You should know up front I’m a sucker for movies like this. There’s just something attractive about dangerous books and the characters who are obsessed with obtaining them. As much as I should dislike this movie—and it gives me plenty of reasons—I’ve seen it more than once since its limited release in 1993. I’m not saying it’s a great movie, but it’s uncannily watchable. Well, two-thirds of it is, anyway.
Necronomicon gets off to a promising start, which only makes the sagging middle section of the movie all the more painful. Jeffery Combs, wearing makeup so thick you’ll barely recognize him, plays HP Lovecraft. According to the film, Lovecraft didn’t write fiction, but plagiarized true stories he read in the Necronomicon.
Minutes after the opening credits Lovecraft sneaks into a library’s deepest and darkest crypt, Indiana Jones style. It’s there he finds the titular book of the dead, the design of which is intricate, ancient-looking, and downright creepy—just as it should be. The other props and special effects are a cut above most horror films, too. There’s a lot of miniatures, reverse photography, and even some shots filmed upside down so that blood and goo rise magically from the floor at times. Lovecraft’s story is the container for the other short films, which are directed by Christophe Gans, Shusuke Kaneko, and Brian Yuzna.
The first tale from the book is The Drowned. This is the best part of the movie. Bruce Payne plays a grieving widower who has just inherited a cliffside hotel. He discovers his uncle (Richard Lynch) left a suicide letter, which recounts how he acquired the book from a mysterious fish-man and used it to resurrect his dead family with tendril-laden results. Payne then resurrects his own wife, failing to heed his uncle’s warnings. Despite a stupidly rushed ending, The Drowned manages to create one of the most Lovecraftian moods ever put on film.
Now let me suggest fast-forwarding through The Cold, the second tale of the movie. David Warner is so understandably bored in it you can almost hear him wondering how his costars made it into movies at all. This is low-effort filmmaking, the kind of stuff that gives horror films its stigma among snobs. The less said about it the better.
The third tale, Whispers, is alternatively boring and insane. You would expect Brian Yuzna to produce the best story of the three, and while he certainly supplies the best creature effects, the main character is a monotonously loud policewoman who—get this—has a melodramatic discussion about motherhood in the middle of a car chase. She pursues the suspect into a cavernous lair beneath an abandoned warehouse. There she encounters creatures who crave bone marrow, which certainly sounds metal as fuck, but the action is needlessly interrupted by a pointless dream scene. The segment’s message is as hammy as the anti-abortion propaganda in a church’s hell house attraction.
Overall, Necronomicon’s biggest sin is its inattention to detail. Lovecraft is supposedly reading these stories sometime in the 1920s, yet each of the short films are set in contemporary times. Sometimes you think the costumes are reflecting the old days, but then you see a modern car drive by in the background. I’m sure there’s a magical explanation for this, but it’s still distracting.
Nonetheless, Necronomicon is one of those movies I really like even though my brain tells me no. Horror hounds will like it. Everybody else should stay away.