August 23, 2010
This adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft's short story "The Haunter of the Dark" is a visually striking and eerily effective blending of the author's elements, and one of the best HPL films I've seen. Eschewing splashy gore effects, it focuses on building an ominous mood and revealing the slow decay of the main character's mental state as he glimpses "worlds unknown" and grinds his way down into violent madness. Beautiful cinematography and economic storytelling balance the claustrophobic environments of the artist's studio and the expansive mysteries of the abandoned church, while suggesting a darker and more malevolent cosmos lurking just beyond this false-front reality.
Key to the movie is the twitchy, introverted and hypnotic performance of Barret Walz. His self-absorbed and socially awkward character could easily alienate the audience, but instead betrays glimpses of vulnerability, loss, and yearning that underlies his visionary drive and artistic obsessions. He's supported by the terrific and colorful turns of a cast of accomplished character actors, including the avuncular Maurice McNicholas, fragile Edy Cullen, and the seething menace of Tom Lodewyck as fellow mad-artist Goodie Hines.
This movie is also a remarkable achievement on a limited budget. Dir. Robert Cappelletto has wisely focused on good storytelling over splashy effects, while still crafting a top-notch look and feel. The insidiously creepy aural landscape digs even deeper, with great sound design and a moody and effective score. Clearly more influenced by the suggestive horror of Val Lewton than today's splatter-tropes, this is a movie for anyone looking for more substance to their scares. A real treat for fans of Lovecraft's writings, as well as anyone seeking atmospheric, old-style horror thrills.