Masters of Horror: "Dreams in the Witch-House"

Masters of Horror: "Dreams in the Witch-House"
Stuart Gordon's entry in the horror series.
Updated: 11-04-2005

H.P. (Howard Phillips) Lovecraft (1890-1937) is undoubtedly the 20th century master of weird, bizarre horror fiction. Whenever Cthulhu, tentacles, or the medical re-animation of corpses is mentioned, the true genre fan’s mind immediately zooms to Lovecraft. One horror aficionado in particular who has practically made a career of specializing in Lovecraft is Stuart Gordon.


The writer/director is perhaps most famous for 1985’s Re-Animator, but he’s also brought From Beyond and Dagon to the big screen. Now it’s time to share the Lovecraft on the small screen with Dreams in the Witch-House, adapted by Gordon and Dennis Paoli, and directed by Gordon. The one hour mini-movie debuts on Showtime tomorrow.


Walter Gilman (Ezra Godden, who also appeared in Dagon), a graduate student studying inter-dimensional string theory, rents a room in a run-down boarding house in old New England. He thinks he’ll have peace and quiet to study, and the price is right. His room is little more than a rat-hole, to put it mildly his neighbors are weird, and the noise never stops. One of the more noisy nuisances is a crying baby, but as it turns out the infant’s single mother Frances (Chelah Horsdal) is a beautiful damsel in distress. After taking care of her rat problem and loaning her a few bucks to pay her rent, Walter finds himself attracted to her.


Not long after banishing the vermin, poor Walter is suddenly plagued by completely insane and totally nightmarish dreams — namely, rats with human faces who have terrible things to tell him, and a wicked witch who can bend his will to do her evil bidding. After one horrible night of sleepwalking, Walter awakens to find himself inside the Miskatonic University’s infamous library of forbidden books, where, in the pages of the human-skin bound Necronomicon, he discovers hints that seem to connect his own studies in advanced mathematics with the perilous legends of elder magic. Human sacrifice — the sacrifice of an infant, to be exact — seems to be the only way for Walter to free himself of the witch’s relentless pursuit of him.


I must admit that at first, Dreams in the Witch-House seemed somewhat goofy. The colorful characters were a bit over the top, and the man-mugged rat wasn’t all that scary. But then, little by little, Gordon’s masterful storytelling drew me in. Adding to the experience is the super-creepy music by Richard Band — chanting, whispers and screams are mixed in the score to hair-raising effect.


I was riveted to the screen as Dreams in the Witch-House’s horror mounted and the suspense deepened. The moments of gore were quite effective, and I was knocked out by the one-two punch at the end.


The strangeness of Lovecraft isn’t for everyone (I confess, I am decidedly not a fan), but Gordon does an admirable job of bringing the story into modern times and at just under an hour the story is tightly paced and wholly enjoyable.


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Reviewed by Staci Layne Wilson



Want to see Stuart Gordon’s Dreams in the Witch-House? Tune in to Showtime on Friday, November 4 at  10:00 p.m. local time. The episode will also repeat throughout the weekend. View clips from the show on Showtime’s website. Also, be sure and visit the Official Masters of Horror website.


Want to read Dreams in the Witch-House in its entirety? This very cool H.P. Lovecraft website has it online! Click here to read it.

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