Wraparound (“The Library”)
Directed by Brian Yuzna. Camera (Foto-Kem color), Gerry Liveley; supervising editor, Chris Roth; music, Joseph Lo Duca; makeup special effects, Todd Masters; assistant director, Ed Licht.
In-your-face goremeister Brian Yuzna makes a game attempt to revive the portmanteau horror flick with “Necronomicon,” a three-parter (plus wraparound) based on stories and themes drawn from the deep well of H.P. Lovecraft. Result, using a raft of international directors, is diverting but uneven, though pic will see brisk biz in vid-bin afterlife. Theatrical chances in mature territories look chancier beyond quick-play splatter venues.
Yuzna himself helms the fanciful wraparound (“The Library”), set in fall 1932 , in which H.P. (Jeffrey Combs) visits a library run by strange monks where resides a copy of the famed Necronomicon, a book that contains “the very secrets of the universe.” H.P. is low on inspiration, so, locked up in a vault with the magical tome, he jots down notes for stories.
Segue to first seg (“The Drowned”), a “House of Usher”-like variation set in a remote, coastal New England hotel with a ghostly rep.
Jethro (Richard Lynch, serviceable), returning from abroad to claim his inheritance, is shown around the dump by a sexy realtor (Belinda Bauer, terrific) who advises him to sell it straightaway. Jethro demurs and finds his late uncle made a pact with the devil. Eventually, history repeats itself.
Set in Boston, “The Cold” centers on an aggressive reporter (Gary Graham, twitchy) researching a spate of killings. His digging leads him to a house owned by Emily (Bess Meyer, flavorsome), who lives in subcryonic temperatures and relates the story of her mother, victim of a mad scientist (David Warner, over the top) who needed a constant supply of human spinal fluid to maintain eternal life. Final twist is signaled early on.
“Whispers,” set in a vaguely futuristic Philly, follows a feisty female cop (Signy Coleman, OK) who crashes her car in an urban hell and is drawn into a pit full of monsters by a folksy old couple (Don Calfa, Judith Drake, cleverly menacing). Double-punch twist ending is neat but nothing new.
Yuzna’s wraparound rolls down the curtain in grand F/X style, with H.P.’s dabbling with the Necronomicon causing the netherworld to demand a victim. The author lives to write another batch of stories, natch.
Overall jokey tone of the film is precariously maintained, given the wide spread of genres. Best of the bunch is, in fact, the most serious, “The Drowned, ” in which French director Christophe Gans trades on but finds more modern equivalents of the Roger Corman legacy. Effects and atmosphere are stylishly handled, with a dreamlike quality that doesn’t simply rely on gore.
Japanese helmer Shu Kaneko’s “The Cold” is competently handled but degrades early on into a retread of Yuzna’s own “Re-Animator,” capped by gruesome F/X. Millie Perkins balances Warner’s hammy boffin with more controlled menace.
Yuzna’s own seg, “Whispers,” is the weakest of the three, a straight linear tale whose only interest lies in how far he’ll go with rotting corpses and bodily fluids to cap the previous episodes. After 80 minutes or so, deja vu looms.
Tech credits are fine, with iron-hard Dolby sound and an intense, driving score in “The Drowned” and the wraparound by Joseph Lo Duca (“Evil Dead”) that’s a real plus. Russ Brandt’s lensing of “The Drowned” has a stylish edge, and effects throughout, by a battery of names, are up to scratch, especially in the showcase final minutes.