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A Forgotten Relic From A Decade Of Mediocrity
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again….
There sure were a lot of shitty horror movies produced during the 1990’s. Okay, so there are tons of shitty horror movies made every decade, but damn…. there were some amazingly craptastic ones in the 90’s. Yes, there were films such as Scream, The Blair With Project, and From Dusk Till Dawn, all of which are now considered “classics” from the decade (and coincidentally, all movies that I’m just not that big on). However, for each one of those films, there are 3 or 4 others completely worth forgetting. Granted, most of these stinkers came in the form of sequels to minor franchises that had arguably ran their course. Leprechaun 4: In Space? Curse of the Puppet Master? Any of the Children of the Corn sequels? Yeah, I don’t care what your argument is. They ALL sucked.
While each of these may have been freshly dropped coils, they were all still successful enough to receive additional sequels. Puppet Master doesn’t count. Charlie Band keeps churning those out no matter how many people stop watching. So, it’s somewhat disheartening when a film from the “decade of dookie” that outshines all of the dog piles previously mentioned is seemingly forgotten. Which is the case with today’s flick. And if you took “dookie” as a Green Day reference…. Sure, run with that.
Necronomicon: Book of the Dead was shot in 1993 with a surprisingly high $4 million dollar budget. After making the rounds at multiple film festivals (where it received a few awards in special effects), the film finally saw VHS release in the US in October of 1996, just 2 days before Halloween. Since then, the film has become largely forgotten, due in part to its lack of availability on DVD in the US.
The plot is unraveled as a collection of tales loosely based on some of Lovecraft’s stories, with a wraparound tale of Lovecraft (Jeffrey Combs – Re-Animator, From Beyond) tracking the legendary Book of the Dead to the monastery of a clandestine order of monks. Lovecraft manages to talk his way into the library housing the safe in which the book has been hidden, a caged room built over a pool of filthy water. With a set of keys stolen from one of the monks, Lovecraft retrieves the book and begins to read the first story, which in turn causes a seal within the safe to crack open. Each story concludes with a seal opening to reveal the next.
The 1st in our trifecta of tales is “The Drowned”, directed by Christophe Gans (Brotherhood of the Wolf, Silent Hill). Edward De Lapore (Bruce Payne – Passenger 57, Warlock III), the last descendant of the De La Pore line, arrives at the long-deserted family hotel that he has recently inherited. The place was abandoned years prior and is now in serious disrepair. As the estate agent shows him around the place, he notices the portrait of a young, beautiful woman. He’s informed that the woman was a family member that had drowned some years prior. Her husband was found dead soon after at the bottom of the cliff that lies under the bedroom balcony, a believed suicide stemming from his grief. Like his descendant, Edward has recently lost his wife, although she died in a car accident.
As she leaves, the agent gives Edward a letter written by his uncle, Jethro De Lapore (Richard Lynch – Invasion USA, God Told Me To), the man who fell to his death from the balcony years earlier. Jethro admits to his impending suicide in the letter, but not directly as a result of the loss of his wife and child. Both were killed when their ship crashed into the rocks near the manor as the family sailed back home. Jethro rebukes God before the gathered mourners, his heartache the catalyst for his upcoming decisions.
Later in the evening, after the mourners have fled from the man and his affront to God, Jethro is alerted to a presence at the manor door. A large fishman stands in the doorway, adorned in a wide-brimmed hat and bulky coat. The clothes are covered in seaweed and other strands of aquatic plant-life. The creature hands Jethro the Necronomicon, then departs as mysteriously as it appeared. At Jethro’s touch, the book opens itself to a passage on resurrection. Jethro performs the ritual, even slashing his own wrists to obtain the blood needed for the ceremony. The ritual does indeed resurrect his deceased loved ones…. as dripping, oozing, sealife-puking monstrosities.
In addition to learning the fate that befell his relative, Edward is forced to face the consequences of not learning a damn thing from what happened before. Payne gives a believable, if somewhat subdued performance as “Edward”, while Lynch shows why he was undervalued with his performance of “Jethro”, a man lead to desperate measure by his loss. However, the true star of this segment may very well be the creature effects. While quite a few horror films of the time were starting to embrace the change to digital effects, Necronomicon features very few, instead opting for practical creature effects that remain relatively impressive today.
The second story, directed by Shusuke Kaneko (Death Note, Gamera: Guardian of the Universe), is “The Cold”, an altered version of Lovecraft’s “Cool Air”. During an exceptionally hot summer, reporter Dale Porkel (Dennis Christopher – Stephen King’s “It”, Alien Predators) questions a woman about bodies that have been found in the area over the years. The woman, hidden behind a pair of dark sunglasses, keeps her residence poorly lit and quite cold. She tells Porkel that she must kept her house in these conditions due to a weakness to heat and light.
Porkel has discovered that the deed on the residence was filed 80 years earlier by a Dr. Madden (David Warner – The Omen, Time Bandits). As there is no documented record of the doctor’s death, he concludes that the man must still be alive. Porkel threatens to expose both the woman and the doctor in the press if he is not told what she knows. The woman relents and tells Dale about her mother, which leads us to another flashback.
