Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Weeks Too Late: The Call of Cthulhu

The Call of Cthulhu. Directed by Andrew Leman & Written by Sean Branney.

Preconceptions: I make no bones about being a fan of Lovecraft and (even more so) of Lovecraftian fiction. Unfortunately, the same can't be said for television and movie adaptations. Ineffable cosmic horrors don't really lend themselves to visual portrayals. In TV, you really need to eff. I have a patronizing fondness for the Lovecraft inspired in the Mouth of Madness. Dreams in the Witch House (a short made for the Masters of Horror series) was a fairly true adaptation to the source material and that's really all that can be said of it. Dagon was a fun to watch, but utterly dreadful re-imagining of Shadow Over Innsmouth. This particular movie was made by the HP Lovecraft Historical Society (if you haven't heard their recording of a Shoggoth on the Roof, go check it out, I'll wait). But despite their fun musicals, I've seen too many bad home-made Star Trek episodes to be entirely excited about a fan film.

General Review: I do not often have the attention span to enjoy silent movies. Oh, there are a couple, Metropolis and Nosferatu being the obvious examples, but typically I'm all about the Talkies. The thing that surprised me the most about this flick was that I didn't have time to get tired of the format. Admittedly, it was only just over 45 minutes long, but the length of the film was less notable than the pace. We moved quickly from nightmares, to sanitariums, to derelect vessels, to hellish islands. The plot didn't drag its feet any more than the setting and I didn't once look at the clock to see how much longer the movie would be.

The format also hid any number of the usual fan film pitfalls. The actors didn't seem stilted and unnatural the way they so often can in an amateur production. Some of this was because they didn't speak, but a lot of it was that they were supposed to seem forced to mimic the 1920's style. Any flaws in the sets and special effects were hidden by the slightly murky black and white. And choices like using "rubber ducky in the bathtub" technology to show ships at sea looked stylistically accurate, rather than being the only option available to the director.

There really weren't any amazing break out performances, acting-wise. Nobody disgraced themselves but I don't feel myself wanting to burble on about any of the actors the way I do the director. The score was very accurate, reminding me of the type of music I've heard in the silent flicks I've seen (usually ones that Doomwench has coaxed me into watching). There was a particularly good bit of scoring, where all the characters are out in the swamp and everyone has been talking about drumming and slowly a drum beat weaves its way into the music.

Speaking of burbling about the directing, let me do some more of that. Leman walked a fine line in his nightmare sequences between betraying Lovecraft's signature indescribable horrors and irritating his audience with a bit of shadow play and no monsters. I can honestly say I haven't seen this difficult device so well used in a film. I never doubted the monsters, but they weren't in spotlights where I could see every glistening intestine, either. The set of both the island and the nightmare world were fine examples of the whole "sinister angle" thing that I'm so fond of. Capturing these difficult visual themes took a truly talented individual.

It is entirely possible that I'm some years late getting to this particular party (wouldn't be the first time). It's even likely that the bulk of you have already seen this and are rolling your eyes at my glowing review of ancient news. But I figured if I hadn't seen it, there were at least a couple of people out there who might be clued in by me mentioning it. Consider yourself clued and check this out. A final exciting feature of this movie is that it is up in its entirety on hulu, so if you're an American reader, you can click here to watch it.

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