Dated Camp But Still Fun Monster Romp From the Eighties
Loosely based off a short story by legendary horror author H.P. Lovecraft, The Unnamable came out in 1988 to little fanfare. That didn’t stop it from hanging around VHS shelves for years. Typical of the period’s low-budget horror, the movie’s cheesy demonic creature and campy dialogue somehow grew in fan esteem, developing a limited cult following over the years.
A frequent staple of rental stores in the 1990s, almost every horror fan from then would recognize the movie’s scary-looking VHS cover. That cover probably helped sell the film more than anything else over the years. Now Unearthed Films hopes to restore this movie’s standing as a cult gem with a new Blu-ray transfer and copious special features.
Director Jean-Paul Ouellette’s film stars Mark Kinsey Stephenson, Charles Klausmeyer, Eben Ham, and Laura Albert. College kids get more than they bargained for when they come across a demon that has been locked away for several centuries. The largely unknown and inexperienced cast tackle their roles with pluck but remind us of the film’s low-budget origins. The monster remains largely off the screen.
The creature is genuinely frightening and some of the dialogue is quite memorable
The creature is genuinely frightening and some of the dialogue is quite memorable
Decent practical effects for Lovecraft’s hideous monster should have been a huge plus for the low-budget film. However, the creature doesn’t appear on screen in full glory until the final minutes. The Unnamable does have nice gore and a couple of very creative deaths for horror fans. It delivers if all you are looking for includes bloody corpses and a few gruesome surprises.
Opening with the Winthrop house in the 1700s, a terrible creature is locked away and sealed by the local authorities after its owner dies a grisly death. The demon is the result of a family curse. Skip ahead to the present’s local college, where Randolph Carter (Mark Kinsey Stephenson) believes the local legend about the creature. He’s in sharp disagreement with Joel, who believes it’s all fiction. Their nerdy friend Howard (Charles Klausmeyer) is more concerned with chasing Tanya (Laura Albert) than monsters, a seductive classmate that likes dating upper classmen. Howard ignores the quiet Wendy, Tanya’s less attractive friend. Carter challenges Joel to spend a night in the Winthrop house with predictably violent results.
The Unnamable doesn’t break any new ground chasing the usual genre thrills. It’s a straightforward horror movie from the 1980s about a monster looking for fresh victims trapped inside a spooky mansion. That isn’t to say it fails as campy entertainment. The creature is genuinely frightening and some of the dialogue is quite memorable. It’s not the first monster flick from the 1980s I’d recommend but cult horror fans should enjoy its dated storytelling as serviceable genre filmmaking. There is unexpectedly funny dialogue.
Fresh from the VHS era, the low-budget thriller brings back memories of over-the-top carnage and cheesy lines that filled Eighties’ movies made for rental stores.
The Unnamable’s uncut 87-minute version looks quite serviceable in a newly restored 4K film transfer from the camera negative. Rescued from obscurity, the movie had only seen a VHS release in the States before Unearthed Films came along for this Blu-ray.
Needless to say, this BD represents a quantum leap in picture quality over the dark and muddy VHS. The 1080P presentation comes at the movie’s intended 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The AVC encode receives generous parameters on a BD-50, smoothly tackling the film’s uneven grain structure and murkier scenes. It’s a film-like transfer that doesn’t have extraneous processing. The untouched grain has tiny hints of ringing.
That being said, The Unnamable remains a low-budget 80’s production filmed quickly and cheaply. That is never going to change and this new transfer is likely the best it will ever appear. The new film scan brings out fresh hi-def detail and definition, but does not have the razor-sharp cinematography of some other horror thrillers from the period.
There is softness and appears flat much of the time. The palette is on the dull side with a mild blue push. Darker scenes have adequate shadow delineation and acceptable black levels. Unlike some other modern transfers, the contrast hasn’t been pumped up and the gamma has been left largely untouched. If you are new to the film, you may be underwhelmed with this new transfer.
A couple of issues arise in the audio options that should be known. The 5.1 DTS-HD MA surround track has severe echo and reverb issues due to being sourced from a PAL source. It was improperly converted by Unearthed Films, leaving some cues actually playing twice in close succession. The surround mix goes to waste because of these problems. As of this review’s publication, no replacement has been offered for the incorrect surround audio.
Thankfully, the original theatrical audio from the 1980s sounds fine in 2.0 PCM with none of the surround mix’s echo problems. It’s called the “grindhouse” option on the audio menu. The soundtrack has intelligible dialogue and decent clarity. The low-budget production doesn’t have massive separation but provides a serviceable recording in clean fidelity.
No subtitles are included.
Unearthed Films delivers a whole host of new special features for a film that didn’t make it out on American DVD. Aside from a German commentary on the German DVD, nothing substantial in the way of extras had ever appeared for The Unnamable. Jay Kay of Horror Happens Radio interviews cast and crew in lengthy interviews that resemble Skype chats. He’s an informed interviewer that knows when to move the conversation along or let the guest speak their mind. They are relaxed and casual conversations. The same questions from Kay tend to crop up in each interview.
The Blu-ray arrives with an impressively sinister slipcover that uses the movie’s Thai poster art. The first 2000 units come with the limited edition slipcover. This is definitely collectible as one of the better-looking horror slipcovers. The Unnamable is #1 in Unearthed Films’ new classics line. The disc is coded for Region A and should come in a clear Blu-ray case.
“Limited edition to 2,000 units with a slip sleeve cover for the Blu-ray, and then we go to the normal cover everyone knows from the 80’s after 2,000 units have sold. The DVD is the cover everyone has seen and loves. Slip sleeve is purely limited to Blu-ray.” – Stephen Biro, CEO of Unearthed Films
Audio commentary – A raucous discussion with actors Charles Klausmeyer, Mark Stephenson, Laura Albert, and Eben Ham, while make-up and effect artists R. Christopher Biggs and Camille Calvet also contribute. This is a lively, free-flowing conversation less concerned about craft and more concerned with laughing at themselves.
Interview with Actors Charles Klausmeyer and Mark Kinsey Stephenson (78:33 in HD) – The actors behind Howard and Carter discuss what it was like getting cast in their first real movie production. The friends sit together and answer questions, handing off points back and forth. Like everyone involved, they seem to have fond memories of their experience looking back even if it was a tough shoot.
Interview with Actor Eben Ham (30:55 in HD) – The actor that plays Bruce answers questions in a solo interview.
Interview with Actress Laura Albert (46:16 in HD) – The actress behind Wendy had a long career after The Unnamable, appearing in bit roles across movies and television. She discusses her character’s role in the plot and some of the movie’s dialogue.
Interview with Actor Mark Parra (33:36 in HD) – The actor that played Joel in the movie recalls his experiences.
Interview with R. Christopher Biggs and Camille Calvet (60:03 in HD) – A joint interview with Biggs, the movie’s special effects artist and prosthetics designer, and make-up assistant Camille Calvet. They discuss his background in the business and hiring Calvet for the job. Both went on to long careers in the field, working on scores of recognizable Hollywood properties. This interview has the most concrete technical information of the set and insight into its filmmaking process.
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A campy demon flick from the 1980s, Unnamable delivers the requisite violence and cheesy horror tropes for long-time fans.
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