HP Lovecraft (Jeffrey Coombs) visits a monastery to fact check his latest manuscript. Whilst there he tracks down a copy of the ancient Necronomicon and narrates three tales related to the text.
The anthology horror movie has seen a resurgence in recent years with VHS, The ABCs of Death, their sequels and Axelle Carolyn’s Tales of Halloween adorning selected cinemas and film festivals. While a few of the newer entries have been commendable (VHS is a near masterpiece) others feel like pale imitations of those from the 1980s: films like Creepshow, Cat’s Eye, Tales From the Crypt: Demon Knight and Tales From The Darkside: The Movie. The mostly fun and freaky features that festooned through cinemas and video stores thirty years ago will always be remembered with affection by film fans of a certain age and ilk. Genre legends Dario Argento, George Romero, John Landis, Tobe Hooper and John Carpenter all directed short films for anthology features; Two Evil Eyes, Body Bags and Twilight Zone: The Movie, while non-episodic TV series’ Tales from the Crypt and Freddy’s Nightmares haunted our home viewing schedules.
Necronomicon arrived in 1993, at a time when the quality of horror anthology films was waning, and in many ways this Brian Yuzna directed goth-schlock compendium could have been the final nail in the subgenre’s coffin. Necronomicon still boasts a few wild flourishes with its outlandish creatures, sombre settings and twisted, eerie characters yet the film remains an often monotonous schlep due to shifty performances, dodgy plotting and a slapdash, amateur air.
First segment: The Drowned, directed by Christophe Gans (Brotherhood of the Wolf), focuses on debonair aristocrat Edward De Lapoer (Bruce Payne), a moping charmer who travels from Sweden to the dilapidated seaside mansion he stands to inherit. Upon arrival, Edward discovers the property overrun with the disgruntled ghosts of his ancestors and various squid-dribbling sea monsters he has to evade. Blood sacrifices involving latex fiends, neon green pentagrams, nautical phantoms and crab vomiting spectres are also all hurled into the supernatural broth. The Drowned is an often atmospheric short with some wild creature designs and a well-beckoned sense of foreboding, but the story eventually flat-lines into monotony. It is also inculcated by the morose protagonist and tepid supporting characters, then tempered further by bleak locations, and dank, sodden sets.
The second entry: The Cold, directed by Shusuke Kaneko (Death Note), features a mad scientist called Dr Madden (David Warner), who uses the Necronomicon to create an anti-ageing serum with cosmically botched consequences. The story follows Emily Osterman (Bess Meyer), Madden’s landlady, and shadowy private investigator Dale Porkel (Dennis Christopher) who questions Emily over the murder of eleven people in the area. Warner is great, even as a blubbering scab with lips, but is typecast after similar turns in Time Bandits, The Man With Two Brains and Time After Time, minus the scab. The plotting is bumpy and there’s a lack of affective horror, or humour to recompense or augment the ghost train antics. The Cold is slower than The Drowned, but features scrumptious skin-peeling, face-melting, explosive body horror and an obligatory talking skull.
The third and final film is The Whisper, directed by Brian Yuzna, and tells the tale of two cops hunting down a serial killer known as “the butcher”. A suspicious, sewer dwelling homeless couple make an appearance along with some chewy, pantomime “demons” and the rubbery, cadaverous gates of hell, in which a key character gets lodged. It’s amusing but often slovenly, frequently juvenile and feels like a desperate, last minute attempt at invoking something anarchic to compensate for the dawdling first two segments. Despite some grotesque skits, the finale feels cut-rate and careless. The three films sit awkwardly between an intro and outro starring Jeffrey Coombs as Lovecraft (also directed by Yuzna), but these are as creaky and cumbersome as the films they encase. Necronomicon is not quite a total cataclysm but remains one of the weakest anthology horrors of the era, despite some succulent gore and squelchy creature effects.
Words: Dan Goodwin