It is an old movie trick that is commonly used in horror movies. Slap an iconic name into the title to lend credibility to your film. The movie may only be loosely connected, but that still does not stop people from adding borderline truthful claims such as, “from the twisted mind of Stephen King” to the marketing. These movies not only tend to be awful, but they make viewers wonder how are they connected to the source material. Initially released in 1988 and recently restored and brought to Blu-Ray and DVD by Unearthed Films and MVD Entertainment, The Unnamable is loosely based on a short story by H.P. Lovecraft.
The Unnamable has a very familiar plot. Randolph Carter (a character with the same name appears in numerous Lovecraft stories) is a writer who is familiar with the folklore of the region. (It is never stated exactly where the movie takes place, but it looks like it is in the northeastern United States.) He tells some college friends about a haunted house. Naturally, they do not believe him leading to a group of students spending the night in the house.
The Unnamable does not veer far from the standard formula. There is nothing wrong with this, but this also means everything done in the film is magnified due to there being so many points of comparison. The acting may be the best example of this. Mark Kinsey Stephenson plays Carter in a laughably over the top manner. You know he is a writer and a college professor since he uses phrases like “old boy” when talking to others. Meanwhile, Katrin Alexandre’s performance as the titular monster is almost majestic. For better or worse, everything stands out.
Carter is an interesting lead character. He never seems like the hero of the movie. He is obnoxious and snarky and never does anything to make the audience think he is the star. If anything, he comes off as the know-it-all or bully character. On the other hand, The Unnamable’s obvious protagonist, Howard, is clumsy, scared, not very bright, and never redeems himself. It is as if someone accidentally mixed up the characters during filming.Despite this confusion, The Unnamable’s cast does a great job. Each character has an odd charm to them. Howard is in over his head and is easy to root for, but Carter’s attitude comes off as more supreme confidence than outright jerk. On top of that, he is a writer and attends college. The pompous attitude fits the character. By the climax, it is impossible not to cheer for him.
The writing does a great job with Carter and to a lesser extent Howard, but there are still some obvious issues. The rest of the cast are your basic monster fodder. It is never made clear whether Carter is a student or professor at the college he attends. The movie hints at both and it is confusing. The dialogue is also a strange mix of current and older colloquialisms. At times, the writers seem torn between following the source material or keeping the product current.
Somehow, the hodgepodge of ideas and mannerisms come together in a very fun Evil Dead like story. The Unnamable is silly at times but never loses the fear factor that is an essential part of any horror movie. The music will remind many of Re-Animator (another Lovecraft adaptation). The Unnamable is definitely not a comedy, but it also never takes itself too seriously.The highlight of The Unnamable by far are its special effects. Backstory is provided early in the film culminating in a scene that will make anyone watching think the whole special effects budget was spent on that one shot. This turns out to be far from correct, as the entire movie is filled with practical effects that would make Tom Savini proud. Killings are the right amount of gross without looking ridiculous or being too disgusting. The creature design is also great.
The Unnamable is another in a long list of horror movies that are based on the work of a famous author. Unlike the majority, The Unnamable does a great job of putting its own spin on H.P. Lovecraft’s tale. The generic story takes on a silly vibe that is very enjoyable while amazing special effects will wow audiences.