CC: The Thing On The Doorstep (1937)(2003)

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Friday, November 15, 2013

CC: The Thing On The Doorstep (1937)(2003)

If that odor of seaweed and dead things is any indication than it must be Lovecraft Day once again.  As my sanity slips away I realize tonight we will be talking about one of the lesser works of the Mythos.  "The Thing on the Doorstep" is a short story written by H. P. Lovecraft, part of the Cthulhu Mythos universe of horror fiction.  It was written in August 1933, and first published in the January 1937 issue of Weird Tales.

Two novels suggested as inspirations for "The Thing on the Doorstep" are Barry Pain's “An Exchange of Souls” (1911), about a scientist's invention that allows him to switch personalities with his wife, and H. B. Drake's “The Remedy” (1925; published in the U.S. as The Shadowy Thing), in which a character with the power of mind-transference comes back from the dead by possessing the body of an injured friend.  The story makes frequent references to elements from other Lovecraft stories, including places (Arkham, Miskatonic University, Innsmouth, Kingsport), books (the Necronomicon, Book of Eibon, Unaussprechlichen Kulten), and entities (Azathoth, Shub-Niggurath, shoggoths).  Lovecraft returned to the theme of mind-transference in The Shadow Out of Time (1935).

According to Peter Cannon, "Most critics agree that 'The Thing on the Doorstep'" ranks among "the poorest of Lovecraft's later tales."  He criticizes it for its "obvious and melodramatic plot, punctuated by patches of histrionic monologue", as well as its "rather formulaic" Arkham background.1  Lin Carter likewise dismisses the tale as "curiously minor and somehow unsatisfying...a sordid little domestic tragedy...wholly lacking in the sort of cosmic vision that makes Lovecraft's best stories so memorable."2  Robert Weinberg deprecates "The Thing on the Doorstop" as "not one of his (Lovecraft's) best stories".3

The story is divided into seven chapters:

I.  Daniel Upton, the story's narrator, begins by telling that he has killed his best friend, Edward Derby, and that he hopes his account will prove that he is not a murderer. He begins by describing Derby's life and career.

II.  He then tells of Asenath Waite, and how Derby and she wed.

III.  A few years later, people start to notice a change in Derby's abilities.  He confides in Upton, telling him strange stories of Asenath, and how he believes her father, Ephraim Waite, may not actually be dead.

IV.  Upton is called to pick up Derby who has been found in Chesuncook, Maine, rambling incoherently.  On the trip back, Derby tells of Asenath using his body, and suggests that it is in fact Ephraim who resides in the body of Asenath.  Before finishing, he has a small seizure and rapidly changes personality, asking Upton to ignore what he might have just said.

V.  A few months later, Derby shows up at Upton's door and says he's found a way to keep Asenath away; to stop her using his body.  Derby finishes renovations on his old family house, yet seems strangely reluctant to leave Asenath's old place.

VI.  Upton receives a visit from Derby, who begins raving about his wife and father-in-law.  Upton gets him to sleep, but has Derby taken to Arkham Sanitarium.  The Sanitarium calls Upton to tell him that Derby's "reason has suddenly come back", though upon visiting, Upton can see it is not the true personality of Edward Derby.

VII.  Upton is roused from his sleep by a knocking at his door, using "Edward's old signal of three-and-two strokes".  Upton believes it may be Derby, but opens his door to find a "dwarfed, humped" messenger, carrying a letter from Derby.  The letter explains that Derby had in fact killed Asenath and buried her body in their cellar. Despite this, Asenath had managed to take control of his body while he was in the Sanitarium, meaning that "the thing on the doorstep" was actually Derby inhabiting Asenath's putrefying corpse.  The note implores Upton to go to the sanitarium to kill Derby, who has been permanently possessed by Asenath-Ephraim's soul.  Upton does so, thus hopefully banishing Asenath-Ephraim's soul to the hereafter, though he reveals that he is afraid of having his soul transferred as well.

Peter Cannon wrote two sequels to "The Thing on the Doorstep": “The Revenge of Azathoth” (1994) and “The House of Azathoth” (1996).

The Thing on the Doorstep (2003)

  • Genre: Horror
  • Directed: Eric Morgret
  • Produced:
    • Eric Morgret 
    • Parker Whittle 
    • K.L. Young
  • Written:
    • H.P. Lovecraft (Short Story “The Thing On The Doorstep”)
    • K.L. Young (Screenplay)
  • Starring: J.D. Lloyd, Jerry Lloyd, Jamie Morgan, Erick Robertson, Oliver Spencer, Beth Zumann
  • Music: Parker Whittle
  • Cinematography: Angelo Comeaux
  • Editing: Eric Morgret
  • Studio: Maelstrom Productions
  • Distributed: Unknown
  • Rated: NR
  • Release Date: 9 October 2003
  • Running Time: 77 minutes
  • Country: United States
  • Language: English

My information on this film comes almost exclusively from interviews with the director, Eric Morgret.

Insane asylums, shallow graves and magick of the blackest kind.  Maelstrom Productions' newest project is an updated but faithful adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft's "The Thing on the Doorstep".  Stephen King describes Lovecraft as "The 20th century horror story's dark and baroque prince".  Shot entirely on Digital Video, the film promises to satisfy fans of Lovecraft and the genre itself.

A crew of three friends, less than a shoestring budget, and the lifelong dream to make a feature sent us all down a winding road of discovery, seven years long and full of memories.  Budget constraints and professional obligations forced us to shoot our film a few scenes at a time - all while wearing multiple production hats.  I am the Director, DP, and Editor.  Will Severin is our Producer, Sound Designer and Composer, and Mary Jane Hansen wrote the screenplay in addition to acting a leading role.  The workflow was incredibly hands-on during production and post-production with all involved experimenting and stretching creative talents to bring this story to life.

In selecting an H.P. Lovecraft story to adapt to the screen, we wanted to be faithful to the story and try something different than previous film adaptations, something more psychological and plausible - as much as possible for a Lovecraft story, that is.  We kept much of the quirky, formal language that Lovecraft is known for and chose to place our characters in a modern, straightforward, tangible reality and then focus on building dread and the psychological effects of fear on the characters.  The idea is that they live in a world where the supernatural is real, but they deny it even as it's staring them in the face.  The deteriorating relationship between two men, seemingly caused by the two women in their lives, is at the heart of the film.  The men are basically ineffectual or immature, while the women are quite the opposite.  The subtext may be examined on a number of levels.

Locations are key to the look of the film and we take advantage of various architectural finds to showcase the physical world of our story.  I wanted a modern location for Daniel Upton's home for a stark contrast to the mostly gothic settings chosen for the rest of the film.  Employing the use of dark shadows on set and saturated color later in post-production helped to create an interesting visual atmosphere.  The digital effects are the result of hours of experimentation, including fabricated aerial overhead shots and rotted corpses.  Will Severin oversaw the audio-post on our film and composed the score.  The music lends mood and weight to the film and the classic style gives the film a timeless feel.

Our production's lengthy seven year journey was a film-making marathon, in contrast to a sprint of the year or two in which most films are completed.  So many hours spent in varying production jobs, serving as my own gaffer, Will recording location audio, and Mary styling hair.  So much valuable knowledge and experience gained.  And the insane itch to do it all again.  The seven years adventure is really just the beginning, as we prepare to embark on our next feature.

One of the best endorsements for DIY filmmaking if I ever heard one.

Related Articles:

All Images Found at The Official Film Website.

1 Peter Cannon, "Introduction", More Annotated Lovecraft, p. 9.

2 Carter, p. 102.

3 Weinberg, p. 42.

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