Lurking Fear (1994)
WRITERS: Short story by H.P. Lovecraft
Movie by C. Courtney Joyner
DIRECTOR: C. Courtney Joyner
STARRING: John Finch as Bennett
Blake Bailey as John Martense
Ashley Lauren as Cathryn Farrell
Jeffrey Combs as Doctor Haggis
Allison Mackie as Ms. Marlowe
Paul Mantee as Father Poole
Joe Leavengood as Pierce
Vincent Schiavellia as Skelton Knaggs
QUICK CUT: A Lovecraft story about creatures living underneath a town and eating the residents gets run over by a noir story about criminals seeking a buried fortune. Hilarity ensues.
John Martense - A wrongly convicted man who is still a criminal, and has some major family issues. He's seeking his father's last big score, hidden away in a grave someone in his old home town.
Cathryn Farrell - She starts out as a nervous mother who doesn't like guns, but over the course of a year becomes a gun toting badass defending Leffert's Corner from the cannibalistic humanoid underground dwellers.
Bennett - A former associate of John's father as well as a dodgy casino owner, and the man he stole his buried fortune from. Bennett comes looking for his money back and some very cold revenge.
Pierce - Bennett's right hand man, and your typical beefy goon. He likes to shoot people with a shotgun, and isn't the brightest crayon in the box.
Ms. Marlowe - The very definition of femme fatale. With a name like Marlowe, she better be. She's Bennett's other associate, and she constantly hints at a relationship with John, but that goes nowhere fast. I suspect it is a delusion of hers.
Father Poole - A priest in Leffert's Corners, who may or may not worship the underground creatures. It sure seems like he might see them as messengers from God. He's also itchy to be a martyr.
Doctor Haggis - Cathryn's chief conspirator. He's a bit squirrelly, and has his vices. He drinks and smokes a lot, trying to numb the fact that his patients keep being eaten by C.H.U.D.s.
Skelton Knaggs - Another associate of John's father, but a bit more on his side, and less seeking revenge. He works as a mortician by day, and a smuggling taxedermist by night. Meaning, he stuffs dead bodies with contraband to smuggle it places.
THE GUTS: Lurking Fear starts off nice and atmospheric in a graveyard, in the middle of a torrential downpour and thunderstorm. That definitely sets the tone. A dark and stormy night is a classic way to start a story, after all.
After a brief wander through a church we meet two women playing with guns. Cathryn says she's never handled a gun before and is more likely to shoot herself in the foot. Funny, that's how I feel about most of these movies; directors shooting themselves in the foot.
Leigh hands a baby a gun...er, a doll, and they see she's not scared of anything. Not the storm outside, not the creepy doll, and not being in this movie.
Cat wants to get out of there as soon as possible, but it's apparently too dangerous. However, it's not too dangerous to be playing with loaded weapons around baby sleeps-a-lot?
All of a sudden, they realise it's after midnight, and wish each other a Merry Christmas. Yes, that's right, we have another inappropriate Christmas movie, following in a grand tradition from Die Hard and others.
Later that night we see a pair of creaturey latex gloves pushing the boards and grate out of the hole in the wall, and use a long, bent piece of wire to hook the crib and drag it towards the hole. Fortunately, the sister wakes up and catches them, stopping Hoggle from taking the baby to Jareth.
The creature is none too happy about that, so it reaches out to touch someone, finds Leigh. It bends her in half for easy packing into a trunk, and pulls her through the wall.
I love it when a movie kills someone off before the opening credits. You get to know what you're in for. If nothing else, this movie has set a definite ton. Dark, dreary, and deadly.
After the credits, we jump to a prison flick complete with overwrought narration as we see John Martense be set free after doing his time. He babbles on about being innocent, at least of the crime he was put in for, and how he now has to put his life back together. Getting work in a Full Moon movie might not be your best choice, pal.
He pulls up to a funeral home run by Skelton Knaggs, one of the most improbable names I've ever seen outside of science fiction. He's an old friend of John's dad, and also used to work in a sideshow where his conjoined twin liked to disconnect himself and commit murders.
