Column: Cthulhu Eats the World: The Thing on the Doorstep (2014)

By Brian Sammons

The Thing on the Doorstep (2014). Director: Tom Gliserman. 
Cast: David Bunce, Susan Cicarelli-Caputo, Mary Jane Hansen.

The thing about making a movie about a story by H.P. Lovecraft is that anyone can do it, since many of his tales are public domain. This means that many first time filmmakers cut their cinematic teeth on tales by the Grand Old Gent from Providence. Some do this out of love for the source material, and others do it because any movie that has “H.P. Lovecraft’s” before the title has a built-in fanbase and that equals more success than their film might warrant otherwise.

That’s because many of those fans are fanatically loyal to Lovecraft and anything so related to him. And hey, that’s me speaking from personal experience, as I am one of those fans. But the hard truth of the matter is that because we Lovecraft lovers want movies made from the stories of our favorite author, we can be remarkably forgiving to those films. We will often turn a blind eye to many flaws and outright mistakes that we would do for other films. Excuses will be made for low budgets, beginning efforts, hearts in the right place and all that.

But I have always maintained that a film must be good regardless of who, how, or why it was made, and budget makes no difference to me. I have seen amazing movies with the humblest of budgets (Absentia, which was partially funded through Kickstarter, comes right to mind) and movies with multimillion dollar bankrolls that blew (pretty much anything by Michael Bay). So, with all that said, know that this low-budget, very-independent movie based on Lovecraft’s “The Thing on the Doorstep” will be graded by me on its merits as a film alone and the HPL rose-colored glasses will be off for this one. So, are you ready for it? Well, here … we … go ….

The Thing on the Doorstep is a pretty good little film. Ha. I had you worried there for a little while, huh? Well, don’t get me wrong, this movie is far from perfect, but there is a lot of good going on here, too. So, what do you want – bad or good – first? Okay, let’s take the bad on and get that out of the way.

Chief among this movie’s offenses is its cinematography, of which I am so not a fan. And this can’t be blamed on budgetary reasons; this was all done by choice. First, everything – and I mean everything – is shot through soft focus, so much so that it looks more like softcore porn you would find on Skinemax than a horror movie. The second head-scratching decision was to film nearly every scene backlit. Now this technique does make for a few striking images. If used sparingly, it could have been really effective to highlight dramatic and horrifying moments.

Unfortunately it is used all the time here, and for no good reason. A married couple talking in bed at night about everyday things: backlit. Friends chatting over a breakfast table: backlit. Two people walking through a nice park on a beautiful, sunny day: backlit. And in addition to just being out of place in regards to mood, it has the added bad effect of constantly having the actors’ faces covered in shadow. Again, if this were utilized at key moments, that could have been scary, but not being able to see the actors’ facial expressions for over half the movie is just annoying.

Those two technical issues aside, this movie is more than solid. First and foremost for me, it is a very faithful adaptation of HPL’s story. If you are a fan of that tale, you’ll like how it’s told here, as nothing was left out. Even the oft-forgotten-about Innsmouth angle wasn’t overlooked here and that made me smile. Sure, the entire movie does run a bit too long, and the addition of a major character to the plot that really wasn’t needed didn’t help that any, but the runtime was a minor quibble with me. Oh, and speaking of the characters from before, let me mention the actors who portrayed them, and how they all did a very good job here. In many lower budget films, the quality of actors is equally low but not so here. I was very pleased with all the players, David Bunce as our everyman protagonist, Daniel Upton, being a real standout.

As for the story, well, you know that already, right? I mean, I did say that this movie is very faithful to the Lovecraft tale and you had to have already read that, right? Yeah, I thought so. Anything else would just be silly from someone browsing around on a website called “Innsmouth Free Press.” But just in case you haven’t, do give that story a read before watching this film. It’s well worth it.

Final Verdict: while The Thing on the Doorstep does make a few mistakes in telling the visual side of the story, the plot and characters are all well-developed and utilized here. It is also a very faithful adaptation of the source material and therefore, it’s very Lovecraftian. Consider it recommended to all Cthulhu cultists out there.