Film / The Whisperer in Darkness

A short story by H.P. Lovecraft, first published in Weird Tales in August 1931. Although it makes numerous references to the Cthulhu Mythos, the story is not a central part of the mythos, but reflects a shift in Lovecraft's writing at this time towards Science Fiction. The story introduces the Mi-Go, an extraterrestrial race of fungoid creatures.

In 2011 a film version was produced by Sean Branney, Andrew Leman, and David Robertson and distributed by the H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society. As per HPLS's The Call of Cthulhu, it uses the Mythoscope blend of vintage and modern filming techniques to produce the look of a 1930s-era Universal Horror film, though given the era this one is a talkie instead of a silent film.

The film and short story have the following tropes:

  • Ascended Extra:
    • The characters of Wilmarth's three friends at Miskatonic University were developed from Call of Cthulhu role-playing characters created by the filmmakers years before.
    • George Akeley didn't make any physical appearances in the original story.
  • Action Survivor: Wilmarth is a sheltered academic, but according to other stories set in the Cthulhu Mythos survives to old age. In the film though he's captured by the Mi-Go and his fate is uncertain.
  • Adaptation Expansion: The movie depicts the events of the short story but adds a 'third act'. Where the book ends with the protagonists' flight from Akeley's farm and back home, the movie goes on to have him thwart a ritual preceding an Alien Invasion by the Mi-Go, and fight them in a mid-air combat scene. Since the ending is no less Lovecraftian for it, general consensus is that the movie is, as per HPLS's silent movie The Call of Cthulhu, a loyal adaptation of the Cthulhu Mythos to film.
  • Adaptational Villainy: In the story, the Mi-Go are certainly not "friendly", but they're largely disinterested in humanity and only aggressive in covering their tracks. In the film, they're more openly malevolent.
  • Alien Invasion: In the film. In the short story the Mi-Go are only here for mining and research purposes, and don't harm humans as long as they stay away, as conquering Earth would be too much trouble.
  • Ancient Astronauts: The Mi-Go have been coming to Earth for millions of years.
  • And I Must Scream: When Akeley realises he's been turned into a Brain in a Jar, he begs Wilmarth to kill him. When B-67 is murdered by Noyce all he can do is scream.
  • A Storm Is Coming: Floods and constant rain herald the upcoming apocalypse.
  • Battle Discretion Shot: Wilmarth notes the bulletholes in the wall next to the door, implying that Akeley had fired at something inside the house.
  • Better to Die than Be Killed: Will Masterson shoots himself rather than face the Cosmic Horror to come.
  • Big Electric Switch: As per the genre, one is used by Wilmarth to shut down the Mi-Go's Mad Scientist Laboratory.
  • Black Speech: Nathaniel Ward quickly switches off the phonograph when Wilmarth says he's been listening to the wax cylinder recording of the cultist ceremony throughout the night.
  • Blue and Orange Morality: The Mi-Go have long been Ur Examples for this trope: most people would see the extraction of a brain and putting it in a canister as a morally-questionable act; for them it's a reward.
    • In the film they do this to Wilmarth, after he ruins their ritual and destroys their stone circle, despite having said that he's unworthy, uninteresting and weak-willed earlier that night.
  • Blood-Splattered Innocents: Hannah is splattered with her father's blood when he kills himself.
  • Brain in a Jar: The Trope Codifier — the alien Mi-Go place living human brains in cylinders to transport them through space to other planets. Unlike later versions of the trope, the cylinders are not transparent (though they are in the film).
  • Brain Transplant: The Mi-Go can remove and implant brains with ease. Not necessarily in the same body
  • California Doubling: Averted with location filming in Vermont and Massachusetts (with Mount Holyoke College as Miskatonic University).
  • Cat Scare: Hannah grabs Wilmarth's shoulder while he's listening in on the cultists.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The cropduster on the Masterson farm.
  • Close-Up on Head: Turns out it's only the head, as Wilmarth is narrating events via the holographic projection machine.
  • Creator Cameo: Producer Andrew Leman as Charles Fort, and director Sean Branney as B-67.
  • Consummate Liars: The Mi-Go about most things, according to Masterson.
  • Cosmic Horror Story: Obviously, it's Lovecraft.
  • Cult: The Collaborators who will open the gate for the Mi-Go, who manipulate the humans through promises of knowledge or power.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: What will happen if the Mi-Go come through the gate.
    Wilmarth: We can't just surrender!
    Masterson: They won't let us surrender! We've already lost!
  • Cyber Cyclops: The Mi-Go don't have eyes, just a head-like growth with tendrils, but wear helmets with a single occular lens during the mid-air battle.
  • Death by Adaptation: B-67, Noyes, George Akeley, and (sort of) Albert Wilmarth.
  • Downer Ending: Wilmarth ends up in a brain cylinder, and it's implied the invasion has only been delayed, with the Mi-Go revealing their planet to human eyes in order to entice our curiosity.
  • Epistolary Novel: The short story consists almost entirely of a correspondence of letters exchanged between the first-person narrator and another character, until the protagonist decides to visit his penfriend in person.
  • Evil-Detecting Cat: In a Missing Trailer Scene Wilmarth listens to a wax cylinder recording of a man spouting occult ravings while a cat sits impassively nearby. Suddenly ANOTHER voice cuts in on the recording, and the cat startles and hisses.
