The Unnamable (1988) poster

The Unnamable (1988)


USA. 1988.


Director/Screenplay – Jean-Paul Ouellette, Based on the Short Story by H.P. Lovecraft, Producers – Jean-Paul Ouellette & Dean Ramser, Photography – Tom Fraser, Additional Photography – Greg Gardiner, Music – David Bergeaud, Miniature Sequence – Mainstreet Imagery Inc, Makeup Effects – Art & Magic (Supervisor – R. Christopher Biggs), Production Design – Gene Abel. Production Company – KP Productions/Yankee Classics/Vidmark.


Charles King (Howard Damon), Mark Kinsey Stephenson (Randolph Carter), Alexandra Durrell (Tanya Heller), Laura Albert (Wendy Barnes), Eben Harn (Bruce Weeks), Blane Wheatley (John Babcock), Mark Parra (Joel Manton)


At the Miskatonic University in Arkham, Joel Manton ridicules Randolph Carter, who is obsessed by occult lore, when Carter tells him how 200 years before local Joshua Winthrop was killed by a demon in his attic. To prove Carter wrong, Joel decides to spend a night in the Winthrop house. When Joel fails to return, Carter and mutual friend Howard Damon go to investigate. At the same time, two fraternity jocks take two girls to the house for a supposed initiation rite, only to disturb the thing that lurks in the attic.

The Unnamable is one among a whole spate of H.P. Lovecraft films that were made in the wake of the success of Re-Animator (1985). (See below for a full list of H.P. Lovecraft film adaptations).

The Unnamable gives the appearance of having been slung together by student filmmakers looking for a big break and feels amateurishly made. Most of the performances seem to be given by non-professionals. There is not much to the film – the bulk of it consists of people wandering around the house and being killed.

The plot that holds all this together is exceedingly slim. There is little explanation of what is going on – it is never explained why Winthrop’s daughter is a demon, for instance. The original Lovecraft story, published in Weird Tales in 1925, is almost as slight. It is actually more of a ghost story – most of it is about two friends sitting in a graveyard discussing a house where something sits at the window and whether its presence has inhabited the window. The story ends with the two friends being attacked by the creature. As a result, the film has to invent the entire backdrop about the Winthrop family.

The thing in the attic from The Unnamable (1988)
The thing lurking in the attic

Director Jean-Paul Ouellette does a fair job at times – some of the attacks are okay – but fails to pump up the atmosphere much elsewhere. One thing to be said in Jean-Paul Oullette’s favour is that he makes a moderate stab at taking his H.P. Lovecraft seriously – which would make The Unnamable one of the few films of the whole post-Re-Animator cycle to do so. There is some effort made to attain a Lovecraftian mood by keeping the demon in the house unseen until right up to the end. In the end though, it is hard to swallow a contemporary Miskatonic University that has been taken over by fraternities, Ivy League snobs and jocks on the prowl.

Jean-Paul Oullette and star Mark Kinsey Stephenson returned for a sequel The Unnamable II: The Statement of Randolph Carter (1993). The only other film Jean-Paul Oullette has made is an obscure martial arts film Chinatown Connection (1990).

Other films based on the works of H.P. Lovecraft include:- The Haunted Palace (1963), Die, Monster, Die/Monster of Terror (1965), The Shuttered Room (1967) and The Dunwich Horror (1969). The big success in the modern era was Stuart Gordon’s splattery black comedy version of Re-Animator (1985), which popularised Lovecraft on film. This led to a host of B-budget Lovecraft adaptations, including Stuart Gordon’s subsequent From Beyond (1986), The Curse (1987), The Resurrected (1992), Necronomicon (1993), Lurking Fear (1994), Gordon’s Dagon (2001), and other works such as The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath (2003), Beyond the Wall of Sleep (2006), Cool Air (2006), Chill (2007), Cthulhu (2007), The Tomb (2007), Colour from the Dark (2008), The Dunwich Horror (2009), The Color (2010), Pickman’s Muse (2010), The Whisperer in Darkness (2011), The Dark Sleep (2013), The Haunter of the Dark (2015), Herbert West: Re-Animator (2017), Color Out of Space (2019), H.P. Lovecraft’s The Deep Ones (2020), the tv series Lovecraft Country (2020), Markham (2020), H.P. Lovecraft’s Witch House (2021), The Resonator: Miskatonic U (2021), The Lurking Fear (2023) and Suitable Flesh (2023). Lovecraft: Fear of the Unknown (2008) is a documentary about Lovecraft. Also of interest is The Manitou (1978), which features an appearance of the Great Old One; Cast a Deadly Spell (1991) and its sequel Witch Hunt (1994), a tv movie set in an alternate world where magic works and where the central character is a detective named H.P. Lovecraft; Juan Piquer Simon’s cheap and loosely inspired Cthulhu Mansion (1992); John Carpenter’s Lovecraft homage In the Mouth of Madness (1995); the fan parodies Lovecracked: The Movie (2006), The Last Lovecraft: Relic of Cthulhu (2009) and Call Girl of Cthulhu (2014); even a trilogy of animated children’s film Howard Lovecraft and the Frozen Kingdom (2016), Howard Lovecraft and the Undersea Kingdom (2017) and Howard Lovecraft and the Kingdom of Madness (2018) in which a young Lovecraft encounters his own creations; while Batman faces Lovecraftian horrors in the animated Batman: The Doom That Came to Gotham (2023). The Elder Gods turn up at the end of The Cabin in the Woods (2012), Lovecraft (Paul Titley) appears as an imaginary companion in Ghostland/Incident in a Ghostland (2018) and In Search of Lovecraft (2008) features a tv news crew discovering that Lovecraft’s works are true. Lovecraft’s key work of demonic lore The Necronomicon also makes appearances in films such as Equinox (1970), The Evil Dead II (1987) and Army of Darkness (1992), and was also borrowed as an alternate retitling for Jesus Franco’s surreal and otherwise unrelated Succubus/Necronomicon (1969) about a BDSM dancer.

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