While “Pickman’s Model” features properly eldritch concepts like empty bleeding eye sockets, fear beyond human comprehension, and a big ol’ honkin’ monster, it’s only “Dreams in the Witch House” that hails directly from the spooky Rhode Island author himself. Part of that is because “Dreams” is slightly atypical for a Lovecraft joint in that it’s A. not regarded as very good, and B. actually adaptable, as evidenced by its previous retelling in Showtime’s Masters of Horror series. Another part of it is that Cabint’s tellers of this story made extra efforts to properly transition it to the screen.
“(The script) deviated a lot from the Lovecraft story,” Hardwicke says. “Mika came up with all these ideas to enrich it and introduce more human dynamics. We added more layers to it and enriched the female characters.”
While in Lovecraft’s original tale, the occupant of the titular Witch House is a student of mathematics and folklore seeking out the mysteries of the occult for academic purposes, in this adaptation Walter Gilman (Rupert Grint) seeks out the Witch House for intensely personal purposes. After watching his twin sister die and her spirit being dragged out into the Forest of Lost Souls, he spends all of his adult life consumed with bringing her back. Both Walter’s twin connection and the Forest of Lost Souls itself are inventions for the show.
Even while making Lovecraft more accessible for cameras, there are certain elements from this story that warrant inclusion. Chief among them, of course, is the monstrous witch at the center of the Witch House: Keziah Mason. Nearly all of Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities episodes feature a showstopping monster design that the creature connoisseur has become known for. But even in a crowd of abominable competitors, Keziah Mason stands out. Part foliage, part human, and all hate, this undead witch cuts an imposing figure throughout the back half of the tale.
“That was one the best parts of this whole thing is to collaborate with Guillermo and his team on the witch,” Hardwicke says. “(del Toro) has this cool concept artist (Guy Davis) he’s worked with for years. He’s got the creature designers who makes all the prosthetics and then he’s got (Luis Sequeira) the costume designer who made all the roots and everything. Between Guillermo and all of those three teams it was just pure fun. Just building that design up and putting the prosthetics on (actress Like Johnston) – when you see it all come together is just so creepy.”
And then there’s the rat of it all. Keziah Mason being a witch means that she gets to enjoy the company of a witch’s familiar – a spooky little animal buddy to assist her in dark magic. In Lovecraft’s short story, Keziah’s familiar is “a small white-fanged furry thing” that takes the rough appearance of a rat with a human face named Brown Jenkin. In the Cabinet of Curiosities version, the familiar maintains its mostly rat/human features but gets an inverted name of Jenkins Brown.