The Unnamable (1988)
The Unnamable (1988)

Genre: Horror Running Time: 1 hr. 16 min.

Release Date: June 10th, 1988 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Jean-Paul Ouellette Actors: Charles Klausmeyer, Mark Kinsey Stephenson, Alexandra Durrell, Laura Albert, Eben Ham, Blane Wheatley, Mark Parra




t’s alright. It’s only lightning … ” A thunderstorm barely masks the bloodcurdling screams emanating from a grand estate neighboring a cemetery. Inside a boarded up, padlocked room at the top, something inhuman wails, pounding on the door to get out. It doesn’t seem to upset elderly owner Joshua Winthrop (Delbert Spain) too much, as he soon saunters upstairs to release the beast. But he’s rewarded by a gnarled hand thrust into his chest, which yanks out his still-beating heart and tosses it back onto the dying man’s crumpled body. The following morning, preacher Craft (Colin Cox) and his men discover the corpse, opting to quickly bury it and decree that the site and its unspeakable evils should be sealed up forever.

50 years afterwards, a young boy wanders into the building, spies the unmentionable monstrosity, and goes insane. Or so says Randolph Carter (Mark Kinsey Stephenson), regaling his friends – Joel Manton (Mark Parra) and Howard Damon (Charles King), attending Miskatonic University – with this urban legend from centuries ago. When the trio decides against spending the night at the house where the unnamable hellion resided, Joel opts to go it alone, partly as a dare and partly to see if there’s any truth behind the spooky tales. Carter would rather not provoke the folklore, while Howard tries his luck with more standard extracurricular activities, such as pursuing his college crush, Wendy Barnes (Laura Albert). Of course, Wendy doesn’t want to waste her time with a mere freshman; uncertain Tanya Heller (Alexandra Durrell), however, is quite fond of the quiet student.

“What do I got to be afraid of?” The decrepit mansion makes for a decent set for haunted-house happenings, which crop up fairly quickly once Joel starts poking around at night. Armed only with a candle, he begins the usual routine of opening coffins, fingering dusty books, and catching glimpses of humanoid shadows. As with many comparable horror films, lone characters tend to scare themselves senseless long before the actual antagonists arrive. And it’s problematic later on when flashlights cast insignificant beams next to the abundance of moonlight and other external lights that make everything a little too clear.

Rather than revealing the creature in its entirety (until the very end, that is), the film employs a first-person perspective for its movements (accompanied by continual, irritating echoes), while also dousing its victims in splattered blood, so as to introduce violence without betraying the low-budget makeup and special effects. Nudity and lots of sexual innuendoes are also at work, shaping a formulaic monster movie that uses very few characters, basically only a single set, and limited creature costuming. The gore isn’t terrible, but the plot isn’t complicated enough to generate sincere frights beyond the intermittent severed head or pool of blood or sudden loud noise.

Thanks to some unoriginal college initiation diversions, supporting roles line up to become fodder for the insatiable unnamable, though intentional humor (and unintentionally awkward deliveries) occasionally spoils the mood. Rather than embracing the thrills, which are hard-won as it is – considering the pitiful acting, generic dialogue, and spells of inactivity (for silly things such as thorough reading in the dark, or running back and forth through the house to speak with one another, or unnecessary flashbacks) – the film adds specific bits of comic relief, which simply don’t fit in a picture that struggles with its own seriousness. Perhaps the main appeal is the basis on H.P. Lovecraft’s story, though the nonsense about helpful tree spirits and reciting verses from the Necronomicon fail to replicate the author’s grasp of the occult – and of instilling fear.

– Mike Massie

  • 3/10