"While it does possess a fun performance from Vernon Wells, and it does have the potential to be a “so bad it’s good” kind of film"
Edgar Allan Poe is a name synonymous with the macabre. While never achieving any major success in his lifetime, in death Poe’s work has risen to become some of the definitive works of Dark Romantic and Gothic literature, with the writer serving as a perpetual source of inspiration for writers and filmmakers.
This brings me to The Lighthouse Keeper, a small scale mystery drama loosely based upon Poe’s final unfinished work, but also one that will drive you to such boredom and misery that you’ll feel like a tortured character from one of Poe’s stories.
A young man washes up on the shores of an isolated island and is taken in by its sole inhabitant, a mysterious lighthouse keeper who repeatedly warns him to never let the candles go out. While waiting for the ferry to come and collect him, the young man is visited by visions of a young woman who may or may not be a figment of his imagination, all the while the island is repeatedly subject to earth-shattering tremors brought on by the constant crashing of the waves.
Vernon Wells (perhaps best known for his work in 80s cult hits Commando and The Road Warrior) is easily the best thing about this film, with the veteran actor somehow managing to give an earnest and believable performance as Walsh, semi-successfully delivering the sometimes cringe-inducing dialogue with the same kind of seriousness as you would lend to a Shakespearean soliloquy.
The same cannot be said for his co-star Matt O’Neil who seems to spend the entire film with a perpetual look of surprised annoyance on his face, even in scenes where he should be expressed joy or happiness such as in a beachside sex scene. I guess the act of making love to a woman just leaves him somewhat irritated. Mercifully O’Neil is given much less convoluted dialogue than his co-star, with his exchanges mainly amounting to questions about the lighthouse and the increasingly strange goings-on.
The film’s story had the potential to be a somewhat decent and spooky mystery and it does have all the right ingredients, what with it possessing a spooky lighthouse, a spooky lighthouse keeper who looks like Captain Birdseye’s alcoholic brother and the possible presence of the supernatural.
However, the execution falls flat with the film-makers attempts to mimic the distinctive rhythms of Poe’s prose often coming off as of a poor tribute act than a worthy reinterpretation of the writer’s work. This is not helped by the film’s rather strange shifts in approach, with the film’s initial ghost story feel turning suddenly into a weird quasi-zombie siege film in the final half hour as the cursed spirits of dead sailors pop up to try and kill our protagonists.
The film’s modest budget doesn’t help things with the film’s sets and effects looking cheap at best and unintentionally hilarious at worst, with the eventual arrival of the zombie sailors being a somewhat sight due to they're cheap makeup effects which look like masks you would buy from a Halloween store.
While one could argue that the overall modest nature of the production was done as a kind of tribute to the original master of adapting Poe to the screen, low budget film-making legend Roger Corman, this argument rings false by the fact that Corman also worked with very little money but still managed to produce chilling classics that managed to look more expensive than they actually where. Also, Corman had the benefit of working with Vincent Price, a man whose distinctive voice seemed tailor-made to deliver Poe’s prose.
While it does possess a fun performance from Vernon Wells, and it does have the potential to be a “so bad it’s good” kind of film, it’s terrible dialogue, and frankly boring execution leave The Lighthouse Keeper a nearly unbearable chore to watch.
If you want to the works of Edgar Allen Poe adapted for the screen properly, do yourself and check out the films of Roger Corman, otherwise, leave The Lighthouse Keeper on the rocks where it belongs.