The works of venerable horror writer H.P. Lovecraft have, in some ways, become the backbone of the genre, especially cinematic horror. An astonishing number of relatively contemporary horror flicks and genre TV shows--everything from 1965's DIE, MONSTER, DIE through Rod Serling's series THE NIGHT GALLERY (1970s) to Sam Raimi's THE EVIL DEAD (1981) and beyond--have either borrowed elements from Lovecraft's literary mythos or attempted to adapt one of his stories.
In spite of Lovecraft's unquestionable influence on the genre, few filmmakers have been able to accurately or faithfully translate the writer's works to either the small or large screen. At best, most attempts to adapt Lovecraft either vaguely evoke the nihilistic subtext of the author's work (e.g., Stuart Gordon's 1985 classic RE-ANIMATOR) or pay simple homage by making a reference or two (as Raimi does by building his EVIL DEAD stories around Lovecraft's ubiquitous fictional book of the occult, the Necronomicon). Until now, that is. Under the guidance of director Andrew Leman and screenwriter Sean Branney, the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society has filmed and released a little film entitled THE CALL OF CTHULHU (2005), based on the author's story of the same name. And it is being praised by critics and fans alike as being one of the most faithful Lovecraft cinematic adaptations ever.
The film follows the three-part narrative construction of Lovecraft's original story, using flashbacks and similar devices to shift back and forth to various time frames. The story centers on a young man who has inherited his late great-uncle's research documents pertaining to the Cthulhu Cult. Intrigued by his uncle's obsession with the cult, the nephew studies the documents closely and pieces together the dread implications of the research, and soon after he himself resumes his uncle's investigation of the Cthulhu Cult. When he finally understands the dreadful and disturbing reality of what his uncle has uncovered, his own sanity begins to crumble. Unable to cope and ultimately institutionalized, he passes the information on to his psychiatrist, who in turn hears Cthulhu's call....
In a daring but clever and creative move, filmmakers Leman and Branney decided to cinematically adapt Lovecraft's influential 1925 horror story THE CALL OF CTHULHU in the form of a faux early silent film, complete with black-and-white photography, title cards for dialogue, and a classical music score. There are even artificial scratches and wear marks, making it appear as if the film were indeed made in mid-1920s--the period in which Lovecraft wrote many of his famous works--and only recently pulled from the studio vaults and dusted off for posterity. By making the film look like a product of 1925 instead of one from 2005, the filmmakers have been able to utilize old-school FX like stop-motion animation, in-the-camera trick-photography, and miniatures, avoiding the temptation to heavily rely on CGI and other high-tech contrivances that could bog the film down and cause distraction or deviation from the actual story. The result is a "vintage" film that draws the audience into another place AND another time as it faithfully unfurls Lovecraft's tale of ancient mystery and hair-raising horror.
The cast does an excellent job in realizing director Leman's Lovecraftian vision and writer Branney's script. Acting in a silent film requires skills foreign to most contemporary actors, and it is consequently a dying art. Yet the performances in THE CALL OF CTHULHU are very effective. Especially good are Matt Foyer, who portrays the nephew, and Noah Wagner, who plays the captain of an ill-fated island expedition. It is obvious that, before stepping before the camera, both actors carefully studied classic silent cinema to learn the pantomime and exaggerated facial expressions required to relay emotion without the benefit of sound. Not only do they and their fellow actors do an on-target job of recreating the "feel" of a genuine film from the Silver Screen's silent era, they also do a great job of acting and thereby create a credible populace for the world of Lovecraft's mythos.
In addition, the special FX by Dan Novy and crew are very well executed and totally believable within the context of the film. Dream sequences are reminiscent of the German Expressionist silent classic THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI (1920), and the stop-motion sequences are a clear nod to the master of the form, Ray Harryhausen. True, some of the sets and FX are obviously of the low-budget ilk, but this really only adds to the overall old-school charm of the flick.
