Kudos to any independent filmmaker who dares to brave an H.P. Lovecraft adaptation (especially the ones who try to remain relatively faithful to the author’s work), as opposed to yet another woods-bound slasher flick. As cool as Lovecraft can be on the page, he’s a remarkably difficult author when it comes to cinematic adaptations, and it’s always worth noting when low-budget filmmakers try to tackle one of the man’s stories. In recent years we’ve seen “fan-made” features based on The Call of Cthulhu, The Colour Out of Space, and The Whisperer in Darkness – and while each of them have their issues (most of which stem from budgetary concerns and not a lack of creativity), they’re all definitely worth checking out if, like me, you’re a big fan of (almost) all things Lovecraftian.
The latest indie feature based on a Lovecraft tale is Tom Glisernman and Mary Jane Hansen’s The Thing on the Doorstep, a story that’s noteworthy for two reasons: A) it’s the only Lovecraft tale to feature a female character who does anything important, and B) generally speaking, it’s not regarded as one of Mr. Lovecraft’s finest tales. (An opinion I actually agree with, unfortunately.)
But what’s interesting here is that (director) Gliserman and (screenwriter/actor) Hansen are clearly intent on bringing a few new wrinkles to one of Lovecraft’s starchiest short stories. For one, they’ve ported the story into modern times. They’ve also (rather cleverly) expanded a few characters in an effort to make a pretty linear tale feel a bit more energetic. The result is a mixed bag, at best, although Lovecraft aficionados will probably appreciate the ways in which the filmmakers try to “modernise” a sometimes hopelessly old-fashioned author.
The story is a pretty simple one, at least at the beginning: Edward Derby has a strange new girlfriend, much to the chagrin of his old pal Daniel and his wife Marion. Almost overnight Edward goes from an aimless and irresponsible to miserable and uptight – and his strange behavior seems to stem directly from his proximity to Asenath Waite, an off-putting and unpleasant woman who seems to irritate everyone except Edward. Given that this is a Lovecraft tale, we can logically assume that this mystery woman is up to no good, and eventually Edward realizes that his new bride possesses some deeply unsettling extra-sensory powers.
While this version of The Thing on the Doorstep boasts a solid enough screenplay and a few legitimately creepy moments, it also frequently slows down to a crawl – and is sometimes so glaringly over-lit that it threatens to strain the eyeballs. A few of the performances are pretty solid for a film of this sort, while others are… not so great. Where the filmmakers do succeed is in the film’s calm but gradually percolating sense of dread that seems to peak whenever Asenath’s name – or odd behaviour – is mentioned. This is most assuredly an adaptation geared for open-minded Lovecraft nuts who can overlook some rough spots and focus on the earnest attempt at adapting a notoriously difficult author.
The Thing on the Doorstep is hardly any sort of brilliant adaptation, but give these filmmakers a little more money and a better Lovecraft story – and take away a few of their lighting rigs — next time around, and I’d be interested to see what they cook up.
– Scott Weinberg (@scottEweinberg)
The Thing on the Doorstep will be available in the UK exclusively at TheHorrorShow.TV on April 20