It’s no secret to anyone and everyone who follows this site that Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows’ 12-part comics series Providence has sparked your humble host/author off on a major H.P. Lovecraft kick the likes of which I haven’t been on since my early 20s when I first started getting into his work, and my thirst for HPL-based cinematic offerings is well-nigh insatiable at this point. We’ve taken a look at some of the good (Cool Air) and some of the bad (The Tomb) in recent months around these parts, and I’m pleased to report that just the other night I discovered an unassuming little shot-on-HD no-budget gem that definitely falls under the “good” category : director Tom Gliserman’s 2014 adaptation of The Thing On The Doorstep.
Now, I can’t claim to know much of anything about Gliserman and the other folks behind this project (such as producer Will Severin and screenwiter/co-star Mary Jane Hansen), but my best guess is that they’re Lovecraft fans first and filmmakers second, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that in my mind, even if it means there are (remarkably few) technical glitches here and there in this flick, because it ensures they bring a real passion for the material to the proceedings and that passion definitely shows through from word “go” to word “stop” here. Labors of love are always interesting, at the very least, and this one is both interesting and extremely well-executed on the whole, so if you’re able to make allowances for the film’s sub-Hollywood-level production values (and if you can’t I have to wonder why you’re a reader of this site in the first place), chances are that you’ll end up walking away from this one every bit as impressed as I was.
First, a few particulars for those who may not be terribly familiar with the story : married soon-to-be-family-man Daniel Upton (played here by David Bunce) is something of an older brother figure/constant source of assistance to his lifelong friend, Edward Derby (Rob Dalton). Daniel’s wife, Marion (Susan Cicarelli-Caputo) is a pretty good sport about the “third wheel” in their relationship since Edward, interesting though he may be, doesn’t really seem to have any other friends and indeed is something of a social misfit/eternal adolescent. That all changes in a hurry, though, when the big kid meets amateur hypnotist/woman of mystery Asenath Waite (Hansen) at a party and is immediately taken with her. So taken, in fact, that in fairly short order they’re travelling the globe together before getting married and buying the rattiest, most run-down “fixer-upper” you can possibly imagine. Except they never get around to fixing the place up much. They employ a brusque maid who acts more like a gatekeeper than a household helping hand. And Edward quickly progresses from being smitten with his new bride to fearing her and the terrible secret he’s convinced she’s hiding. The truth, when he finally pieces it all together? Well, let’s just say that it’s far stranger than anything he could have dreamed up in his now-fevered mined and that the survival of his consciousness/soul is very much in danger — even if his body will keep on keepin’ on.
For the Lovecraft “purists” out there, rest assured that this film is a very faithful cinematic translation of its “source material” despite the fact that, largely for budgetary reasons I’m sure, it takes place in the modern day rather than back in the 1920s, Hansen’s screenplay takes a few liberties here and there, sure, but they’re few and far between and all make sense given the contextual leap from the printed page to the screen. In short, if you’re not into seeing Lovecraft played for laughs or dumbed-down for lowest-common-denominator audiences, you’re really going to dig the tone, tempo, and mood of this remarkably respectful movie.
I mentioned already that the production values aren’t Spielberg-level by any means, but that doesn’t mean that Gliserman and company don’t make the best of what they have to work with. The locations utilized are all pitch-perfect, the largely unprofessional cast all acquit themselves splendidly right down the line, and there are a number of astonishingly effective shots that would earn the filmmakers an “A+” if this were, say, a grad school project. This is micro-budget movie-making at its most accomplished, and there’s never any sense that anyone here has a “well, hey, we can only do so much” attitude — indeed, rather than “settling” for a lesser product, everyone seems determined to wring as much as they’re able to , and even more, from the hand they’re dealt and to create a finished product that’s not only watchable, but is something they can be proud of. As well they all should be, frankly, since everything from the acting to the cinematography to the editing to the visual effects to the musical score is of the “good-bordering-on-great” variety.
I can’t say for sure that I know where The Thing On The Doorstep circa 2014 was made — I think I read somewhere that it was in Ohio, but don’t hold me to that — but I do know where you can find it : in addition to a self-funded/self-distributed DVD (the technical specs, extras, etc. of which I’m not qualified to comment on since I didn’t see it in that format), it’s available for streaming on Amazon, and you can even watch it for free if you’ve got a Prime membership. How long it remains available there is anyone’s guess, though, so I strongly and whole-heartedly recommend that you do yourself a favor and check it out immediately.