John hands Knaggs a cryptic piece of tracing paper, and the funeral director pulls out one of his own, combining the two into a single map, pointing them towards Leffert's Corners. Hopefully that's where the things in the wall are, or this movie is gonna be boring.
Knaggs tells the kid that the map leads to a corpse that's stuffed with money. Knaggs stuffed the body, and his father is the one who buried it, and was the only one who knew, save for the two halves of the map.
John is reluctant to go graverobbing, what with the whole just got out of jail thing, but Knaggs is rather insistent on trying to claim the money. And it is a lot of money, so I can understand the desire. Of course, wouldn't it have been easier if Knaggs kept the money instead of stuffing it down a dead man's pants? That would save himself the trouble of waiting for a secret map. But that would make sense.
So we're off to Leffert's Corners, where we see Cathryn, who has gone all Linda Hamilton on us since we last saw her, burying dynamite next to a grave, and grumbling about someone or something.
We jump from there to Cat helping Dr. Mordrid calm a patient down after an attack, probably fom the wacky wall walkers. We also see her opening a whole box of dynamite, with several more boxes that Dr. Haggis has gotten ahold of. And for the record, Haggis is his real name, and not me making a joke. For a change.
Kat notes that the dynamite has started bleeding, glaring at Doctor West smoking next to the unstable explosives. They load up the truck with dynamite and the attacked pregnant girl, and head out to bring her home. As well as planning a surprise for her attackers it seems.
We then get random flashbacking to John getting some fatherly advice on how to be a killer. Ahh, we all had that talk, right?
Back at the funeral home, Knaggs is visited by a woman in the most cliche, noirish, femme fatale manner ever. Dark glasses, long legs, backlit by sunlight streaming through the door behind her, and to top it off? A cape. I kid you not.
Knaggs offers his condolences to the grieving woman, and he manages to make it sound like the creepiest pick up line ever. I'd complain about how skeevy it is, and how tasteless it is hitting on a woman seeking to make arrangements for her husband's passing, but she seems into it, so who am I to judge?
Speaking of Lovecraft, his stories were almost always set in New England, predominantly Rhode Island and Massachusetts. In this movie, we keep seeing cars from the area, like that license plate up there being from Massachusetts. And yet the area they're in looks nothing like any Massachusetts landscape I have ever seen. I'm from there, and I must have missed the great Boston Desert. And the buildings are entirely wrong as well. The architecture is more like New Mexico than anything else.
In fairness, they never outright say the movie is in MA so it could be in any dusty, remote locale, but when you're dealing with Lovecraft, Arkham, and using visual cues to show Massachusetts, and then completely fail at it looking anything like the place, well...
But I digress! Knaggs continues to hit on the woman while they sit atop a coffin, when two goons walk in, probably also in search of the treasure of the Sierra Berkshires. He excuses himself to deal with the goons, but gasp surprise, the femme fatale pulls a gun and reveals she's actually working with them. Hello, noir cliches.
Pierce cuts into the corpse Knaggs has had waiting to be shipped home, and they pull out several bags of coke. So apparently Knaggs is actually well known for his tendency to stuff dead bodies with contraband. How do you put that on the resume?
Martense finally arrives in Leffert's Corners with his narration tape playing loud in his stereo, and while that's going on, Knaggs is getting beaten up by the goons so they can find the money corpse. Bennett pulls out a copy of John's map half, that a guard at the prison made for him.
Not surprisingly, Knaggs gives up the info on where the map leads, and who has he whole map, rather than continue to get his kidney's rearranged.
Pierce helps him up and gives Knaggs a hand straightening up his tie before shooting him dead with a shotgun. I guess he wanted to leave a good looking corpse.
Doctor Vannacutt, Sarah Connor, and the virgin Becky arrive at a church with the dynamite, and we see the priest giving a blessing to disfigured people. He's none to happy about getting ready for a battlefield on holy ground on Christmas eve and...wait.
