Monday, October 19, 2009

Bald Mountain Night 19: the Call of Cthulhu

Each day in October, intrepid blogger Alex Boivin will watch a horror movie. These movies are all new to him and are part of his month-long effort to fill in his gaps in the horror canon. If he doesn't die from fright, you just might get to read about about his exploits in cinema during the Halloween season.

If you haven't figured it out already, I'm a big Lovecraft fan, I named my Mad Men column after a story of his, for crissakes

H.P. Lovecraft is one of those authors that everyone knows. He's also one of those authors that nobody knows. Depending on your particular social circle, Howard Phillips Lovecraft may be one the most widely read writers or a name completely unheard of. In high school, I was somewhere in between: a handful of my friends were good Lovecraftians and the rest knew him only as a vague literary figure who was obsessed with cephalopods and who may or may not have had some influence over Evil Dead. In those halcyon days I was a patron of good old Dreamhaven Books (back when it was on Lake Street) in Minneapolis and during the months prior to my departure to college in Ohio, the DVD for Call of Cthulhu was an omnipresence at the checkout counter. A low-budget production by the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society filmed in the style of a 1920's silent movie, it's an effort to film the "unfilmable" story.

Cthulhu is the account of Boston academic Francis Wayland Thurston's efforts to piece together the circumstances of his great-uncle's death. In the process of acting as executor, Thurston discovers a mysterious and dangerous cult that worships Cthulhu, an evil betentacled godlike being from beyond the stars. Through discovering the cult's existence, he learns of a series of terrifying encounters between various individuals and the cult's followers and even Cthulhu Himself and endangers his own life in the process. This whole thing is filmed in black-and-white and presented in silent movie mode and uses "Mythoscope", a blending of old timey movie-making magic and modern low-budget digital techniques. It runs mostly on geeky devotion and idiosyncrasy.

This is by no means a great movie. Lovecraft's work is literary beyond belief and doesn't always work on film, though several valiant attempts have been made in the past (most seem to star Weyoun). The HPLHS decided to make an attempt to circumvent the difficulty of adapting the story by making it a silent movie in a style contemporary with the time it was written in. Having to read the dialogue contributes to the bookish feel and the cast and crew are all worthy amateurs whose moxie you've got to admire. Their enthusiasm is infectious and shows up in every aspect of the movie. If there was a bigger budget, I think it would only hamper the project (stop-motion Cthulhu is something I've waited nearly six years to see) and a lot is gained via the low-budget nature of the film. This one's probably only for Lovecraft fans or those with an interest in modern day reproductions of silent films, but in both departments it's a really interesting (and kind of fun) example.

Final verdict: 52 Congos