Continuing in our series this month of scary movies featuring librarians, next up is 1993’s Necronomicon: Book of the Dead (aka Necronomicon, aka H.P. Lovecraft’s Necronomicon, Book of the Dead). The film is comprised of three segments, (Part 1, The Drowned, based on Lovecraft’s short story “The Rats in the Walls”; Part 2: The Cold, based on the story “Cool Air”; Part 3: Whispers, based on the story “The Whisperer in Darkness”) plus a “wraparound” entitled The Library, which serves as a framing device for the other stories.
One of the directors, Shûsuke Kaneko, didn’t speak English during the time he was filming his segment, Part 2, although the entire cast is American. I’m not sure what the other directors’ excuses are. 😉
*MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD*
The Library wraparound story is set in 1932 and stars Jeffrey Combs as the author H. P. Lovecraft, who pulls up in a taxi in front of an imposing building that houses a monastery library (see below).
The small bronze sign above the doorbell reads, “By appointment only.” Not sure if Lovecraft has an appointment, but he is apparently well-known by the librarian monks (played by Tony Azito as the Librarian, and Juan Fernandez as the attendant monk and library assistant).
Librarian: Mr. Lovecraft, always a treat. And how can we indulge you this time?
Lovecraft: Actually, I’m here because a new story of mine demands a bit of fact-checking.
Librarian: Fact-checking? We were under the impression you dealt in fiction.
Lovecraft: My work is wrongly construed as fiction by the lesser minded. In fact, I take great pride in presenting fictional possibilities. It is my duty, after all, as a human being to enlighten the darkest depths of experience, to expose certain secrets unjustly hoarded by others.
Librarian: We shall see.
There is NOTHING subtle in this movie — from the makeup to the costumes to the “acting” to the “writing” (quotations marks intended) — so why would the librarian character be any different? Check out these facial expressions from the librarian monk:
After signing in, we next spy the librarian on a library ladder. Obviously up to something, Lovecraft nervously directs the librarian to the alchemical encyclopedia on the top shelf (of course). While the librarian is busy reaching for the volume, Lovecraft manages to unhook the librarian’s keys from his waist sash without him noticing the sound of jangling keys or the sudden missing weight. Yeah. Right.
When you get massive eye-rolling from not only a main character (ahem, librarian monk) AND the audience within the first five minutes, you know it’s going to be a bad time. And the librarian monk tries to give Lovecraft a bad time with his next comment.
Please try to remember that if you leave this area unattended for any reason whatsoever, we shall be forced to revoke your privileges.
Does this stern warning work? Yeah. Right.
The very next shot shows him scurrying downstairs — although his furtive act is actually seen by the librarian assistant monk. Lovecraft approaches a secret archives room with a safe along the back wall, which DA-DA-DUMMMM, reveals the Necronomicon, the book of the dead. Cracking it open, Lovecraft disturbs some kind of force, causing the two librarian monks to look up (see below). Knowing what he’s up to, do the two librarian monks actually follow through on their threat to “revoke his privileges”? Of course not! There wouldn’t be a plot (such as it is).
I won’t go into the plots of the three story segments, but I will reveal that they’re all (sort of) set in the future. Or possibly alternate futures. Whatever. It doesn’t matter. Inbetween the stories, we are treated to an ever-increasing sense of unease through the library wraparound scenes, as the wall safe opens up more portal doors as more pages are turned. The librarians’ actions also (finally) escalate:
- After the first story segment, the two librarian monks pick up Lovecraft’s hat in the main hall and casually ask, “Will he truly be brainless enough to try?” Response: “Of course. He’s human.”
- After the second segment, the librarian monk then tries to open up the door leading to the archives room, but finds the handle locked.
- And finally, after the third story, the librarian monk shouts to Lovecraft through the iron bars. After Lovecraft reveals that he dropped the keys, the librarian begins to reveal his true self: “You impetuous little fool! Do you know what you’ve done?! Put it back. Put the book back!”
Too late! As the safe opens and an alien creature comes hurtling down the portal, the librarian monk squeezes through the bars and grabs Lovecraft. More threats and cheesy lines:
The secrets of the Necrominocon do not come cheap. This is going to cost you your life! Consider your privileges revoked, Mr. Lovecraft!
Perhaps balking at this ultra-cheesy line, Lovecraft unhinges the librarian’s jaws and pulls off his face, revealing the librarian as an alien! LIBRARIAN MONK ALIEN … LIBRARIAN MONK ALIEN … that phrase just kept spooling through my head … in all caps … LIBRARIAN MONK ALIEN.
Does Lovecraft get away? Of course! The alien creature grabs the LIBRARIAN MONK ALIEN instead and heads back down the wormhole portal, leaving this mess behind:
The Necromonicon closes, and Lovecraft runs away as the librarian monk assistant shouts, “You don’t know what you’ve done! You’ll pay!” The movie ends on a closeup of the Necronomicon that he stole from the library.
Afterwards, my husband’s summation? “We’ve definitely seen worse.” As I pointed out, that’s not really a compliment. 😉
And in a film that supposedly celebrates Lovecraft’s craft, the character himself comes off rather poorly. We learn that (a) he’s a thief; (b) he’s smug about said thievery and escape; (c) he’s a plagiarist, as he was just copying the stories from the Necronomicon; and (d) he doesn’t care about the damage he caused — and presumably will continue causing — by opening up this book of the dead. The LIBRARIAN MONK ALIENS don’t come off well in this film, but Lovecraft comes off worse. It’s never a good time when you can’t root for a single character!
Sam is so well-versed in my reel librarian research that we also enjoyed a lively discussion of what character types the LIBRARIAN MONK ALIENS fulfilled:
- Comic Relief? It’s sad when the bad acting and writing in a would-be horror film could count as comic relief, but that wasn’t the intention, I’m sure.
- Liberated Librarian? No way.
- Librarian as Failure? One could argue this considering the failure of the librarians to protect the book they were supposed to protect. Ultimately, however, one should assume these monks chose to live their lives in the library and wanted to protect the book of the dead, even though they were horribly inept at doing so.
- Information Provider? I say yes, as the main librarian’s actions in the beginning of the film (signing in a library patron, climbing the library ladder, helping Lovecraft find a specific book) are used to establish the setting as a library, and his own role recognizable as a librarian, even while dressed in monk robes.
- Anti-Social Librarian? Bingo! Hoarding knowledge; never seen outside the library; poor social skills; seems to dislike people; dressed conservatively; and elitist? Checkmark on all accounts.
So there you have it. Two anti-social and information-providing librarians in this Class III film. And one more time…
LIBRARIAN MONK ALIEN.
That is all.
- Necronomicon: Book of the Dead. Dir. Christophe Gans, Shûsuke Kaneko, and Brian Yuzna. Perf. Jeffrey Combs, Tony Azito, Bruce Payne. Turner Home Entertainment, 1993.