It doesn’t take long for H.P. Lovecraft’s Witch House to get down to business. Less than a minute into the film a cultist rips his own eye out as part of a ritual. That scene is then revealed to be from an H.P. Lovecraft story that Alice (Portia Chellelynn aka Michelle Morris, Brimstone Creek Rd, Deimosimine) is reading. How’s that for meta?
Alice, on the run from an ex who beat her so badly she miscarried, rents the attic room at The Hannah House, the film’s actual and reputedly haunted, shooting location. She soon meets Joe (Joe Padgett) who looks, and drinks, like Lon Chaney Jr. and constantly shouts about Jesus and salvation. She also meets Tommi (Julie Anne Prescott, Backwoods Bubba, Bloody Summer Camp) whom she soon finds herself in bed with.
Director Bobby Easley (All Sinner’s Night, The Devil Dogs of Kilo Company) and co-writer Ken Wallace (Belly Timber) have given us another very loose adaptation of one of Lovecraft’s short stories. But while there’s very little of Dreams in the Witch House left in the script, there are enough Lovecraftian elements to make the use of the author’s name feel justified.
Alice is a student at Miskatonic University working on her graduate thesis connecting architecture, geometry, and alternate dimensions under the mentorship of Professor Sherfick (John Johnson, The Boogeyman, Belly Timber). As if in response to this, the house lets her find some esoteric artifacts under a floorboard. And at the same time, the town is being terrorized by a rash of child abductions and murders.
The first part of H.P. Lovecraft’s Witch House plays out like a fairly conventional haunted house film. A house with a sinister history, research into things better left unknown, people and things are seen from the corner of the eye, and of course, nightmares. It’s interesting, if familiar, and somewhat deliberately paced.
But as it goes on, Alice is drawn into another reality, one that certainly isn’t Wonderland. And various characters such as Keziah Mason (Andrea Collins, Bad Apples, The Embalmers) a servant girl burned at the stake for witchcraft, and the sorcerer Vespuli (Bill Levin, All Sinner’s Night, The Devil Dogs of Kilo Company) and the sinister Brown Jenkin (Solon Tsangaras, My Uncle John Is a Zombie!, Midnight) bleed over into our world.
As they do, H.P. Lovecraft’s Witch House becomes more dreamlike and hallucinatory, it’s hardly a coincidence that after a long nighttime chase one of the cultists blows a huge lungful of smoke in Alice’s face. Skyclad witches dancing around a fire, bizarre-looking creatures, coloured lights and distorted audio all combine to create some genuinely eerie sequences.
While Lovecraft certainly wouldn’t approve of the film’s frequent displays of female flesh or its more explicitly gruesome moments, such as a man cutting off his own head, H.P. Lovecraft’s Witch House does capture the bizarre nature of his work. Like The Deep Ones, it merely shows the things he hid behind insinuation and character’s convenient memory lapses. Where do you think all of those human/fish hybrids running around Innsmouth came from?
With its sequences mixing trippy lighting and sound along with blood and bare skin H.P. Lovecraft’s Witch House frequently has the feel of a 70s exploitation film. And while some of the final revelations are a bit predictable and the plot leans into Christian lore more than The Cthulhu Mythos, perhaps for budgetary reasons, it’s also a genuinely creepy one.
Horror Wasteland Pictures International will release H.P. Lovecraft’s Witch House on DVD as well as VOD and Digital platforms on July 5th. You can check the film’s Facebook page for more details. And if you’re looking for more like it, Film Tagger has some suggestions.