The DVD edition of THE CALL OF CTHULHU from Lurker Films is well worth the price of admission. Not only does it offer a pristine digital transfer of the faux silent-era flick, it also offers a very interesting making-of documentary (with sound) that features some behind-the-scene footage and interviews with cast and crew. Even the menu screens on this disc are cool, evoking the style of the art-deco movie houses of the 1920s and 1930s. This DVD is a must-have for fans of Lovecraft, and it will make a fine addition to the film collection of any true fan of horror cinema.
on October 27, 2005
In the past, adaptations of horror writer H.P. Lovecraft's short stories have been downright awful (The Dunwich Horror) or faithful in spirit only (Dagon). Some of the best efforts (In the Mouth of Madness) have been more homages to his fiction than actual adaptations. The clever folks at the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society have filmed their own adaptation of one of Lovecraft's most famous stories, "The Call of Cthulhu" and done it as a silent movie that looks and feels like it was made in the 1920s - the time period in which Lovecraft lived and set most of his stories in.
The Call of Cthulhu faithfully recreates the look of 1920s silent films complete with a slightly scratchy, artifact-laden print. The rich, black and white cinematography (filmed in Mythoscope no less) of David Robertson is fantastic. It has a texture to it that looks just as good as Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow's retro-sepia tone look but for a fraction of the budget and with no CGI anywhere to be found. The cinematography also gives the movie the atmosphere and mood of a classic horror film and creates believable and very authentic feelings of dread.
The special visual effects by Dan Novy - especially the dream sequences - are well done and totally believable within the context of the movie. A trip to a foreboding, unearthly land is something right out of Robert Wiene's The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari with a dash of Ray Harryhausen for good measure. There are a few moments where the effects take on a slightly fake quality but it only adds to the charm of the movie. In this day and age it is so refreshing to see a film that does not rely on CGI but opts for real, tangible effects that are still as effective as ever.
The film's trailer, presented in "Mythoscope" sound, effectively conveys the look of the movie without giving away too much.
"Hearing `The Call'" is a 28-minute making of featurette. One gets the impression that this was a labour of love done by a group of friends who got together and made this wonderful film. The cast and crew talk about their experiences with good humour for this highly enjoyable extra.
"Photographs From the Set" is a three minute montage of behind the scenes pictures.
There are "Production Stills" from the final film.
Finally, there are eight minutes of deleted footage, including several takes of the stop motion Cthulhu doing its thing and some amusing improvisations by the actors because they didn't have to memorize dialogue.
How or why is it that the most revered horror novelist of the twentieth century is unable to get any of his work translated correctly onto film? Oh yes, there have been some feeble attempts that credit his work but really don't truthfully follow his story line, or others that liberally borrow from this writings without really connecting with the true and horrible terror behind his work.
In 'The Call of Cthulhu' we finally have an honest and trustworthy attempt to capture the true indescrible horror and nature of Lovecraft's work. Leave it to his true fans, the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society to do what the large Hollywood studios have refused, or been afraid to do. It is filmed in old-fashioned silent movie fashion, which is not only perfect for the time period being depicted, but also perfectly done. There is a haunting, dream-like quality to this film that is absolutely mesmerizing. One is ultimately left to ponder whether the images being viewed are on the television screen or within the inner recesses of your mind. Truly a one-of-a-kind production!
Let's be honest, the horrific images and happenings that Lovecraft's writings inspire could never be matched on film. The human imagination will always be far superior to the images that can be provided on celloid. This film made in old fashioned silent film format comes as close as anything I have seen so far. I still hold out the hope that sometime in the near future a large studio with a big budget and an inspired director will do justice to this tale like Peter Jackson did with 'Lord of the Rings.' But until then, this is the consumate work!
My Highest Recommendation!
on June 6, 2006
The Call of Cthulhu, produced by the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society, is an interesting bit of amateur filmmaking. Much praise has been given for this silent film version of Lovecraft's short story, which is set in the 1920s.
It is an intriguing challenge: creating a black and white silent film for today's audience is a dicey proposition ; just look at all the iPoded simstim-heads out there, wearing white-wired headsets as a fashion statement. Then there is the one shoestring budget for an amateur production; how do you create special effects for a hypertechno-affectualized audience (probably still wearing their iPods)? It is a hard sell, and I am sure the audience draw for this is limited. But for those that can remove their iPods for a spell, enjoy some 'how the hell are we going to do that on this budget?' styled special effects, and allow themselves to drift into a well-directed (by Andrew Leman) excursion into classic horror, the reward is there.
The opening credits are a fun homage to Universal Studios 1929 globe circled by biplane logo, combined with a retro-look text that evokes the opening credits of earlier horror films. The onscreen intertitles, used to convey dialog and narrate story points, are done with exacting period detail. Toward the end of the film, though, one or two intertitles were flashed on screen too quickly to be read properly (okay, at least by me, anyway).
