“The Thing on the Doorstep” passes a crucial test. Despite its many shoddy, skid-row production limitations, the film keeps us on our toes, wondering what will happen next. This creepy, unpredictable adaptation of an H.P. Lovecraft story is a primitive patchwork of dubbed dialogue and wooden acting, but it’s crafted from such strong, intriguing material, we’re hooked from the get-go.
Director Eric Morgret might not have the budget for something as grotesquely creative as fellow Lovecraft admirer Stuart Gordon (which is saying something – Gordon’s maverick interpretations of the writer’s work are usually too wild for any big-ticket studio to bankroll), but he’s able to keep his twisted tale moving along. “The Thing on the Doorstep” makes up for its nonexistent budget with momentum to burn.
Dan Upton (Oliver Spencer) takes an evening drive to Arkham Mental Hospital, where he visits troubled, mentally ill friend Edward Derby (Erick J. Robertson). Their little sanitarium social doesn’t last long. Before you can say “straight jacket,” Upton has whipped out a pistol and planted a cap in Derby’s delusional head.
“The Things on the Doorstep” takes this teasing premise and hurdles it down noir drive. We observe Upton being interrogated by a criminal investigator, who offers the mysterious murderer a cigarette. After taking a drag and exhaling the puff of smoke, Upton explains what led him to kill Derby.
His tale involves Asenath Waite (Beth Zumann), a sinister, witch-like seductress with the black-garbed, goth-like presence of a Marilyn Manson groupie. Waite and Derby are drawn together through their mutual interest in the occult. Their courtship begins when Waite lures him with some rare library manuscripts she’s privy to. Before long, the two macabre-craving lovebirds are married.
Inevitably, this union throws a wrench in Upton’s friendship with his hitched buddy. However, he hears rumors of ghastly doings at the Derby residence. Disturbing sounds emanate from the home. The neighborhood becomes thick with talk of witchcraft and malevolence. Inevitably, Upton is contacted by his old friend, and such troubles are confirmed. Shape-shifting, “shogoths,” and multiple murders ensue, right up to a shrewd twist ending.
Unlike Gordon’s shockingly effective use of visuals (“Re-Animator,” “From Beyond”), Morgret minimizes the gore and pumps up his story. We’re never lured into geekfest bloodlust – never left to salivate over creative demises and grisly viscera. The pull of Lovecraft’s hypnotic, moody dread is enough to string us along. The director also reveals a shrewd sense of humor, utilizing Frank Sinatra’s croon tune “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” to hilariously appropriate effect.
Laughs are also generated by “The Love Craft,” a tacked-on “Love Boat” parody that assembles all of Lovecraft’s legendary loonies onto television’s most beloved vacation vessel (serum-shooting Herbert West is on-board as a doctor). Morgret’s got a real sense of how to find grim chuckles on these dark, warped streets. It would be interesting to see what he could pull off with a decent budget and some more dynamic production values.