DT Moviehouse Reviews: The Call of Cthulhu

Time once more for my blog feature, DT Moviehouse Reviews, in which I make my way alphabetically through my 200+ DVD/Blu-Ray collection (you can see the list right here) and decide if each one was worth the money. Better watch out! It’s Halloween night….and here’s my review of the fan made HP Lovecraft Historical Society’s adaptation of The Call Of Cthulhu.

Directed by Andrew Leman

Screenplay by Sean Brannery, based off the story by H.P. Lovecraft

Tagline: The celebrated story by HP Lovecraft brought at last to the silver screen.

call_of_cthulhu_movie

What It’s About:

A man uncovers evidence of a strange cult, following the seemingly disparate threads of an ancient artifact, a police raid on a degenerate backwoods bayou ritual, the nightmares of an artist, and the account of a Norwegian vessel’s exploration of a remote island.

Why I Bought It:


I’m a fairly recent convert to the works of weird fiction author HP Lovecraft.

MovieQuiz_963-0000I think I started reading him only about 2006 or so. I’ve always found him kind of a dry writer (I’m a Robert E. Howard guy), but the ideas of his seminal Mythos definitely left an indelible mark on my mind, and grew to inform my own work as a writer, if not entirely pervade it. Once I began delving into Jewish esoteric lore for my Merkabah Rider series, I saw parallels between certain occult concepts and the stuff Lovecraft developed and incorporated them. I have no idea if he was in anyway a student of Kabbalah and the like, but his notion of taking the good and evil equation out of existence and instead portraying the universe as a kind of barely controlled chaos against which his protagonists struggle and usually fail, is undeniably striking and unique. A mythology for atheists, I guess, where the supernatural is simply the unexplained, or even the inexplicable, where God is not an entity but a misnomer for something unfathomable.

cthlhu2Lovecraft is steadily growing in popularity with the dissemination of his work online. I first heard of Cthulhu back in my early roleplaying game days, and then later read about his extended family via Howard’s Mythos stories.  It’s inevitable that so long lasting an author have his work tapped by filmmakers, but there have been very few adaptations if his work that have successfully portrayed his output. Most lift the concepts but go for the splatter and gore, or are content to mention Miskatonic University and then run with the ball any old way.

But not the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society’s adaptation of The Call of Cthulhu.

Fan made films don’t often hold up too well to scrutiny. Slavish devotion to the source material hardly ever makes for a good adaptation. Books are a different creature than movies, and Lovecraft’s stuff, if you’ve ever read it, is far from mainstream fare. It’s cerebral and academic, episodic and existential. Lovecraft’s bestiary/pantheon is older than Creation, aloof and unconcerned with humanity, but can wipe us all out with a shifty look if their attention is unwisely attracted.

And yet, The Call of Cthulhu is a perfect, nearly to-the-letter adaptation….and it works.

legrasseThere is so much love(craft) in every frame of this low budget indie film, not only for its source material, but for the cinematic conventions that co-existed with its birth, that it can’t be seen as anything less than a masterful homage to the Mythos and to the expressionist films of F.W. Murnau, Robert Wiene, and Wegener and Galeen, with nods to James Wale and Todd Browning.

The central concept of CoC is that the HPLHS decided to produce the movie as though it were a contemporary adaptation of the original story, written in 1926. Thus, the movie is black and white, and silent with title cards and an incessant orchestral score. All the FX are practical, and wherever possible, true to the time period. No CGI. Just elaborate sets, forced perspectives, and the occasional matte image.

The impossible angles of nightmarish R’yleh is achieved with angular wooden sets and old fashioned chiaroscuro. Dramatic light and oppressive shadow take the place of staid and artificial computer wizardry.

call-of-cthulhu-castroI’ve seen modern filmmakers attempt to do period movies before. Tarantino and Rodriguez’s Grindhouse for example, which I think, doesn’t manage to quite pull it off all the time, partly due to the actors. I don’t know what it is with humanity, but certain faces seem to come and go in and out of style in certain time periods. The actors gathered for CoTC have the look of silent movie actors. Maybe it’s the makeup, but Matt Foyer in particular looks like he was awakened from some kind of suspended animation just to portray the narrator in this.  And the cultist interrogated by the police after the bayou raid sequence reminds me of Dwight Frye.

Call of Cthulhu isn’t just a great example of Lovecraft, it’s an amazing example of what low budget independent filmmaking can achieve when ingenuity and creativity drive the work.

It should be viewed as nothing less than an inspiration.

Best Dialogue/Line:

“Burn it all.”

Best Scene:

cthulhuMost all the set pieces are so wonderfully rendered, but the climactic sequence has to take the kewpie doll here.

The Norwegian ship The Alert comes across a mysterious island covered in a weirdly constructed…is it a city? Is it a necropolis? We don’t know.

The captain leads the sailors towards an immense monolith covered in weird runes which reacts to their prodding and opens. One of the hapless sailors pitches headlong into its dark depths.

Then a pair of huge clawed hands emerge – the hands of dread Cthulhu.

The sailors run pell mell for their launch, falling victim to the grasping claws of the pursuing creature and to the weird M.C. Escher landscape itself. Memorably, one sailor stumbles and falls into an illusory gap between the blocks that isn’t even visible from our perspective.

It’s just a great, tense sequence. Some argue that the herky jerkiness of the stop motion creature takes away from the effect, but I found the effect marvelously surreal and a nice homage to the work of Harryhausen and King Kong. Something about the slightly unnatural movement combined with the true lighting has always appealed to me about stop motion peril.

Would I Buy It Again: Yes

Next In The Queue: Captain America: The Winter Soldier

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