Lurking Fear (1994): Subterranean Full Moon Blues

Matty explores a compelling Full Moon flick that’s lumbered with a poor reputation. 

Often lost amidst their usual killer doll and mini-beast output, LURKING FEAR (1994) is quite possibly the most overlooked film in the entire Full Moon canon — or, at least, the most overlooked film from the studio’s golden ‘89 to ‘95 period. Saddled with a poor reputation among fans and critics, it’s actually a charming and quirky little shocker. The second of three pictures based upon H.P. Lovecraft’s eponymous 1923 serial (the others being the grassroots Dark Heritage (1989) and the gleefully perverse Rutger Hauer-sploiter Hemoglobin (1997)), Lurking Fear — the only one to bear the name of its source material — might not be a particularly faithful adaptation, but it’s certainly tremendous fun. 

Written and directed by C. Courtney Joyner, who inherited a version of the project from Lovecraft specialist Stuart Gordon [1], Lurking Fear is a waggish mash-up of ghoul-siege and mannered crime potboiler, a sort of ‘Night of the Living Dead (1968) meets Key Largo (1948)’ if you will. As with Joyner’s previous directorial effort, the exemplary Trancers III (1992) (his debut), the film again proves him a sturdy pair of hands when wielding the megaphone. Though slightly clumsy in his blocking, Joyner demonstrates a nice sense of pace, a good feel for atmosphere, and an eye for a pretty shot — traits aided by the rich photography of Full Moon regular Adolfo Bartoli. However, it’s within the film’s scripting where Joyner excels. One of the all-time great B-movie writers, Joyner packs Lurking Fear with the same razor sharp patter and sly humour that characterises his work on the likes of Prison (1987), Class of 1999 (1990), and Puppet Master III: Toulon’s Revenge (1991). The laconic and softly tongue-in-cheek tough-talk dovetails perfectly with the flavourful smatterings of horror, and several venom-laced quips rank high on the chuckle-o-meter.

“It’s a Porsche not a Toyota!” barks Bennett (Frenzy’s (1972) Jon Finch) when bruiser Pierce (Joe Leavengood) parks his arse down on the gang’s car bonnet. Hunting for ex-con John Martense (Blake Adams) and a stash of hidden loot, Bennett, Pierce, and femme fatale Marlowe (Allison Mackie) arrive in the sleepy backwater of Lefferts Corners just as a rag-tag bunch of townsfolk — a group that includes Lovecraft movie regular Jeffrey Combs as the chain-smoking Dr. Haggis — barricade themselves inside the local church. Led by meek geek turned sexy, Sigourney Weaver-esque tough cookie Cathryn (Hellraiser’s (1987) Ashley Laurence — a role she famously scrubs from her CV), this motley crew are preparing to obliterate a gaggle of graveyard-dwelling humanoid monsters that have been blighting the Corners’ denizens for the last twenty years. Alas, with Bennett and co. ballsing up their plan, the two sides are quickly forced to team together in order to survive until morning — no mean feat considering that the creatures, a Morlock-looking clan designed and created by future House of 1000 Corpses (2003) FX wiz Wayne Toth, are a suitably nasty bunch with a penchant for dragging anyone and everyone down into their subterranean abattoir.

The product of years of inbreeding, they’re both a formidable threat and a fitting metaphor for how incestuous Full Moon’s production line once was. Indeed, cross referencing the overlap between Joyner, Combs and Full Moon boss Charles Band alone reveals a tangled mess of dangling threads; throw the rest of the film’s talent pool into the mix and it’s the stuff of aneurysms to ponder. That said, it’s the kind of connective cool that renders Lurking Fear’s drubbing and subsequent consignment to DTV oblivion so mystifying to ponder. The whole thing is a pulsating mass of cult appeal, from the cheeky intertextual referencing (such as Hammer icon Michael Ripper’s name listed in an obituary) and Vincent Schiavelli’s cameo as a sleazy mortician; to veteran genre composer Jim Manzie’s rousing score and the production’s story-addled making. 

Lensed for buttons in Romania, the already under-financed Lurking Fear fell victim to further behind-the-scenes penny-pinching from Band — to the point where, if rumour is to be believed, his, erm, ‘creative accounting’ actually put paid to Full Moon’s partnership with their big company sugar-daddy, Paramount. Worse is the fact that Finch — cast after Band passed on Joyner’s suggestion of Oliver Reed — was a monumental pain to deal with on set. As Joyner explained to author and Schlock Pit pal Dave Jay in 2017:

“I can’t fault Jon’s work. He knew his lines and did a fine job when called upon. But I felt no rapport with him and he didn’t want it anyway. I had one great night with him talking about Hitchcock and I felt we had made a real connection. But the next day was a nightmare: he beat the hell out of every suggestion or direction and he made life pretty miserable for me. Jon was unhappy with me, and as a result he could be very difficult with the crew. Challenging me was part of his process and I folded in front of him, which was a huge mistake.” [2] 

[1] According to Joyner, Gordon’s original iteration was “a 1930s-set, Warner Bros.-style film with Barbara Crampton as a wisecracking reporter.” (C. Courtney Joyner Interview, Lurker in the Lobby: A Guide to the Cinema of H.P. Lovecraft by Andrew Migliore & John Strysik)
[2] It Came From the Video Aisle! Inside Charles Band’s Full Moon Entertainment Studio by Dave Jay, William Wilson, Torsten Dewi… And me and Dave.

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