Look back outside. Remember, Massachusetts. Christmas. Winter. A) there is no snow, and in fact it frequently downpours buckets of rain. B) there's crops growing. C) Even if it happend to not have snowed recently, there is no way these people would be wandering around in short sleeves or tank tops in New England
I can let a lot of dodgy geography slide, like a gigantic 20 story waterfall on the Mississippi River, but there is no way this is Massachusetts. This is not even close. This is Oklahoma, or Texas, if anything.
Haggis is all for wiring the cemetary with everything they've got, killing as many as possible, but Cat knows this is only a stalling tactic, a way to stay alive, until they can find the nest and really wipe them out. Whatever they are. This is a failure of suspense. We know there's creatures, we've seen bits of them, we know they know they exist. There's very little reason to keep them this much of a secret with very little info.
The priest is randomly solliloquising about the Martense family, a family of killers, and how one of them left the town and died in prison. He also had a son who is still out there. The only reason you wouldn't suspect it was John is because the movie has kept his name a secret until now. I was tempted to praise the movie for at least not giving pointless, forced infodumps, but then they pull this bit of exposition out of nowhere. And holy crap, there's some hideous creature watching the priest through a window. At least we finally see a creature in full. Is that who he's talking to? If he was at least talking to someone, I can buy bad exposition, but telling himself is unforgivable.
Martense and his body snatching b-plot finally stumbles their way into the monster movie, and Cat drags him into the church at gunpoint. At least he saw the dynamite and didn't find it the hard way.
The rest of the noir plot watches from a nearby hill, thinking the guns and explosives are for them. I say if it winnows down the storylines a bit, we can improvise if you'd like.
In the church, everyone is breaking up pews to cover up a gigantic gaping hole in the floor. Ok, several problems here. The biggest one is why not get that fixed in a more normal, proper, manner? It's not like they would have just walked in and noticed the floor had disappeared while they were out in the cemetary. And secondly, the creatures only come out during storms, at night, so why wait all this time to fix it, if you couldn't manage a proper fixing? You've had time since the last storm, right? Since the last nightfall, surely. You've had all day at worst to fix this. This is almost as dumb as people going to kill Dracula at 7:20 at night.
They bitch about the new arrival, and are suspicious of him. Lots of guns and threats are waved around, but the storm starts to break overhead, and the creatures start poking at the floor. Finally, all our players come together in one movie when the goons and the blonde welcome themselves in by punching someone's face.
Martense uses one of the disfigured locals as a shield, and he quickly fulfills his duty as the shotgun wielding goon kills the townie like he killed Knaggs. The lead goon then walks in and takes charge, heading right over to the gigantic, board covered hole in the ground, right past the gun weilding locals, and does not bat an eyelash. There's cool under pressure, and then there's oblivious.
And to top that off, he walks across the hole. Not only is that not bright, I'd be wary of that even without knowing of any monsters, since it looks about as stable as my treehouse. It also compounds his lack of any notice of it. He comments on how he won't allow the church to decorate using the money he's looking for. That would have been THE perfect line to say something about the hole, like, "Oh, and you're not going to use my money to fix your floor, either." See?
He finally takes notice of the hole, thinking that's where they've hidden his money. Because that's not the worst hiding spot ever. They couldn't have picked a worse spot unless they hung a giant neon sign saying, "Stolen money here". He also goes back onto the boards and jumps up and down on them. If this guy doesn't get killed by something grabbing him from down there, this movie will have done a grave injustice to screenwriting. Well, more injustices.
After getting Kat's face almost shoved down into the monster pit, Martense tells the thugs that they know nothing about the money and leads them out to his grandmother's grave as the rain begins to pour. Rain. In Massachusetts. On Christmas Eve. Trust me, this is beyond wrong.
Once they get the body out, surprise, there's no money in it. The crooks try to shoot their hostages but fail miserably, although Bennett at least hits Cat. The corpse gets tossed around and shot at, because it's not suffered enough indignities, and hands reach out of the open grave to grab at Martense's legs. He gets dragged even deeper into the ground, and takes the corpse with him. He beats the holy hell out of the thing that grabbed him, and climbs back up out of the hole. That was fast.
