Hurr, More Like Dork Heritage

by Arthur B

Being a review of a not-very-good Lovecraft adaptation.
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Dark Heritage is a straight-to-VHS adaptation of The Lurking Fear by H.P. Lovecraft. In the original story, intrepid investigators discover that descendants of a thunderstorm-obsessed mountain family, having isolated themselves for centuries and partaken of truly staggering amounts of inbreeding, have degenerated into subterranean monsters who lurk in burrows underneath the family’s colonial-era mansion. Dark Heritage, as well as taking place in the modern day (or “modern day” as far as 1989 is concerned), differs from the original by transplanting the action to Louisiana, with the cursed Dansen clan living in an abandoned plantation house.

The shift to Louisiana makes a lot of sense; as well as the swamps down there being connected to other Lovecraft tales (one of the three major vignettes in The Call of Cthulhu takes place there), making the Dansens the debased descendants of slave-owning Southern aristocracy helps shift the story from merely being a riff on aristocratic inbreeding into a cautionary tale about failing to remember and examine the past.

However, I suspect the change of location took place for much more practical reasons: namely, that this has all the hallmarks of being a semi-amateur production put together by a group of enthusiastic Louisiana locals. The acting on show tends to be hesitant, flat, and monotonous, and the director (David McCormick) seems to have taken the Ed Wood approach of rolling with the first take in which the actors managed to get their lines out correctly - there’s one bit where heroic newspaper reporter Clint Harrison (Mark LaCour) seems to forget the name of his own boss mid-conversation, but apparently that was good enough to make the cut.

Then again, Clint has bigger problems in his life than acting. After two campers on a campsite north of New Orleans are slain during a thunderstorm by a prowling creature, newspaper editor Mr Daniels (Eddie Moore) summons Clint to let him know that the newspaper owner wants him to investigate the case by spending the night in an abandoned nearby mansion that rumour has it has something sinister lurking about in it. Clint agrees to stake out the old Dansen place in conjunction with two capable assistants from the print shop, and Mr Daniels tells Clint that he’s a crazy idiot for agreeing to take the story. (It later turns out that Daniels had good reason not to want Clint to take on the story, but if that were the case you’d think he’d be more dismissive of it in conversation - or indeed just not tell Clint about it and tell the newspaper owner that Clint refused the job.)

Naturally, Clint and his two buddies run into trouble during the night, and Clint’s insistence on keeping up the investigation soon puts his life at risk, forcing him to hook up with a couple of paranormal investigators to help him solve the mystery.

The investigation is hampered by the fact that Clint is an appalling journalist, to an extent where if he were a player character in a Call of Cthulhu game he’d be a liability to the party. This is mostly because he’s badly served by the scriptwriters just not thinking anything through, and the director not particularly caring about logic and continuity. For instance, Clint seems entirely happy to go spend the night in this mansion without doing a shred of research into its history beforehand, an error which any Call of Cthulhu player could tell you us a recipe for suicide. In this completely abandoned mansion, which has been derelict for years, there’s a bed with good, clean linen lying around and nice clean mirrors and windows with panes of glass all still intact. Nobody wonders why this should be the case. Then again, Clint seems to believe that sleeping overnight in an old mansion without making much of an effort to fully explore or investigate it is a viable and unobjectionable means of uncovering information about murders at a campground miles away so perhaps it’s expecting too much for him to notice enormously incongruous inconsistencies.

To be fair, the condition of the mansion could come down to the practical requirements of working there - it isn’t a purpose-built set, it’s an actual abandoned plantation house that belonged to somebody, so presumably the owners weren’t up to having all their windows broken for the sake of a movie. At the same time, absolutely no effort is made to work with the limitations the production is working under in order to explain such incongruities. Furthermore, some continuity errors arise from factors entirely under the production’s control. This is best illustrated in a part of the film in which Clint acts like a complete asshole - one of the investigators who make contact with him after the first night at the mansion to recruit him into their snooping into the Dansen history gets his face gnawed off, which understandably upsets his buddy, and then Clint immediately starts cajoling the surviving investigator into helping him bury the body out in the woods where they’ve been staking things out so that Clint doesn’t get into more trouble with the police than he already is in. They do so - going straight out into the pitch-black night which they know whatever gnawed their pal’s face off is still lurking about in, and burying the body in what is obviously bone-dry earth immediately following a thunderstorm which involved torrents of rain - or the closest the modest effect budget could get to implying torrents of rain.

The biggest disappointment here is the appearances of the creatures, which are generally laughable, both in the broad brushstrokes and in the little details. As an example of the little details, the Dansen family are meant to all have heterochromia, but the picture quality and lighting on the crucial shots to establish that the beasts are the mutant descendents of the Dansens mean that you can’t actually make out their eye colour (or, for that matter, the colours on the Dansen portrait which demonstrates the heterochromia). As an example of the broad picture, the creatures are just dudes painted a grey-blue colour and wearing bootleg masks of Eddie (the Iron Maiden mascot) and little blue shorts to protect their modesty. The first time we see one of these guys is even more risible - supposedly, our heroes are crawling down one of the tunnels in the woods they use to get around, but the shots of the monster not only make it obvious that they are wearing an Eddie mask, but also that the walls of the so-called tunnel are actually mildly dirty bedsheets which are quivering as the monster pretends to crawl through the tunnel.

It says a lot about even a straight-to-VHS movie (available on maybe-bootleg DVD) that the most competent feature is the Casio keyboard soundtrack, and even that isn’t not much to write home about. If Dark Heritage really was an amateur production made for fun, that’s fine, but apparently someone along the line decided to try to sell this thing for money, and it’s just slightly too slow and dull to really pass muster even as a so-bad-it’s-funny effort.
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Comments (go to latest)
http://ronanwills.wordpress.com/ at 19:00 on 2014-10-19
"In the original story, intrepid investigators discover that descendants of a thunderstorm-obsessed mountain family, having isolated themselves for centuries and partaken of truly staggering amounts of inbreeding, have degenerated into subterranean monsters who lurk in burrows "

I'm getting a distinct whiff of Robert Howard's Lovecraft-inspired stories, which I remember you wrote about some time ago. I'm assuming Howard was inspired by Lovecraft, and not the other way around.
Arthur B at 19:28 on 2014-10-19
I'm assuming Howard was inspired by Lovecraft, and not the other way around.

Almost certainly so - The Lurking Fear came out in 1923, Howard's first published story came out in 1924.
http://brandiweed.livejournal.com/ at 20:21 on 2014-10-19
To give poor Clint *some* credit, few of the protagonists in the original Cthulhu Mythos stories as are genre-savvy as Call of Cthulhu players...
Arthur B at 21:32 on 2014-10-19
To give poor Clint *some* credit, few of the protagonists in the original Cthulhu Mythos stories as are genre-savvy as Call of Cthulhu players...

The thing about Call of Cthulhu is that many of the times you aren't playing the original protagonists, you're playing people like Dr. Willett in The Case of Charles Dexter Ward who come along to work out what happened after the first round of protagonists fucked things up. :)

But I take your point, Clint is clearly not very competent at paranormal investigation and it's probably fair that he isn't. The bigger problem is that he doesn't seem to be enormously competent at journalism. either.
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