  • Eye Lights Out: The binocular device B-67 uses to see winks out when he's killed.
  • Fingore / Noodle Incident: Nate tries to warn off Wilmarth by showing him the mutilated hand he got investigating "nameless cults".
  • Force-Field Door: There's a protective hex above the door of the barn where Hannah is hiding to stop the Mi-Go entering. So they fly up to the roof and start ripping it open.
  • For Science!: Wilmarth's justification for going to Vermont despite Nate's warning.
  • Flashback Echo: To the drawings of the black stones in his notes when Wilmarth sees a photograph of one.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: Will Masterson's body lying on the floor, the head blocked by furniture. Averted when Wilmarth finds Akeley's body in which the skull is still moving.
  • Harbinger of Impending Doom
    Noyce: Now Walter, we don't need to scare the man.
  • Helicopter Pack: The Mi-Go wear a Diesel Punk engine pack with vibrating wings to pursue the protagonist in his biplane.
  • Hero of Another Story: Nathaniel Ward, one of Wilmarth's colleagues at the Miskatonic University, and the one who tries hardest to convince him not to investigate the Mi-Go, seems to be a recurring character in HPLHS stories. In the movie, it is mentioned that he has encountered various cults before, and he uses the scarring of his left hand to try warn Wilmarth that "he doesn't want to know the truth". In addition to this, he co-authored with Wilmarth a monograph available for purchase at the HPLHS Bazaar. Last but not least, the Dark Adventure Radio Theatre website makes mention of our hearing "some Nate Ward stories" in audio-drama form one day.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Subverted. After the Mi-Go kill Hannah, Wilmarth decides to crash his biplane into the sacred circle used to create wormholes. As the plane dives we Smash to Black, yet his voiceover continues as if he's still alive until we discover he's in a brain cylinder.
  • High-Altitude Battle: Biplane vs. helicopter pack-wearing aliens!
  • Hologram: Akeley gets Wilmarth to hook up one of the brain cylinders to a machine. Wilmarth is in the midst of saying that he's not going to be fooled by some parlour trick with a radio, when he's shocked to see B-67's head projected via hologram, speaking back to him.
  • Hologram Projection Imperfection
  • Hope Spot: Hannah hitting the Mi-Go clamped to their wing in the face. Then another Mi-Go swoops down and plucks her out of the cockpit, dropping her from a great height.
  • Idiot Ball: (short story) Wilmarth walks straight into the most obvious trap ever devised, even giving a lengthy monologue over how it can't possibly be a dangerous situation. Fortunately the aliens are just as stupid, and do nothing besides drug his coffee which he doesn't drink, giving him a chance to realize what an idiot he was and run away.
  • Immune to Bullets: Apparently not, as Akeley was able to shoot one of them.
  • Infant Immortality: Averted with Hannah's death.
  • Insectoid Alien: The Mi-Go can fit, although they are more commonly described as crustaceans.
  • Kick the Dog: The deaths of B-67 (by Noyce) and Hannah (by the Mi-Go).
  • Large Ham: Noyce and Masterson.
    Noyce: I am the Opener of the Gate, and YOU WILL NOT DICTATE TO ME!
  • Loners Are Freaks: Rumor has associated the strange beings with recluses.
    ...there are shocked references to hermits and remote farmers who at some period of life appeared to have undergone a repellent mental change, and who were shunned and whispered about as mortals who had sold themselves to the strange beings. seemed to be a fashion... to accuse eccentric and unpopular recluses of being allies or representatives of the abhorred things.
  • Lotus-Eater Machine: Once they're unplugged, those in the brain cylinders experience 'vivid, fantastic dreams'.
  • Meat Puppet: The Reveal of the short story is Wilmarth finding the face and hands of Akeley lying on his chair, and realising he'd been talking to one of the aliens all the time.
  • Mercy Kill: Averted; Wilmarth appears to be going to do this to Akeley, but can't go through with it. Will Masterson then appears and says he should have done so.
  • Milking the Giant Cow
    Noyce: Do you dare to defy us?!
  • Mood Dissonance: The calm telepathic voices of the Mi-Go.
  • Music for Courage: Averted when Wilmarth offers to sing for Hannah like he did for his daughter to lift her spirits. Hannah refuses and Wilmarth looks relieved.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Akeley's reaction to the news that he sent his son to his death by asking him to deliver the black stone to Wilmarth.
  • The Nameless: The man whose brain is in cylinder B-67.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: The opening line of the short story is Bear in mind closely that I did not see any actual visual horror at the end.
  • Not So Dire: Wilmarth looks away in horror as a Mi-Go advances towards Hannah, only for it to be revealed it hasn't hurt her.
  • Our Wormholes Are Different: Although called a 'spirit door', it's clearly referring to a wormhole capable of bringing the invasion force.
  • People Jars: The bodies are stored separately in a cave which the protagonist later enters, horrified to find the headless corpse of Akeley plugged into tubes and twitching as if still alive.
  • Super Intelligence: In the story, Wilmarth is able to commit an absurd amount of material to memory, including pages and pages of correspondence between him and Henry Akeley. No Absent-Minded Professor is Wilmarth, apparently.
  • Telepathy:
    "Have you seen one, up close? They can put thoughts right into your head!"
  • Title Drop: In the short story.
    Great God! That whisperer in darkness with its morbid odour and vibrations!
  • You Have Failed Me: The Mi-Go butcher Noyce (and presumably the other cultists) after the gate is closed on them.

Alternative Title(s): The Whisperer In Darkness