Year 1994
Studio Full Moon
Producer Vlad & Dana Paunescu
Director C. Courtney Joyner
Writer C. Courtney Joyner
Music Jim Manzie

Jeffrey Combs

Jon Finch

Ashley Laurence

Vincent Schiaveli

Michael Todd as "The Creature"

Length 76 mins

Lurking Fear

‘‘ . . . and I knew in one inundating cataclysm of voiceless horror what had become of the vanished family; the terrible and thunder-crazed house of Martense. ’’

In 1922, just a few months after making his first professional sale with "Herbert West—Reanimator" to Home Brew, Lovecraft was asked to pen a second serial for George Julian Houtain's horror magazine, the result being a terror in four parts called "The Lurking Fear." After its reprint in Weird Tales, Lovecraft was a bit more generous in his criticism of his new serial, not despising it as he did its predecessor. Indeed, the story is more self-assured and nicely deals with Lovecraft's obsession with corruption and decay.

Writer/director C. Courtney Joyner opens this Full Moon Entertainment version of "The Lurking Fear" with thunder and lightning, much the way Lovecraft did in the opening segment called "The Shadow on the Chimney." Two young sisters and a baby nervously huddle in a dilapidated room on a rainy Christmas Eve, while behind a boarded-up heating vent some thing is watching them. After failing to snatch the infant from the crib, the thing behind the wall reaches out with a monstrous brown claw and brutally pulls the screaming mother through the small vent.

The film then switches from horror to crime as we see pretty bad-boy John Martense leaving prison and hooking up with his father's undertaker friend (played by Vincent Schiavelli of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and countless other films). Vincent offers John part of the loot from a heist that John's father pulled. "This is your family legacy, kid." All John has to do is dig up a corpse with a wad of cash sewn inside it, buried in the church cemetery of a small town called Lefferts Corners. (A New England village, which seems to be a stone's throw from Minsk by the looks of the Eastern Orthodox Church, the steppes-like surroundings, and the statues of Lenin.)

In Lefferts Corners, the few remaining locals have barricaded themselves inside the church, stocking it with guns and dynamite. One of the defenders is a bearded and drunken doctor named Haggis, played by veteran Lovecraftian actor Jeffrey Combs as a kind of tragic Tennessee Williams character. These survivors have resolved to blow up the cannibalistic terror living beneath the ground once and for all.

Ex-con Martense shows up at the church looking for the money-stuffed corpse. Unknown to him he's been followed by another group also after the money, led by evil guy Jon Finch. Lurking Fear then further decays into a standard oily-smirking-bad-guy-after-the-money crime thriller.

Finch takes everyone hostage and forces John to dig up the cemetery for the corpse-bundled money. As John begins his task, it starts raining, bringing with it the thunder that Lovecraft wrote, "[calls] the death-daemon out of some fearsome secret place." Right on cue a clawed hand reaches up through the wet earth and pulls Martense into a system of tunnels beneath the graves, described by HPL as a "burrow of caked loam that stretched and curved."

Eventually everyone is either killed or dragged down below, winding up inside a homey-looking crypt. Through a birthmark on his shoulder, John discovers that the fearful lurkers living there are actually his long-lost Martense relatives! They're now a tribe of cannibals Lovecraft saw as "a loathsome night-spawned flood of organic corruption more devastatingly hideous than the blackest conjuration of mortal madness and morbidity."

The Martenses in the Lurking Fear don't quite live up to Lovecraft's fevered prose, but they are a nicely gruesome lot. Designed by Wayne Toth, the Martense family are decrepit cannibals that have decayed into a kind of mole-creature with white bulging eyes and long, brown nail/claws from generations of scurrying through the tunnels and feasting on corpses. Lovecraft had envisioned thousands of the terrible Martenses; the filmmakers make do with about a half-dozen, which are destroyed in the tunnel's gasoline-fed fiery finale. (Well, they had to burn something.)

Lurking Fear is better than most of Full Moon's films and as usual, the trailer is definitely better than the feature. It's unfortunate because Joyner had a wonderful cast that, with a cleaned-up script and a hands-on producer, could have made the film stand out among HPL adaptations. Still, the film is worth a look, especially since it stars Jeffrey Combs who, after being offered a syringe full of re-animator juice while dying, sums up the film nicely with, "Oh no, not that!"