottish cast largely manage to wrap their tongues around the American accents well, and any inauthenticity is quickly forgotten, especially when the leads are so strong, especially the dark and gravelly Wilbur Whateley.

The action moves along at a gripping pace, and veteran radio producer and director Colin Edwards exerts tight control, keeping your ears pricked. Modern slasher audiences may criticise the lack of outright horror - it never really delivers any massive jump-out-of-your-seat scares - but it does manage to present a slowly developing creepiness that builds to, if not a terrifying, certainly a disturbing and exciting conclusion.

When sitting in a darkened cinema, enveloped in its sonic landscape, The Dunwich Horror is a unique experience and profoundly enjoyable, especially for fans of the genre.

Reviewed on: 03 Jul 2010
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A lavish audio production of one of HP Lovecraft's classic tales of terror.

Director: Colin Edwards

Writer: HP Lovecraft

Starring: Greg Hemphill, Innes Smith, Gavin Mitchell, Charlie Ross, Sandy Nelson, Vivien Grahame, David McGowan, Vivien Taylor, Dave Barr

Year: 2010

Runtime: 80 minutes

Country: UK

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