1922, just a few months after making his first professional
sale with "Herbert WestReanimator" 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
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!"