Coming to VOD on July 5, 2022
How many versions of H.P. Lovecraft’s The Dreams in the Witch House exist? We’ve seen countless iterations on film, music and stage, and there’s never been a definitive version. My favourite is the rock musical I reviewed five years ago.
One reason filmmakers adore this work is because it can be reinterpreted. The tale explores what a human soul experiences while travelling between dimensions. That transcendental contact must be in the forefront, and that includes exploring one’s sexuality as this film does. Alice Gilman (Portia Chellelyn) gets her first lesbian romance, and she’s wanting.
This version by writers Bobby Easley (who also directs) and Ken Wallace could have played with this change. Sex magic is nothing new, and while Lovecraft would roll in his grave about this cultural taboo, modern paganism would welcome it. In what could be achieved from it ranges from achieving spiritual happiness to furthering one’s career.
Alice replaces Walter Gilman from the original. Both are graduate students with an interest in folklore. However, this replacement is keen on astrophysics, and she has a past relationship she wants to escape. True to the narrative, both find residency in the Witch House. She knows nothing regarding its sordid history, and in what she discovers in the floorboards of her room, the scroll she unravels sends her into a tizzy. She can’t tell what’s happening. When her past catches up to her, just how she deals will depend on the allies she’s made since arriving here.
This modern take is simply titled The Witch House. With Lovecraft’s name attached to the title card, the story can’t be considered complete without mention of Keziah Mason, the insane servant of Nyarlathotep. Her involvement is modest and further exploration of what the vast mythos represents is taken out. That’s because none of that classic cosmic terror is fully realised. Sadly, there’s no Elder Things because of the budget. To design them and make them truly terrifying requires del Toro style effects.
Anyone who knows the original story can breathe one welcome sigh of relief relax, as Brown Jenkins is the only thing given life. The makeup job on Solon Tsangaras is very well done, even though this film doesn’t show him as that mutant rat. When considering there only so much money to spend on FX, it’s impossible to make a rodent puppet with a convincing human face.
One problem with adapting any of Lovecraft’s tales is with the visuals. Half the struggle is with suggesting doom is near, and J.D. Brenton handles this aspect well with his cinematography. In between changing camera lenses and filters, he’s careful not to overuse the Dutch angle.
Also, the decision to use Indiana’s most haunted house as a set is perfect. Humans who have died within the walls of the Historical Hannah House are still there. The owners allow people to investigate. As for letting these spirits go to find peace, it’s not likely. There are people who want to help the lost souls and the big question is will the managers of this operation let them?