While I can quibble with some things, like merchant marine sailors wearing clean, pressed clothes and spotlessly white and uncrumpled caps, and everybody, except for the Cthulhu swamp worshippers that is, looking so darn clean cut and unrumpled, the film overall is a wonderful work of art. It captures the building sense of terror in the story, and Lovecraft's fatalistic mood, as no other, more lavish, production has. This is a credit to the actors, whose performances are greatly enhanced by the lack of dialog sound, and superbly aided by the moody score.
As I watched this film, I was reminded of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari . Here, the use of close-ups and tightly framed shots, along with an occasional dutch shot (horizon not parallel to the frame), overshadow the low-budgeted sets. The island where the ill-fated crew meets the big C, with it's expressionistic, starkly angular landscaping, like the streets where Dr. Caligari and Cesare prowled, is imaginative and creepy.
The Tale of Inspector Legrasse segment of the film, which corresponds to the same section in the short story, is nicely handled on that one shoestring budget. David Mersault is a great choice to play Legrasse. His look and manner are spot-on, and the mist-shrouded swamp encounter with the "indescribable horde of human abnormality" worshippers of Cthulhu and the Great Old Ones, is an exciting mix of scoring, model and greenscreen work, and full-scale set design. The only fault I can find with the scene is that it lacks more kinetic energy in the fight scenes, both within the separate scenes themselves, and in how the scenes are intercut. What should be a bloody knock down and drag out affair comes off a little luke-warm. The lack of combatants--there's that small budget again--also minimizes the intensity of the confrontation.
The climactic confrontation between Cthulhu and the ill-fated sailors, The Madness from the Sea segment of the film corresponding to the same section in the short story, is another fine example of doing much with little. Again, model and greenscreen work, and imaginative, full-scale sets combine to realize the otherworldliness of Cthulhu and his "hideous monolith-crowned citadel" jutting up from the sea. The use of stop-motion to portray Cthulhu, for the most part, does not work well here, and should have been eschewed for a more shadowy, mostly hidden from view perspective of the thing that "cannot be described - there is no language for such abysms of shrieking and immemorial lunacy, such eldritch contradictions of all matter, force, and cosmic order."
The documentary on the DVD describes the tenacity, angst, and artistic juryrigging that made this film a reality. It also provides an informative introduction to the Lovecraftianites that would not let a miniscule budget stand in their way. The Call of Cthulhu is an entertaining and faithful cinematic version of the classic story, and required viewing by any self-proclaimed Lovecraft aficianado.
on December 17, 2005
Even though I love this film, I rated it three stars (actually three and a half) instead of five. For me, the major problem here is that the last half of the film probably won't make much sense to anyone who isn't familiar with the source material. If you're not already a Lovecraft fan, this video probably won't work for you.
However, if you are a Lovecraft fan (and I am; he's practically my patron saint) this DVD is a must-have item. While the videomakers were just trying to work around the severe restrictions of a shoestring budget, the gimmick of making a faux silent film of the late 1920's works wonderfully and adds to the feeling of a dark secret emerging from the past. Moreover, it provides the perfect excuse for setting the film in Lovecraft's day rather than the modern era, and frankly I just don't think this story would work very well if it were set in contemporary times. Much of the videography is very striking. The special effects are crude, even amateurish at times, but a real silent film of that era probably would not have done much better. And the sets for the sunken city of R'leyh work! I never would have thought that someone with practically no budget to work with could communicated the feeling of a city with twisted geometry and distorted space and time so well. What is more, the voodoo orgy really does give the feeling of a primitive, bloody ritual. There are moments when it's obvious that this was shot on videotape rather than film, but fortunately they're not distracting or intrusive enough to break the illusion of watching an old, silent film.
The extras are very interesting and amusing, too. The "making of" documentary is more than half as long as the video itself, and the excerpts of Cthulhu emerging from his lair are interesting.