Everyone gets back inside and the creatures start shoving at the hole in the floor again. This time, it's Bennett's turn to take a few shots at the floor. Because that's worked so well in the past.
Somehow, Martense bursts out through the floorboards, quickly followed by the creatures. He climbed out of the hole he was dragged into, in the cemetary, and jumped out in the church. Of course, the movie doesn't know Massachusetts from Nebraska, so why would I think they'd even get this much geography right?
Pierce thinks the creature is a grizzly bear. Yeah, a hairless, human sized grizzly. That thing is as much a grizzly bear as this movie is in Massachusetts.
Marlowe comes over and randomly kicks Martense in the face. Not that I object, it's just a bit random. Even more random is her spouting off strange action movie like badassery lines that just make no sense in context. She calls him loverboy, and says they really are good together when he hits the floor. Um, what? They never even met before tonight, that we're aware of.
Finally, we get some exposition; the creatures live in the tunnels, and they've been feeding off people for 20 years. Which makes me wonder what caused them to spontaneously appear then, but the movie never offers an answer.
Pierce says he thinks now is a good time to leave, and his boss tells him that he will let him know when it's time to think. Well, how about you tell the writer and director it's time, because it would be nice if someone working on this started thinking sometime soon.
Finally, the priest offers his help, and gives the goons the burial records for the town. He also tries to bargain for everyone else's life, but we know that trick never works.
Martense talks to Pierce, and tries to make a deal, giving him the map, if he'll spare Martense's life. I think he's just about dumb enough to fall for it.
Meanwhile, Bennett finds the grave he's looking for, and says that the grip the Martenses have had over the town is soon to end, once he kills the boy. The priest tries to be cryptic and say that they have relatives, but we can pretty much figure out what he means.
Martense taunts Pierce, and he threatens to, um, castrate the kid. This is the second time he's referenced such things, the first time being earlier when he says they did that to some famous cowboy. The guy has his hangups, I guess.
John takes his chance and beats Pierce with a cross, getting his gun. Martense hesitates and loses his advantage, but fortunately there's a monster lurking outside with a brick and just waiting to smash a stained glass window and kill a thug. See, the monster's aren't so bad.
Martense then gets the drop on Bennet, which prompts everyone else to finally do something, and they get the gun away from the blonde, too. That wasn't so hard, was it?
Pierce gets thrown back into the church by the creatures, busting up another window. The creatures begin to crawl through the new opening, and Martense lights up an incedniary device that came out of nowhere. He tosses it towards the window, off screen, and we hear the explosion, and the creature scream, but we never actually see anything. Hello, budget running dry. They couldn't even flicker an orange light on them to make it look like something actually went boom. We do briefly see the creature walking away, and he's ever so slightly on fire. I've lit candles with bigger flames.
We then see the critter digging down through the ground and grab a skull out of a casket. Will this be seen again? The answer is a resounding no. The skull is pointless.
After tying up the blonde, and her making more references to a relationship with the guy that we've never seen any hint of, we see Dr. Combs smoking a cigarette while standing in the open church doorway, and watching the rainfall. Um, hello? Monsters? They've spent so much time boarding up holes and windows and doors before, and now he's just standing there like he's waiting to be grabbed? What?
These people are suddenly, randomly ok with going out amongst where they believe monsters to be and travelling great distances on foot and car, when they've spent the entire movie so far stressing the importance of staying indoors.
At this point, the movie settles into some padding while they sit around the church saying nothing of import, intercut with Cat getting a truck mentioned earlier in the film. This stuff takes way longer than we really need to see, and the dialogue isn't interesting enough in the church to really hold much interest. This is the pee break moment of the film.
Things start happening again when the creature finds the priest, and the two of them actually talk. The creature says it heard the priest praying for it to come and save him, claiming to be a messenger from his god. And once again, the father offers himself up to spare the rest in the church. I guess third time's the charm?