Her mother, Emily, arrived in Boston 22 years earlier, fleeing from an abusive step-father. Emily rents a room from Lena (Millie Perkins – The Diary of Anne Frank), the house’s owner. Madden is the only other resident, but Lena warns Emily that he must never be bothered. Little does Emily know, but her step-father, Sam (Gary Graham – Alien Nation TV series, Robot Jox), has followed her and is waiting in a car parked outside.
There is a shower scene that exists to display the bruises from her abuse, but as there is also a quick gratuitous breast shot, it’s a little emotionally confusing. Emily notices an icy patch on her ceiling that is slowly dripping onto her floor. She also notices that it smells of ammonia. What she completely fails to notice, however, is that Sam has made it into the apartment and is standing right behind her. After some unwelcome advances, they break into a scuffle. The fight leads them up a flight of stairs before Sam starts to savagely beat her. Madden, hearing the fight, emerges from his room and stabs the man with a scalpel. Sam tumbles down the stairwell as Emily stumbles into a faint.
Emily later revives in Madden’s apartment. She’s told that Sam is “gone” and that he “won’t be bothering her again”. Despite the ominous tone of that statement, she doesn’t question it. Instead, she seems to be more concerned about the frigid temperature in Madden’s apartment. Madden tells her that he (also) suffers from a rare disease that requires him to stay in cold conditions and away from direct sunlight. Madden gives her some medication for her concussion and sends her on her way.
While applying for a job at a diner across from the apartments, Emily mentions that she lives with the Doctor. The diner owner is surprised that Madden is still alive, saying that the doctor must be over 100 years old by now. While serving her first customers, 2 police officers, she notices a flyer seeking information in Sam’s murder. Not knowing that he was dead, Emily confronts Madden about what really happened to Sam. He admits to killing Sam, but Emily is more upset that he lied to her than she is about the murder. The heat in the stairwell is too much for Madden. Emily rushes him back to his room and places him in a bed-like chamber filled with ice.
In his apartment, Madden has the Necronomicon. He shows her a passage on prolonging life through extreme cold. He also shows her a serum that he has created that revives dead/dying tissue, which he demonstrates on a dead rose. They disclose their love, which leads to sex in a refrigerated greenhouse. Lena, who has her own “feelings” for Madden, catches them. She threatens Emily, causing her to leave.
Emily eventually returns, catching Lena and the Doctor attempting to kill another man. One thing leads to another, and at least one character is killed as Madden’s lab goes up in flames. The story concludes in the “present” with Porkle learning not only the truth of where the dead bodies have come from, but also the truth of who he has been talking to the entire time.
This segment features a hearty dose of melting skin and rotting flesh. As with the first segment, these are practical effects. The effects hold up better than most early CGI effects of the 1990’s. Want proof? Go watch Lord of Illusions. For me, this was the strongest story of the 3 as it featured not only the cool gore effects, but yet another fantastic performance from Warner, as well as a cohesive plot.
The 3rd story, “Whispers”, has zero to do with Lovecraft’s story, ” The Whisperer in Darkness”. Instead, this tale focuses on Sarah, a pregnant cop searching for a serial killer dubbed “The Butcher”. After she wrecks the squad car pursuing the unseen assailant, the killer drags her partner from the overturned car and into the bowels of an abandoned warehouse.
Sarah follows. She finds a bizarre older couple living within the dilapidated building. The wife tries to convince Sarah that “The Butcher” is actually an alien, while her husband (Don Calfa – Return of the Living Dead) contents that the killer is quite human. He just WORKS for aliens.
Sarah follows the husband deep into a series of underground tunnels, where she finally encounters “The Butcher”. While “Whispers” starts as a promisingly tense chase for a dangerous murderer, it quickly derails into a totally nonsensical showcase of gruesome, yet somehow goofy looking, gore and creature effects that feel quite similar to those found in producer & segment director Brian Yuzna’s Silent Night, Deadly Night 4: The Initiation. Sadly, “Whispers” tarnishes what had to this point been a superior effort.
The film concludes with Lovecraft opening the final seal. This sets off an escape sequence featuring more tentacles uglies and other beings from alternate dimensions. There is finally one completely computer generated effect that significantly factors into the final moments. And, boy howdy, does it stand out like a turd in a punch bowl. This is somewhat made up for by an oddly, amusing gore effect, courtesy FX artist of Screaming Mad George.
It’s a shame that “Whispers” is total crap. Otherwise, Necronomicon: Book of the Dead is a very solid piece of fluff entertainment. The acting and effects surpass most of the DTV garbage that flooded the shelves of Blockbuster Video in the early/mid 90’s (as well as whatever Mom & Pop’s were still thankfully standing). Sadly, due to it lack of DVD release, many horror fans have not had the chance to experience the film for themselves. The film was released to DVD in both Germany and France, as well as on Blu-ray in France. While I can not speak to the video quality of any of these releases, I still highly recommend this one.