Never heard of or couldn't care less about Lovecraft? This probably isn't for you, unless maybe you're a silent film buff. But if you are Lovecraft fan, ya gotta have this DVD.
on November 7, 2011
I enjoyed this black and white rendition of the Call of Cthulhu. It felt true to Lovecraft's spirit, and the images were wonderful even if they hadn't the CG effects we so rely upon now. The actual shape of Cthulhu had a splendid alien morphology. The movie is short, so settle down now and enjoy the dramatic music, cardboard sets and the shaken blankets used to mimic the motion of the sea!
on October 6, 2012
Lovecraft's work has been a pleasure of mine since childhood but--like many others posting here--I've always been disappointed by efforts to bring his work to the screen. The principal reason, I think, is that much of the power of Lovecraft's fiction lies in what is implied, not what is shown or described, and even when the text is specifically descriptive in Lovecraft's work, the superiority of print over image comes into play, since we can imagine a horror derived from narrative far more awful (in the old, 'fearsome and awe-inspiring' sense of 'awful') than what even the best modern Hollywood special effects team can produce. In his fiction, Lovecraft often refers to the shortcomings of the finite, human mind to fully grasp the sheer cosmic magnitude of the forces in play. Lovecraft's work deals with vast enormities of time, for example: billions upon billions of 'strange aeons'. He writes about alien beings who are, well, completely alien to the human experience. Lovecraft's writing style, seemingly cumbersome at first, is solely devised to evoke moods and sensations, almost like a separate language of his own creation. The closest comparison I can make to the intent of Lovecraft's writing style is that of literary icon Henry James, strangely enough. Both Lovecraft and James are masters of the implicit and indirect, although I very much doubt James would appreciate the comparison.
Anyway, Lovecraft's work doesn't translate well to film for lots of reasons. This film, however, came close. The only time the project failed, in my view, was when the budgetary constraints became evident, especially when attempting to depict C'thulu which were clunky and amateurish even by low-budget standards. That said, the cult worshiper sequence in the swamp was first-rate film-making, and the use of a silent-movie approach as a story vehicle was downright inspired. Budget-related faults aside, I strongly recommend this movie to anyone who loves Lovecraft. You won't be disappointed. For once.
on December 14, 2005
I am a fan of Lovecraft, of the Val Lewton school of film-making, of the black and white version of The Outer Limits... essentially THE CALL OF CTHULHU would have had to be abysmal to not get at least a star and a half out of me. However, it is absolutely astonishing what the HPLHS crew has done with it!
A story that could well have been stodgy and static (I've often thought it could best be realized as a one-man presentation, sans sfx!) was instead fluid, suspenseful, eerie; undoubtedly the best Lovecraft adaptation I have ever seen, far superior to all the "professional" productions of the Old Gent's work.
I have very little complaint with the acting; some reviews have mentioned wooden performers, but I could not disagree more with that assessment. The scriptwriter has brilliantly solved the problems in bringing this story to the screen, beginning with the decision to make it a silent film! I recall Dan O'Bannon once stating that he couldn't get beyond Cthulhu's appearance, but Branney's framing story and finale brings the tale to a satisfying, frisson-inducing end. The Lovecraft quotes at the finish have a delightfully chilling resonance, exactly what Lovecraft himself would have hoped for, I'm sure.
Cthulhu, seen only in brief glimpses and largely manifested through shadow and the reactions of the actors faced with the horror, could not have been more alien. The animation process itself makes the entity bizarre and anomalous (see Outer Limits' "Zanti Misfits" or "It Crawled Out of the Woodwork" for other examples).
Only the fight scenes in the swamp seemed a bit ridiculous, quite stiff, underchoreographed, perhaps... but the slow crescendo of atmosphere during Castro's grim interrogation makes up for that in spades.
The Lewtonian shadows, the Ditko-esque sets, the Expressionist direction: A work of art! A must-own for any Lovecraftian or fan of the bizarre.
on July 9, 2013
The Call of Cthulhu is just about the most un-filmable story their is but these guys & Gals did it.
CoC is a fan film made with cardboard, canvass, scaffolding and glitter, plus a lot of devoted people.
If your making a film and feel like bitching about your project not having the finances & resources to fully express your genius then look at this film and SHUT UP! build a bridge over yourself and get on with making your damn film.
These people filmed the un-filmable, sunken cities rising from the ocean, multi-tentacled monsters rammed by ships, no sound, a lot of cork and a budget of only 50,000.
on September 23, 2013
This is a very well done fan movie.
If you're looking for Hollywood production values and Academy Award level acting then you'll be disappointed.
The BW with wear film effects are well done, and the costumes are first rate. There are occasional anachronistic glimpses, but the add to the charm of the film.
If you a Call of Cthulhu gamer looking for context or trying to set the context for a LARP this is a good starting point.