THE TESTIMONY OF RANDOLPH CARTER
This 53-minute video
production from the late eighties is notable as one of the first of a type of
film that has become extremely popular in recent years: an amateur H.P.
Lovecraft adaptation. And it isn’t bad, having been made with an abundance of
care and thoughtfulness, even if it contains little in the way of talent or
THE TESTIMONY OF RANDOLPH CARTER was a student film, shot in the summer of
1987 on a home VHS tape deck in Denver, CO (the end credits proclaim it a
“Colorado College Award in Literature Project”--whatever that means).
It’s now out on DVD courtesy of the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society (the
creators of '05’s ambitious Lovecraft adaptation
THE CALL OF CTHULHU).
H.P. Lovecraft’s oft-reprinted story “The Statement of Randolph Carter” was
first published back in 1920. It’s a short piece, consisting of the alleged
testimony given by the eponymous Carter about what transpired when he and an
occult-obsessed friend interred the tomb of an ancient necromancer; the final
line, which also concludes the screen version, is a knock-out. The story was
one of the first in Lovecraft’s Randolph Carter cycle, which would come to
include famous tales like “The Silver Key” and “The Dream-Quest of Unknown
Kadath” (itself the subject of a little-seen amateur screen adaptation).
Randolph Carter is grilled in court about the circumstances surrounding the
mysterious death of his buddy Harley Warren. Carter is being tried for the
killing although he steadfastly insists he had nothing to do with it--but
neither the prosecuting attorney nor the judge believe a thing he says.
It seems that from the start Carter was suspicious of his friend, who had
an unhealthy obsession with the occult, in particular the dread volume
NECRONOMICON. Carter tried to distance himself from Warren’s dabbles in
necromancy, but became afflicted by disquieting nightmares involving
horrifically reanimated corpses. Eventually Warren managed to lure Carter into
accompanying him to a graveyard to inter the tomb of an ancient necromancer.
Once at the sight they hastily dug up the grave and uncovered a large stone
cover, which they removed to find a set of steps leading downward. Warren
descended the steps, giving Carter a phone to communicate with him. But the
phone quickly went dead...!!!SPOILER ALERT!!!...Carter became frantic,
repeatedly shouting his friend’s name into the mouthpiece, until he was abruptly
silenced by a strange voice on the line, informing him that “Warren is dead,
This is very much an amateur effort, meaning allowances will have to
be made for the performances by non-professional cast members (which are, truth
be told, far better than you might expect) and low rent video photography (which
is again far above average for this sort of fare, excepting some wobbly pans and
out of focus shots). What I can complain about is the deadly slow
pacing. The story was just a few pages long, and its transition to a 53-minute
film contains an abundance of very noticeable padding, with literally every
scene drawn out interminably. I’m positive a judicious editor could whittle
this film down to about a third of its length without doing any serious damage
to the narrative.
But the project has...something. If you can make it through the
whole thing (admittedly something of a chore) you’ll find an authentically
haunting viewing experience not unlike that of reading a good H.P. Lovecraft
story--for those who don’t know, Lovecraft’s writing was often verbose,
derivative and downright clumsy, yet he still managed to craft some of the most
important horror fiction of the Twentieth Century. The reverence with which
writer-director Andrew Leman treated his source material has payed off in a work
that’s exasperating, yes, but also powerfully disquieting.
It’s important to remember that underlying all this is the simple fact that
THE TESTIMONY OF RANDOLOPH CARTER was among the first films of its kind. This
is to say that it was one of the premiere Lovecraft adaptations that didn’t turn
the material into a retro B-movie. It was commonly believed during the
eighties--and still is in some circles--that effectively transposing Lovecraft
to the screen was “impossible”. This film proves otherwise.
THE TESTIMONY OF RANDOLPH
Director: Andrew Leman
Producers: Andrew Leman, Philip Bell
Screenplay: Andrew Leman
(Based on a story by H.P. Lovecraft)
Cinematography: Steven J. Deidel
Editing: Tamara McDonough
Cast: Darrell Tyler, William Mark Hulings, Philip Bell, Sean Branney, Joe Reorda,