Today, it would be hard to identify one of Stephen King’s novels or short stories that hasn’t made it to the big or small screen. Though good adaptations of H.P. Lovecraft’s works are a bit more difficult to find (Re-Animator, Castle Freak), the author’s rich literary pool and style has influenced countless ‘Lovercraftian‘ horror movies. From Color Out of Space to The Void, Lovecraft’s style has almost defined its own subgenre. Earlier this month, low-budget indie horror Witch House made its way on to VOD platforms. A loose adaptation of Lovecraft’s The Dreams in the Witch House, H.P. Lovecraft’s The Witch House is an under-the-radar release that hasn’t impressed the few critics who have seen it.
After she flees an abusive relationship, graduate student Alice Gilman finds a small town and the perfect place to stay and rebuild her life – the infamous Hannah House. In spite of its dark past, Alice is fascinated with the house’s eccentric architecture, which aligns with her research on physical structures and doorways to alternate dimensions. But Alice’s research may have inadvertently opened just such a doorway unleashing an unspeakable evil.
H.P. Lovecraft’s Witch House Occasionally Taps Into Its Cosmic Horror Roots
Early in H.P. Lovecraft’s Witch House two things will quickly become apparent. First, writer and director Bobby Easley has taken quite a few liberties with the source material. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing except for perhaps Lovecraft purists. Some of Easley’s changes serve to potentially broaden Lovecraft’s work for audiences. Second, H.P. Lovecraft’s Witch House is a very low budget effort. Tweaks to Lovecraft’s story are fine if there’s a plan or some direction. However, Easley quickly lets his narrative slide into incoherence. On one hand, Easley doesn’t seem to have a grasp on the source material and, as a result, Witch House never fully embraces the potential of its own story. Instead, Easley substitutes unnecessary filler subplot including a romance that seems to only exist to supply a titillating sex scene.
… Witch House never fully embraces the potential of its own story.
Oftentimes H.P. Lovecraft’s Witch House feels like a seedy exploitative B-movie. What’s missing is the over-the-top silly fun that define most good B-movies. Much of Easley’s movie also looks very cheap. By and large, Witch House has the production values of a run-of-the-mill documentary from the 80s or 90s. Most of the scenes where there’s no overt horror elements look and feel clumsy. But Witch House isn’t a ‘bad’ movie by any stretch. When Easley leans into the horror elements, particularly the cosmic and surrealist parts of the story, there’s clear hints of potential. In fact, Witch House is often a visually unsettling affair that shows a good understanding of what makes a movie Lovecraftian. Regardless of its low budget, Easley seems comfortable with the more trippy horror elements. When Witch House works it’s occasionally an unsettling viewing experience.
H.P. Lovecraft’s Witch House Suffers from a Lukewarm Screenplay
Most of the budget for this one probably went to its practical effects. And it helps – Easley shows plenty of potential in his grasp of the horror visuals. In those scenes where Witch House solely delves into horror, Easley finds plenty of disturbing imagery and even evidences a bit skill. Once again the horror narrative Easley spins burdens itself with cosmetic revisions and unnecessary detours. Too many needless story threads show up in the movie that go unresolved.
Once again the horror narrative Easley spins burdens itself with cosmetic revisions and unnecessary detours.
None of the performances necessarily elevate things either. Rather what we get ranges from competent to wooden. Portia Chellelynn turns in the movie’s best performance as Alice. She offers some range and depth to the role. In fact, Easley’s screenplay probably lets down Chellelyn down more than the reverse. Huge logical gaps surface throughout the movie. Universities may have some kooky programs that stretch credulity but it’s hard to imagine any collegial department allowing a PhD student to give a lecture on the literal existence of gateways to demonic dimensions. Aside from Chellelynn, Julie Anne Prescott is the only other actor to register in the movie. Most of the movie’s performances …
Witch House Falls Short, But Shows Bursts of Potential
Maybe much of Witch House doesn’t work. But there’s no denying that director Bobby Easley has an eye for the genre with some of the imagery here being suitably disturbing. Moreover, Witch House approaches the bar for good surrealist horror whenever Easley leans on the Lovecraftian cosmic horror elements. Outside of these scenes, however, this Lovecraft adaptation feels and looks every bit of its low budget. Performances that range from rough to fair alongside often clumsy filmmaking and an increasingly incoherent story make this a difficult one to recommend. Good intentions and potential won’t elevate this lo-fi indie horror for even the most diehard horror fans.