So then! We must press on with our descent into pure madness!
I’ve been thinking and scheming, scheming and thinking (in my laboratory) on the most refreshing approach to tackling Lovecraftien subject matter and I felt that it would be most novel for the second instalment of this ongoing retrospective to round out the novellas covered in our previous article. If you’ve not yet read our previous article, then lets just say that the Yuzna/Hadida horror film anthology Necronomicon took a sadly loose approach in adapting three particularly well known short Lovecraft tales of intrigue and insanity, hence for our next handfull of articles I will endeavour to shed light on some more faithful renditions and set you all straight. Using the same order in the film, we will begin with one of HP’s more stand out tales of creeping insanity; The Rats in the Walls.
A particularly interesting story penned in 1924, considerably early on in Lovecraft’s authorship which was originally published by the immortal pulp sci-fi digest Weird Tales in 1930 (June Vol.6 of 15 to be exact):
Rats tells of the last man in the eldritch *snicker* De La Pore family line, travelling from Massachusetts (a highly significant Lovecraftien locale I might add) to the English midlands as sole inheritor of Exham Priory; a timeless keep which seems to have survived wars and natural calamity throughout the centuries, serving always as homestead to the De La Pore family line and their secrets. Without going too far into details, our protag is instantly met with folklore and scandal regarding De La Pore heritage and the whispered crimes against humanity which his ancestors were reputed for. He decides (in true stupid white guy form) to start living alone in the priory with his cat after its restoration is complete, only to be increasingly plagued by visions of subhuman devils, abhorrent suggestions and the ever increasing scurry of Rats behind his chamber walls.
This is a simply chilling yarn from HP and perhaps one of the earliest in his repertoire to contain the well worn theme of hero characters who diarise the plot for us in chunks, while slowly but steadily losing their minds. As a well loved volume from his collection its a somewhat less adapted and discussed one, although what little material is available is easily recommendable.
Firstly Rats has seen a number of comic book adaptations, with the most recent by Dan Lockwood and David Hartman in 2011, collected with The Lovecraft Anthology Vol.1. A jaunty contemporary retelling.
The earliest adaptation of Rats comes from Bob Jenney in 1968, published by Creepy #21. Its really only worth the look based on its vintage though, the adaptation suffers heavily from page limitations and general Comics Code conservatism.
Arguably the most noteworthy version would be Richard ‘Gore’ Corben’s 1972 rendition, published initially in Skull Comics #5 -it went on to see regular reprints under newer publishers every consecutive decade. And rightly so as this adaptation captures the original text prolifically while presenting the tale with stark, no nonsense panels of sometimes caricatured, sometimes confronting golden age artwork.
Through a stint of mild sleuthing, any of these publications can be found online to read in digital format, or to buy if you’re a sucker for beautiful books.
While The Rats in the Walls was never completely adapted to film (that I know of), it did however become a favourite of famous spoken word artists and theatrical broadcast productions, too numerous to list in total, so I’ve taken the libery of outlining the best available. These audio plays are probably the best touchstones for anyone interested in experiencing the story (short of just reading the book), as not only do they narrate the prose with superlative theatrical passion, some even incorporate detailed foley sound design and suitably eerie orchestral clamour.
The Text Expanded: The Atlanta Radio Theatre Company have been performing classical literature in theatrical spoken word as broadcast features since the mid eighties, since then they’ve adapted a number of Lovecraft stories including Rats. Easily the most bombastic to recommend, as the productions often have several actors on a sound stage reading scripts, foley sfx artists creating atmosphere, orchestra musicians providing score and even extras for the sake of varying rabble. Often they stream video of their productions for insight into the process, sometimes even broadcasting entire radio productions live from pop culture conventions.
Their version of Rats tends to bring across all the fine details of the original story, even going so far as to give it a sort of expansion through adapting support characters & locales into acts from the simple written account. Javier De La Pore in particularly is fleshed out as the protag’s ancestor (having been heavily based upon the historical monster Gilles De Rais). ARTC also provide a more detailed breakdown of exactly what went on under Exham Priory in times long gone, which is interesting to ponder albeit reductive to the sense of mystery maintained in the original text… It could be considered a near impeccable adaptation if not for the dog, cat and sheep sounds burbled by human extras. I should also note that this is certainly not the last time we will hear about ARTC in this article series, as they have quite the collection of adapted Lovecraft radio productions to sift.
