(aka, The Unnamable Returns)
I have to confess that I enjoyed The Unnamable (1988).
Yeah, I know, it doesn’t have much to do the original Lovecraft story which it is supposedly based upon, and it doesn’t exactly enjoy particularly high ratings from either the critics or the audience.
But it is a fun little monster movie about a creature in a haunted house and it really isn’t too worried about being anything more than that.
And, yes, I can accept that.
Apparently enough people out there more or less agreed with me that they actually made a sequel four years later, which picks up where the last one left off.
Well, mostly. But we’ll talk about that later.
The monster from the first film is trapped, but Howard (who survived the first film) is having strange nightmares about her. This leads Randolf Carter to go back and try to put an end to the creature with the help of his mentor, Professor Warren (John Rhys-Davies).
But things don’t work out as expected and the next thing you know, a horrible monster is loose, killing students left and right, while Carter has to protect the innocent young girl who was bound to the creature hundreds of years ago…
While this sounds like as basic a story as we had in the last film, this time around the Lovecraftian elements are far stronger and play a larger part in the proceedings. While The Unnamable was based on one of Lovecraft’s most minimal stories (involving a pane of glass which somehow picked up the impression of the unspeakable face of the creature in the attic and an attack by a horrible creature), the second film draws heavily on one of Lovecraft’s more famous works, which is more or less adapted as the middle part of the film.
Mind you, you won’t find Alyda Winthrop in that story. Now there seems to be a strong parallel to the The Dunwich Horror and its horrible child who was part monster, but I suspect that they invented her story in the first film from a few trivial references in the original short story and perhaps a viewing of Vincent Price’s The Haunted Palace.
I’m actually impressed that the actors who played Howard and Randolph in the first film return — and I’ll admit I got a bit of a chuckle at how quickly the other survivor of the first film is sent off to the hospital to recuperate and is never seen again. For the most part, the story lines up with the original although there are lots of minor discrepancies, while some of the details, like the tree roots trapping the monster, only make sense if you’ve seen the first film. Jean-Paul Ouellette, who wrote and directed the first film, returns. He hasn’t done much of anything else since, and you have to wonder if the four-year gap was because it took him that long to get backing. When you watch the second film, it really seems a shame that he never made any further Lovecraft films: once again he creates a suspenseful film with the same lightness of touch the original had. Neither film is exactly what you would call deeply scary (despite a few good frights here and there) or that close to Lovecraft, but if you can overlook that then you should enjoy them.
In a late-Eighties, B-Movie sort of way, that is.
Ouellette does a better job this time around on the action scenes and the cat and mouse pursuit of the monster, and he seems to have improved when it comes to building tension. The final chase through the library does go on a bit too long, but that’s a quibble.
And it is a major plus that David Warner puts in a brief appearance as a college president who knows far more than he’s admitting.
Now if you are expecting an H.P. Lovecraft movie to feature unspeakable things which are beyond our human comprehension then you probably haven’t seen to many of the films which have been based on his stories. Instead, a story of existential horror and madness has become a teen slasher movie, with a demonic creature killing kids, police and teachers at a fairly modern-looking university.
But, darn it, it is fun. And you have to love the discovery early on that parts of the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred’s legendary Necronomicon are actually quantum mechanics equations. I suspect the majority of the adaptations of Lovecraft’s work focus entirely on witchcraft, magical rituals and such like, so it is a pleasant surprise when instead we get to see the more science-fictional side of Lovecraft, complete with talk of beings from other dimensions.
Not that we don’t get magic and witchcraft, mind you.
You can also color me amused by Alyda Winthrop’s human form: while that is scream queen Julie Strain hiding behind all the monster makeup, Alyda is a beautiful young woman who spends almost half her screen time running around totally naked except for her conveniently long and well-placed hair.
And she refuses to put any clothes on!
The bottom line is that, if you are expecting existential cosmic horror and man facing the unthinkable (and, yes, unnamable), then you are in the wrong movie.
But if you’re willing to accept monsters, gore, thrills and even a few laughs instead, then Unnamable II is a fun little B-Movie which is better than the first film.
And that’s something you can’t say about too many Lovecraft adaptations…
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