The Whisperer in Darkness (2011) poster

The Whisperer in Darkness (2011)


USA. 2011.


Director – Sean Branney, Screenplay – Sean Branney & Andrew Leman, Based on the Short Story by H.P. Lovecraft, Producers – Sean Branney, Andrew Leman & David Robertson, Photography (b&w) – David Robertson, Music – Troy Sterling Nies, Visual Effects – Dilated Pixels (Supervisor – P.J. Foley), Makeup Effects – Dave Snyder, Production Design – Andrew Leman. Production Company – HPLHS Motion Pictures.


Matt Foyer (Albert Wilmarth), Matt Lagan (Nathaniel Ward), Barry Lynch (Henry Akeley), Casper Marsh (Will Matserson), Autumn Wendel (Hannah Masterson), Joe Sofranko (George Akeley), Daniel Kaemon (P.F. Noyes), Andrew Leman (Charles Fort), Stephen Blackehart (Charlie Tower), Lance J. Holt (Davis Bradbury)


It is 1927. Albert Wilmarth, a lecturer in folklore at the Miskatonic University, enters a debate with the writer Charles Fort about strange creatures that have been found in the aftermath of floods in rural Vermont. Wilmarth has been corresponding with Henry Akeley, a farmer from the area. Just before the lecture, Akeley’s son George appears with photos of the creatures that surround the farm. Wilmarth treks out to the farm to investigate and is welcomed by the ailing Akeley. Wilmarth finds that the Mi-Go, the creatures in the area, have promised travel to the stars if one can have their mind translated into a cylinder. Wilmarth then discovers a plan to open a doorway in a local cave that will allow the Mi-Go to invade the Earth.

H.P. Lovecraft (1890-1937) was an author writing in the 1920s and 30s who has gained a considerable cult following. Lovecraft created an extensive body of work that broods with a sense of cosmic horror, concerning tales of scientists uncovering forbidden knowledge, elder gods slumbering and awaiting to be released, ancient prehistoric races emerging and the like. (For greater detail see Lovecraftian Films).

The Whisperer in Darkness comes from HPLHS Motion Pictures, a division of The H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society. This was formed in 1986 by a group of high school friends, including the film’s director Sean Branney and his co-writer/producer Andrew Leman. Since then, the group have produced a series of mocked-up Lovecraft radio adaptations, a magazine and books, a Lovecraft LARP and several music albums. The group had previously made two shorter (under one-hour) adaptations of Lovecraft stories with The Testimony of Randolph Carter (1987) and The Call of Cthulhu (2005), both directed by Lerman, while the two also made the mockumentary A Shoggoth on the Roof: The Documentary (2001).

The film is adapted from Lovecraft’s story The Whisperer in Darkness (1931), which first appeared in Weird Tales magazine. The film remains extremely faithful to the original story – added in order to bring the story out to feature-length is the debate at the start, as well as the whole third act where Matt Foyer ventures into the cave of the Mi-Go. The only effect from the story that does not come across in the film is the actual ‘whisperer’ aspect of the title – the voice that Henry Akeley is supposed to speak in, whereas here he just delivers his dialogue in a regular voice.

Matt Foyer as Albert Wilmarth in The Whisperer in Darkness (2011)
Matt Foyer as Albert Wilmarth

These Lovecraft Historical Society films are the most faithful of all H.P. Lovecraft adaptations on film. Lovecraft on film was popularised by the hit of Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator (1985), which served to identify Lovecraft with a splattery, black comedy style overloaded with makeup effects. This approach was taken up by a good many subsequent Lovecraft adaptations but is in fact the antithesis of the mood in Lovecraft’s stories where the predominant tone is one of a cosmic existential dread and horrors that are ‘indescribable’.

Unlike most of the modern adaptations, Sean Branney locates the story in the time period it was written. In a great touch, the film features a cameo from Charles Fort (1874-1935), the real-life writer who published a series of books that gained quite a cult following, cataloguing phenomena for which science has no adequate explanation and offering a series of wild theories that even he himself claimed not to believe. (The role of Fort is played by co-writer/co-producer Andrew Leman).

The film is made with great sense of period detail and costuming. Moreover, everything has been shot in an exquisite black-and-white that looks stunning in the dvd release. The pace is more on the slow side than you are used to in horror films, especially the effects-heavy post-Re-Animator works, but then this is a film that is far more dependent on mood than gore and creature effects.

Mind upload in The Whisperer in Darkness (2011)
Mind upload 1920s style

The build-up is fairly slow – this is a film that you feel might have worked better as a shorter subject. However, when we arrive at the Akeley Farm, there are some fairly outlandish scenes, including an early version of Mind Upload with human minds transferred into cylinders. There’s the scenes where Matt Foyer eavesdrops on the conversation and we see the shadow and silhouettes of insectoid things moving, a brief glimpse of a claw, before the discovery of Henry’s discarded skin. This is Lovecraft the way it should be – where the mood is all suggested, not something direct and in one’s face.

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 Unnameable (1988), The Resurrected (1992), Necronomicon (1993), The Unnamable II: The Statement of Randolph Carter (1993), Lurking Fear (1994), Stuart Gordon’s Dagon (2001), 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 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) and The Lurking Fear (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 parody The Last Lovecraft: Relic of Cthulhu (2009) and the parody 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.

Trailer here

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