Sunday, November 18, 2018

THE UNNAMABLE (1988) Blu-ray review

The Unnamable (1988) d. Jean-Paul Oulette (USA) (88 min)

Adapted from H.P. Lovecraft’s short story of the same name, writer/producer/director Oulette offers a slight variation on the standard “monster in the old haunted house” saga, mostly by virtue of its source material. Set at our author’s favorite bastion of higher learning, Miskatonic University, students Joel (Mark Parra), Randolph Carter (Mark Kinsey Stephenson), and Howard Damon (Charles Klausmeyer aka Charles King) discuss the legend of the strange goings-on at the residence of suspected warlock Joshua Winthrop (Delbert Spain). It seems Carter’s ancestor was the priest who discovered Winthrop’s body with his heart torn out by a strange, “unnamable” creature whose image is supposedly burned into the glass of the attic window.

After doubting Joel is dared to spend the night in the house (and is messily disappeared for his troubles), the narrative shifts to Howard, whose concerns now waver between trying to locate his comrade and securing the affections of sexy social climber Wendy (actress-turned-stuntwoman Laura Albert, who dutifully provides our requisite ’80s female nudity). Unbeknownst to him, Wendy’s friend Tanya (the exotically accented Alexandra Durrell) harbors a secret crush on our hero, but agrees to accompany her gal pal for a midnight jaunt to, guess where, Winthrop House with two horny frat dudes (Eben Ham, Blaine Wheatley). The stage is set for all manner of monstrous mischief and gory games.

While I never got around to experiencing this longtime staple of the VHS era firsthand, I remember the box art quite well and (correctly) guessed it to be a cheesy/fun romp in the Empire Pictures vein. There’s not a lot of new ground broken here, narratively speaking, but R. Christopher Biggs (billed as Art & Magic)’s creature makeup elevates the proceedings enormously, delivering one of the finest cinematic she-beasts of all time, right up there with Rob Bottin’s Meg Mucklebones from Legend. A bold statement, to be sure, but considering how many clearly masculine rubber monsters we have seen stagger across screens large and small, Biggs’ ghoulish applications (with makeup star-on-the-rise Camille Calvet providing able assistance) on the otherwise sexy, supple form of Katrin Alexandre are the primary reasons for the film’s enduring resonance and for this new Blu-ray release from Unearthed Films (under their newly formed “Unearthed Classics” arm).

Considering much of the action takes place in our proverbial old dark house, I can imagine that certain scenes might have been not only unnamable but unwatchable on VHS, so this newly restored 4K transfer is certainly cause for rejoicing, if for no other reason than to be able to see Biggs’ excellent creature design and gore FX. For their inaugural “Classics” release, Unearthed has certainly done themselves proud in this regard and fans should absolutely pick it up. However, there are a few quibbles that deserve mentioning, for full disclosure’s sake.

In the “oversights” column, there are no subtitles available and the outside packaging lists the running time as 76 minutes when it’s closer to 88. More troubling, however, is the strange, distracting echo on all of the film’s sound effects (footsteps, doors opening and closing, heavy monster breathing, screams) so that they are all heard twice, clearly a technical defect which is unfortunate considering the time presumably taken for a “5.1 DTS-HD Surround Sound” option. I highly recommend watching it on the second audio option (2.0 Stereo Sound PCM), which is clear and minus the echo effect or, if you are so inclined, you can do the “Vintage Grindhouse” experience, which adds a layer of hiss to replicate the “VHS experience.” (I’m not that guy.)

Extras include an enthusiastic, jokey, chatty, cross-talking audio commentary featuring the crowded room of Klausmeyer, Stephenson, Albert, Ham, Biggs, and Calvet which doesn’t offer a lot of insight but everyone’s clearly having such a good time that it’s hard not to get caught up in it. After all, how many commentary tracks have you listened to lately that culminate in wild applause at their conclusion? So, that’s fun.

There are also extensive interviews conducted by Jay Kay of the Horror Happens radio program, a series of Skype-type presentations with dual video windows and iffy sound recording (presumably using the subjects’ laptop microphones). Our ears eventually adjust, but it's decidedly off-putting. On the upside, Kay has absolutely done his homework and asks the intelligent, informed questions that fans of his HH show have come to expect, and the subjects are given ample time to respond. On the (potential) downside, we get the occasionally meandering results without the benefit of editing. To wit:

Klausmeyer/Stephenson 78 min (sound/delay is especially rough here)
Ham 31 min
Albert 46 min
Parra 33 min
Biggs/Calvet 60 min (my favorite of the bunch)

Tongdee Panumas’s stellar original Thai poster art by graces the slipcover of the limited edition release (first 2,000 copies), with the memorable VHS cover image on the regular disc packaging. (shown above)

The Unnamable is available now on Blu-ray and DVD from Unearthed Films and can be ordered at their website (scroll to the bottom) HERE:


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