A fine Lovecraft adaptation from Dan O’Bannon (Return of the Living Dead) offers some gooey thrills and a consistently interesting narrative. There’s a few issues witch acting but it’s easy enough to look over when everything else is firing on all cylinders.
In Providence, Rhode Island a private detective by the name of John March is visited by Claire Ward (Jane Sibbett who played the wicked(ish) soon to be stepmother in the cinematic national treasure that is It Takes Two). Mrs. Ward is concerned about what the hell her husband is getting into at the remote family cabin where he’s been spending all his time. A nosy neighbor got the local law involved and the police busted him with a surprising amount of human remains in his possession. Oddly enough, it seems he had all the necessary paperwork (and I’m sure his family’s money helped as well) and was left to attend to whatever nefarious hijinks he was getting up to in the comfort of his own home. John agrees to look into things and begins to unravel a tale so macabre, it just may break his mind.
Charles Dexter Ward (Chris Sarandon who was the personification of sex in Fright Night) seemed to be the perfect husband until a mysterious trunk left to him by an obscure relative changed everything. In short order he became obsessed with the experiments of his ancestor and with the mysterious Dr. Ash, he eventually moves from the carriage house to the recently unearthed family cabin. John arrives at the small village looking for the cabin and finds the townspeople less than appreciative of their new tenants. Tracking the smell of dead flesh, John finally talks to Charles. The man is not looking good and is definitely hiding something. This just serves to light a bit more of a fire under John’s ass and he dedicates all his resources to exposing the experiments of Charles Ward.
The age old quest of conquering death has been accomplished but the results are less than perfect. Brutal murders around the lab may look to be the work of wild animals but there’s a far more disturbing culprit. John, Claire and the police find their way into the cavernous basement of the countryside estate and come across the horrific experiments that went along with mastering mortality. The capture of Charles and his placement in the looney bin may appear to bring all the awfulness to an end, but Charles has one more reveal up his sleeve and it’s a fucking doozy.
The dreary New England setting is perfect for the ghastly tale of men tinkering in God’s domain. It’s why old America was Lovecraft’s favorite stomping grounds. Sure the world was advancing but there was (and still is) something almost primeval about the colonial region. The quick flashes of ghastly horrors (especially the things found within the the cabin catacombs) have a heavier impact thanks to just how obscured by darkness they are. There’s still some cheap effects but they add to the film’s disquieting charm. The private detective protagonist is not the finest of actors but most of the main cast makes up for all he lacks and Mr. Sarandon gets to chew some scenery as the film climaxes. It’s a fun and under appreciated time, get yourself some. 7/10