This latest release to plunder the dark worlds of H. P. Lovecraft, from Italy's up and coming horror director, Ivan Zuccon, introduces us to psychic investigator Alex (Giuseppe Lorusso) who drags along his bored girlfriend, Rita (Federica Quaglieri), to a dilapidated hotel which has seen an unusually high death count over the past three centuries. No sooner have the couple arrived Alex announces his intentions to stay at the crumbling building for the duration of his research, much to the annoyance of Rita who rubbishes his theories relating to paranormal activity.
Pretty soon odd events are happening, Rita imagines a congregation of cowled women in an old part of the building once used as a place for worship, and strange noises, that include the obligatory ˜rats in the walls" and eerie violin chords drift through the deserted chambers.
Alex awakes one night to find Rita muttering strange incantations, and phantoms from the building's terrible past appear to have broken the perceived laws of time and space to co-exist in an alternative reality; the veil between which has been shattered due to the architectural structures failing to conform to the laws of Euclidean calculus - thus opening a gate to a dimension inhabited by alien forces (whom Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos would refer to as The Great Old Ones).
THE SHUNNED HOUSE utilises story threads from three of Lovecraft's tales, namely "The Dreams in the Witch-House", "The Music of Erich Zann" and "The Shunned House", and amends Lovecraft's original time settings, so that the modern-day protagonists, Alex and Rita, loosely based on characters from "The Shunned House" (1924), find their world integrated with characters from "The Dreams in the Witch-House" (1932) and "The Music of Erich Zann" (1921). Common to most Lovecraft film adaptations, liberties are taken with the sex of characters; Uncle Elihu Whipple from â"The Shunned House" is now Rita, and the male mute violinist from "Erich Zann" is now Carlotta Zann (Cristiana Vaccaro). These amendements are in the film's favour, Quaglieri adds a sense of vulnaribility and sexuality that Lovecraft's fiction blatantly lacked, and Vaccaro is especially convincing when frantically playing fugue notes in order to keep the dark forces from invading the space gateways.
Zuccon is obviously familiar with Lovecraft's concepts but his attempts to weave three narratives from three time eras, into one comprehensible plot may confuse the viewer and a reading of Lovecraft's tales is encouraged. The original "Shunned House" story included several shadowy references to vampire mythology and Zuccon's script wisely adopts these ideas without going overboard with cliched concepts. Instead, the theme of blood letting/blood sacrifice, (which gorehounds will be delighted to learn is quite plentiful in this film), is utilised as an energy that feeds the outside forces and which strengthens their foothold in the house. Another interesting, but undeveloped, theme concerns a game of chess played between one of the ancient house'sinhabitants and what appears to be a Satanic goat/devil â€“ Lovecraft mentions a Witches Sabbath in "Dreams in the Witch-House" in which the 'black goat' appears and is linked with Shub-Niggurath! The Goat with a Thousand Young! The game of chess, too, can be seen as an obscure reference to time travel, and is historically linked with mythical pacts involving the Death/The Devil/Satan and the souls of man.
Strobe lighting is effectively used to represent the Old One's arrival at various intervals, usually foreshadowed by a grisly act of sacrifice carried out by one of the house's ghostly inmates, most of whom are insane. The set-design is impressive and so are the various gory make-ups by Massimo Storari that involve wrist slitting, facial slashing, dismemberment and a ghastly mask hammered to one womanâ€™s face that recalls Bava's BLACK SUNDAY.
Together with Bava's obvious influences involving lighting, shadows, and smoke, there are cinematic references to Lucio Fulci's classic zombie films. The opening sequence involving a young boy bouncing his ball into the old house cellar is a nod to THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY and there are similar tributes to THE BEYOND (which was itself undoubtedly Lovecraftian with its use of Keys, Gates, and occult symbols â€“ one of which is copied here). Colour filters are effectively used to separate time zones and denote mood, a technique also employed by Fulci and Argento, and the film is accompanied by a haunting score by Acid Vacuum.
Zuccon displays flashes of brilliance involving jump-cuts and cutaways that reveal esoteric objects that leave their sinister visages etched on the viewer's mind long after the film has finished. As the camera creeps and jinxes around and across rooms and objects we are reminded of Raimi's THE EVIL DEAD, but thankfully Zuccon's lens is void of the amateurish shaking that is standard for the majority of SOV productions.
There's a lot going on here and, sadly, this proves the film's only downfall. Like Lovecraft, Zuccon places character development secondary to atmospherics, and shooting on video helps detract from the subject's otherworldly ambience, so when a character is in danger, audience sympathy is lacking. With a tighter script and a budget allowing for 35-mm, Zuccon may yet present us with a convincing Lovecraft adaptation, until then THE SHUNNED HOUSE stands alongside the likes of Stuart Gordon's DAGON, and Dan O'Bannon's THE RESURRECTED as an ambitious example of what might have been.
Carl T. Ford
Directed by Ivan Zuccon
SPECIAL DVD FEATURES
A Salvation Films DVD Release
All region / Widescreen 16:9 / Dolby Digital Stereo.
THE SHUNNED HOUSE