We don't know how much the creature agrees to, but it is more than willing to perform a heartectomy on the priest.
Haggis returns from drinking down a bottle of communion wine to find Bennet has escaped and dragged John out to go digging for the money some more. The pregnant woman (Remember her?) is freaking out, and the doctor sees something, but we never see what, as his face is grabbed by the creature from behind. I guess the priest couldn't negotiate terms.
Cat returns with the truck, and sneaks up on the diggers with her gun, but gets a swift kick to the face from the blonde. And let the cat fight in the ran commence.
Cat finds the gun in the rain and the muck, and the blonde is sure she won't shoot her. Kat says she's right, and instead shoots the cluster of dynamite still attached to a gravestone next to the blonde's head. It's almost a nice moment of growth from her first scenes with the gun at the start of the movie, and totally screwed over by the silliness of it all. "I won't kill you by shooting, but I'm more than willing to set off the bomb next to your face."
Movies love pulling that, and it just never makes sense. Just because you don't directly kill someone, but instead make sure they're still killed by something you made happened by shooting a few inches away doesn't make you any less of a killer.
And somehow, this causes all the other dynamite to explode, despite there being no real reason to have them do so. Sure, they're all wired together, but that requires an electrical charge, if I remember right? Correct me if I'm wrong, please. I guess they're unstable enough to go boom from the shockwaves ten feet away? But just wait, this movie loves its inexplicable mega explosions. Did Michael Bay direct this?
Whatever it is, the graveyard goes up like a fireworks display.
After nuking the cemetary, Cat runs back to the church and finds the shredded doctor, warning her of the creature. She didn't really need the warning though, as two seconds later she's grabbed and dragged down the hole.
John wakes up down in the creatures' tunnels, and I don't remember them grabbing him? The best part of this is all the cracking of bones as he tries to move amongst all the corpses he's laying atop of. Great sound.
He crawls his way along, and Bennett gets the jump on Martense from behind, but we can see one of the creatures creeping in behind them. I'm still disappointed he didn't get dragged through the church floor. Even after all this, he's still determined to find his money. I'm with John here, give it up, dude.
The pair fall through a hole in the tunnel, landing in a large chamber that actually looks like it was somewhat properly constructed, and discover an entire family of creatures watching them. Who built this place? Why is it built so far underground, surrounded by crappy tunnels? We'll never know.
Pierce shows the creatures the birthmark on John's shoulder, showing that he's one of them, and the creatures are the Martense family, which is one of the worst kept movie secrets ever. Even Dan the Obvious Psychic saw this one coming.
John grabs a severed arm and lights it like a torch (Science doesn't work that way!) and keeps the creatures at bay. Bennett tries grabbing his money, which he finally found amongst the family crypt or whatever this place is. He urges John to put the arm out, because the family have randomly decided to pick that moment to start tearing up the money. Why would seeing fire make them tear up money? And why would putting it out make them stop? They're tearing it up because YOU WANT IT, Bennett. I've called them creatures all review long, but they're humanoid, and clearly intelligent and sentient, and able to communicate. They won't suddenly go, "Ooh, the magic warmy thing is gone, we can stop tearing pieces of paper now, for the burny warmy commands it!"
The fire keeps the Martenses at bay long enough for John to get him and the two girls into the tunnels, but they make it all of two feet before Cat is grabbed once again. Fortunately the tunnels are strewn with handy cudgels she uses to cave that one's skull in and save herself. Why didn't she do that ten minutes ago?
Bennett is meanwhile still counting his money in the crypt, which I guess they decided to let him have and stop tearing up because there was no more fire. Why any one of the dozen or more family members down there didn't kill him while he was sitting there doing nothing...oh, never mind. The lead creature snaps his neck.
John and the girls escape into the church, and grab a hose from the truck, dropping it deep into the pit. They pump the tunnels full of fuel, or at least a big puddle at the bottom of that one tunnel, and John tosses the doc's lighter down into it, blowing the church to hell.
Somehow, the cemetary explodes again, before the curch does, despite that being where they poured the gas into. I guess they needed to give John and Beth time to escape.
