If you are a regular reader here at Unfilmable, you’ve probably seen our coverage of Shadow of the Unnamable. A product from Germany, the filmmakers have teased us over the last year or so with slick looking production stills and an eye-catching teaser trailer. Having premiered this past year at horror festivals worldwide, we were lucky enough to get an early peek at the project.
A straightforward adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s 1925 “The Unnamable” story, this short takes place in an atmospheric cemetery where fiction writer Randolph Carter (Robert Lyons) entertains his friend, Joel Manton (Jeff Motherhead), with stories of how he conceives his literary subjects. “My novels don’t come without thorough investigation,” he says to his doubting friend of all things terrible that inhabit his stories. Carter then tells the story of how the town and his ancestors battled a monster over a period of 200 years. This unspeakable horror, Carter reveals, left a number of victims in its wake (“none of them found in one piece”). The number of attacks dwindled over the years, but the odd author believes he has found the remains of the beast. Where? In the creepy cottage that lays just a few yards behind Manton, of course.
Originally published in an issue of Weird Tales, Lovecraft’s “The Unnamable” is a solid short story with one of horror literature’s great “it is right behind you” stings. The story previously provided the source for Jean-Paul Ouellette’s The Unnamable films and, while the first film does feature the characters and scenario from the short story, little is similar after that. Director-producer-writer Sascha Renninger gives the story its first proper adaptation as he brings the scenario to perfectly realized life nearly word by word. Renninger has taken great pains to give us a pure Lovecraft adaptation and his work is befitting the classic short story. Opening with an impressive animation unfolding over a lush score by Andreas Meyer, the 16-minute short is incredibly well made. All of the technical elements are top notch with superb cinematography by Wilfried Keil (the opening steadicam shot is killer) and some really clever editing by Renninger and Florian Eisner. Honestly, the production values are better than half the stuff littering the horror market right now. Like its literary inspiration, the film keeps the monster hidden in shadows and brief glances with the beast being created via CGI (there is a great scene of the monster gutting a victim with only shadows on the wall giving the audience a glimpse of the action).
Helping further back up the superior technical aspects is an astounding attention to period detail. Like the fine filmmakers at the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society, Renninger and his crew are able to amazingly recreate 1920s New England on a budget that I’m sure wouldn’t get James Cameron to roll out of bed in the morning. Particularly impressive is the film’s coda which features vintage cars and dozens of extras in period costuming wandering around a vividly created Arkham Asylum. The acting is also very solid for an independent feature. Naturally, the film rests on the shoulders of its storyteller and Robert Lyons (not to be confused with veteran American character actor Robert F. Lyons) is quite good as the Lovecraft surrogate Randolph Carter. He definitely gives his performance the necessary creepy edge and he even bears a slight resemblance to the celebrated author.
This brings me to my lone complaint about the film. I was upset that this was only a short as such a handsomely mounted production is completely worthy of a feature length film. Alas, Renninger set about to just give the world a faithful adaptation of Lovecraft’s short story and he succeeded marvelously with Shadow of the Unnamable. With a perfect combination of behind-the-camera professionalism and reverence for the source material, it is no wonder this short recently won Best Short Lovecraft Adaptation at the 2011 H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival.
Shadow of the Unnamable teaser: