Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Call of Cthulhu

This post is something that’s been on my agenda for almost a year now! It’s about time.

I’m not sure why the stories of H.P. Lovecraft are considered unfilmable by the Hollywood mainstream… certainly every time they’ve tried, they’ve made a major ballocks out of it. It’s true that Lovecraft’s tools are dread, anticipation, and suggestion; but that’s not, I think, why so many lousy movies have gone out invoking his name.

I believe it’s more to do with a lack of imagination on the part of the moviemakers, and lack of respect for the stories and the storyteller. Hollywood is quick to plaster Lovecraft’s name on the movies but unwilling to actually adapt the experience of reading Lovecraft’s stories. It takes no effort or skill to throw a lot of fake blood and guts on the screen; to actually evoke the power of the imagination, as Lovecraft demands, is something else entirely.

Enter the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society. Hollywood outsiders to say the least, their only qualifications for movie-making were a few full-cast audio adaptations of the stories and a long history of conducting elaborate role-playing games based on the Lovecraft Mythos.

As it turns out, those may be the perfect credentials: because these guys know what old radio shows sound like, they know what old movies look like, their years of creating prop documents and the like have made them into spectacularly talented graphic artists; and most important, they have been nurturing their imagination all this time, and bring a genuine respect and love for the source material to the table.

When in 2005 they decided to film Lovecraft’s most famous story, The Call of Cthulhu, they began by asking a question: What if the movie was made the same year that Lovecraft’s story was published? That would be 1928. That would make it a silent movie.

On a budget of about a buck ninety eight, and driven mainly by enthusiasm, that is the movie they made: a contemporary adaptation of the story that feels just as if it was pulled out of some European archive. Whether or not you like Lovecraft, The Call of Cthulhu is a great film. Part of its genius is that it’s not a parody of silent movies or their style: instead, everything about it is authentic, even down to the hairs and grains of dust that sometimes flit through the frame. 

With a brief runtime of just 40 minutes, it moves at a brisk clip and tells the story with no fuss and nonsense, not sparing the atmosphere, which is rich and dense. The performances are big silent-movie performances, but genuine — not comically exaggerated. Its structure of flashbacks within flashbacks and its bottomless array of wonderful imagery whisk us along: this really does feel for all the world like a genuine German Expressionist Horror Classic: on a par with Caligari and Nosferatu. Oh, and the barely-seen stop-motion monster at the end is just wonderful.

It’s one of those rare things: a modern movie that makes me want to grab people and say, “You’ve got to see this! Just sit down and watch!” And you know, they did it just for fun. Just for love. Only genuine fans could come up with an idea this eccentric and make it work: the Hollywood mainstream could never have conceived its like.

The Call of Cthulhu is remarkable on its own: all the more remarkable was that they did it again five years later with their 30’s-style adaptation of Lovecraft’s The Whisperer in Darkness. But that’s a subject for another post.

If, like me, you feel that modern Horror cinema has lost its way, if you’re looking for a genuine Art Film that’s as much fun as it is clever, if you just like silent movies… do yourself a favor. The Call of Cthulhu is waiting for you!

— Freder

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