Necronomicon: Book of the Dead (1993)

*. This one was also released as H. P. Lovecraft’s Necronomicon, which it certainly is not. But very free adaptations of Poe have a long film tradition so there’s no reason Lovecraft should be treated any differently. I only wonder why so few directors have tried to do Lovecraft straight up. He’s certainly weird enough on the page.
*. Once again we have the conceit of the horror anthology film as a book. Sometimes it’s a dusty old tome (Twice-Told Tales, ABCs of Death 2), sometimes a comic book (Creepshow, Trick ‘r Treat). Here it’s that ghastly grimoire the Necronomicon. Though this makes me question why Lovecraft (the character in the film, played by Jeffrey Combs) wants to sneak into that ashram library just to read these spooky stories anyway. Doesn’t that make him a plagiarist?
*. The first story up in this three-parter is “The Drowned” (directed by Christophe Gans) which is ostensibly an interpretation of “The Rats in the Walls.” About the only thing the two have in common is the house on the cliff and the main character’s last name. This was a bit of a disappointment, as I’d love to see a faithful adaptation of “The Rats in the Walls.” It’s also disappointing that Lovecraft’s story has been replaced with the old morality tale about how bringing back the dead never works out the way you think it will because (as the line from Pet Sematary has it) “sometimes dead is better.”
*. Once things get going, however, we get some fun practical effects, with lots of slime and tentacles. And a much better Cthulhu than we got in The Haunted Palace. Or is that Nyarlathotep? Or Shub-Niggurath?

*. “The Cold” (directed by Shusuke Kuneko, who didn’t know any English at the time) is based on “Cool Air,” which is just Lovecraft’s version of Poe’s “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar” but with some gruesome changes like having the doctor killing people for their spinal fluid, and keeping a baby alive for years in the womb. This is good stuff, and Valdemar’s (or Dr. Madden’s) dissolution is very nicely done.
*. The final story, “Whispers” (directed, along with the wraparound library material, by Brian Yuzna) is, I am led to believe by reputable sources, based on “The Whisperer in Darkness.” Apparently the script went through a number of revisions however, so what it has in common with Lovecraft’s eldritch tale of alien ventriloquists inhabiting the backwoods hill country of Vermont is anybody’s guess.

*. As far as these things go, this is a decent enough modern interpretation of Lovecraft: nowhere near close enough to satisfy purists but close in spirit to the pulp sensibility of the original. As I began by pointing out, few directors have tried to produce a literal adaptation of Lovecraft’s work, and that isn’t attempted here.
*. The idea of having Lovecraft himself as a character was interesting, but nothing is done with it, and to be honest I didn’t think there was anything to the frame story at all. These are so rarely done well that I understand why so many anthology horrors don’t even bother. I wonder why it’s been so hard to come up with something as clever as the frame in Dead of Night.
*. Not that the story structure really matters. This is very much an effects movie, of the old school sort (meaning a lot of practical in-camera effects rather than CGI). If you like this kind of gore then you’ll find this worth checking out despite the narrative weakness. The splatter is disgusting and inventive. The aquatic zombies are better than the ones in Creepshow, though not as good as Davy Jones and his crew in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. The tentacles shooting out of the dead woman’s eyes are great. Dr. Madden’s demise is a highlight. Only the final story is a let down. It’s a real chaotic jumble of action and tone, and left me mystified as to what was actually going on.
*. There aren’t a lot of “classic” anthology horror films. Dead of Night. Kwaidan. Aside from those two titles, it’s a genre that sets a low bar. Adjust your expectations accordingly, also keeping in mind the date, and you won’t be disappointed by this one.

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