The Text Compressed: One of my personal favourite audio reproductions of Rats comes from the classic horror-fantasy radio drama The Black Mass; a show running throughout the 1960′s which during its tenure broadcast several classical pieces of horror literature as adapted radio theatre. Black Mass was produced and announced largely by Erik Bauersfeld who is more affectionately remembered as the voice of both Bib Fortuna and Admiral ‘Its-A-Trap!’ Ackbar.
The Black Mass adaptation of Rats has been reduced somewhat, with all of the supporting characters (including the cats) stripped away for focus on more of a digest retelling. This version of Rats in the Walls is perhaps the better option for beginners as it is a shorter listening time commitment yet it maintains the same production quality of the afore mentioned. I would go as far as to say that this particular rendition is also the most chilling pick of the bunch.
The Text Intact: Lastly for those of you who’re about thoroughness and prefer to experience the original text word for word, there’s a well regarded audio version narrated by David McCallum (The Outer Limits, NCIS, The Man From U.N.C.L.E.) in which The Rats in the Walls novella is complete and read in a chilling albeit entertaining performance by the long time actor.
Interestingly you might also come across a digest version of McCallums recital by Czech artist/designer Petr Augustin, who has selected the most poignant plot moments of the overall audiobook and adapted them into a series of short animations which can be viewed at the Official Website.
I had a chat with Petr about his work:
Dr. Robert: Firstly is this your own artwork? Can you tell us a little about your artistic influences, both classical and modern.
Petr: This is all my artwork, everything you see in it I either drew, designed or soundmixed. It’s always tough to talk about the influences, when I started creating this style for the art direction, I was reading Mike Mignola’s Hellboy a lot, which has a lot of Lovecraftian influence. I think it shows a bit, although I use a very different linework and my characters are a lot more painterly. I also went through all the Rats in the Walls adaptations that have been done of course, all the old comics and artist sketches, but nothing seemed really right to me.
Dr. Robert: Are we looking at excerpts of a complete adaptation of the book into your animated format? Or did you select these excerpts from the overall book and choose to adapt them alone.
Petr: These are just excerpts, of course. I realized at the very beginning that I need to trim a story a lot. I worked with my English tutor from Devon, UK. She helped me a great deal with what to trim and what to keep to make it edgy enough.
Dr. Robert: Asside from Wojciech Kilar’s iconic score from Bram Stoker’s Dracula, can you give us a run down of the soundscape you’ve used.
Petr: I used free music work from around the internet, there’s a bunch of it if you know where to look. I did the mixing in Audacity, which is simple enough. Most of the sound you hear are various effects which I mixed using free samples from the net. I think the most horrifying one is probably chapter five with all the pig screeching.
Dr. Robert: Why did you pick this Lovecraft story to adapt?
Petr: I spent around three weeks going through almost all of Lovecraft’s work. I got help from various HPL websites and awesome H.P. Lovecraft Literary Podcast by Chris Lackey and Chad Fifer. They also featured the project on their facebook page once it was done. In the end I decided to do The Rats in the Walls, because most of the terror is psychological, it’s based on emotions, confusion, fear, mystery. I thought that would be more fun to express than huge monsters.
Dr. Robert: Are you in the process of adapting another Lovecraft story in the same format? or another story all together?
Petr: Well, to be sincere I am not right now. It’s a very, very time consuming process. I had been working on it for about eight months. it was so exhausting to do cause I had to make every part of the piece myself, I moved from adaptation, to art design, to sound mixing, to video design to finally web design and PR. I thought a lot about adapting Melville’s Moby Dick. It might sound weird, but it’s actually a very dark story, and I would love to delve into it. Of course, money is a huge issue for a project like this. The website and a facebook page has been slowly snowballing more and more people though, so maybe in some time you might see some Lovecraftian adaptation on a Kickstarter.
A very special thanks to Petr for taking the time to chat to us. If you’re not reading, listening or going mad thinking about The Rats in the Walls by now I strongly suggest you pick one of our listed adaptations of the story and dive in. Join us back here at AndyErupts soon for our next pilgrimage to Yoggoth, when we’ll dig deeper into the 1928 short story Cool Air, mean time lets give Rats a plump send off; a simply amazing tale although lacking the madness personified in some of Lovecraft’s more iconic beasties, I give it four unknowable horrors out of five.