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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 professionalism. 

The Package 
     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).

The Story
     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, you fool!”  

The Direction 
     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.


Vital Statistics 

THE TESTIMONY OF RANDOLPH CARTER
Pocketchange Productions

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, Judith Ruha
 


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