Actually, somehow pouring gas in that one spot causes the entire town to explode like it's being bombed by drones in Iraq. I have one major problem with this.
WHY DIDN'T THEY DO THIS 20 YEARS AGO WHEN IT ALL STARTED??
I mean, really. If pouring gas into one hole would destroy the entire town...they could have saved themselves several decades of terror, of hiding, of being eaten, of watching their loved ones die. We get that little line at the start of the film that they don't know where the nest is, and that might trick some people, since they didn't blow them up until they found said nest but...
THEY BLEW UP THE ENTIRE TOWN. Above AND below ground. If exploding point A blows up point B, blowing up point B should blow up point A! It clearly doesn't matter where they pumped the gas into, as the entire town is built atop a nitroglycerin factory. I can let a lot slide, but that is just astoundingly bad.
The movie ends with John giving more overwrought narration. He worries about what he might be, a killer or something more. I would say since he looks human (And why is that? Why were he and his father the only two Martenses that didn't look like zombies with underbites? Why did the rest of the family look like that? Why did they decide to live underground? Why why why??) he's probably just a killer, and not as bad as those things. He says he knows his name, but not who he is. He always knew his name. That was never a secret! The movie took its time telling the audience what it was, but he didn't act surprised when Bennett called him Martense. And why worry about what he is? Look in a mirror. NOT A MONSTER. A better movie could pull off the whole "Am I a monster that looks human?" angle, but not this one. And calling this lack of knowledge a prison sentence is just bullshit. The analogy of his bloodline being anything like a prison just does not hold up to even the barest scrutiny.
It's a lame attempt to tease a sequel, and fortunately there never was one.
Video: It looks very much like mid level VHS quality, but it doesn't look awful. It could look better though, and the poor colour and sharpness can be distracting.
Audio: A simple stereo mix, that has some decent sound to it. If the creatures were more lurky, and with the explosions, a surround mix would sound great.
Special Features: The trailer, and a seven minute Videozone look behind the scenes, from the original VHS release. As with all the Videozones, they're good, but dated archival material, and sadly too short to be really satisfying. But ok for what they are.
Best Line: "No wonder he's dead," says Pierce, holding up the bags of coke stuffed inside a corpse.
First Kill: A very satisfying four minutes in when the lurkers drag Leigh through the wall and...wait, what happened to Cathryn's baby?!
Best Kill: Father Poole getting his heart ripped out by the lurker is definitely up there.
Blood Type - B-: There's not a lot of blood and gore, but there are some bits like the heart, and Haggis's guts, and a few others that aren't bad. The scars on the townies are pretty lame though. They could've done better.
Sex Appeal: A shirtless John Martense is the only thing running around, briefly at the end of the movie. Well, and shirtless creatures, but really? Weirdo.
Movie Rating: There's a good idea in here. Mixing a horror movie and noir styling seems like a good fit. And Lovecraft! But they leave the short story this is based on so far behind it's barely even related. Think the movie adaptation of Lawnmower Man to get an idea of how far afield this movie lands. But good ideas do not a good movie make. The characterisation is paper thin and very derivative. Cat is pretty much a direct lift of Sarah Connor, that's not a joke. The story has been done way better in other places. On X-Files, Supernatural, Torchwood... The evil inbred cannibal family is such a trope. But tropes can still be good. Which this movie isn't. The holes are gigantic. The explosions are absurd. There are far too many unanswered questions, dropped characters, and the pregnant woman served no purpose other than to scream and be dragged around. She literally did nothing. This movie gets 2 out of 5 pieces of map.
Entertainment Rating: It's not much better for entertainment, really. Things going boom are fun, there's some good lines and lots to laugh at. This movie is pure cheese on celluloid. But it's all pretty hollow at the same time. You spend more time looking for something better in the movie, and it never comes. But for only 75 minutes at length, it's not a huge waste of time, so a fun way to kill some time with friends. But still, I can only go with 3 out of five exploding graves.
Enter Lefert's Corners at your own risk.