Saturday, January 22, 2011

Weekend Movies, Part II

The Call of Cthulhu (2005)
H. P. Lovecraft (1890-1937) may very well be the father of modern science fiction horror. With a few notable exceptions (e.g., Herbert West: Reanimator) his stories often focused on the Old Ones; horrifying cosmic beings that came to Earth eons before humanity and continue to be worshiped by various cultists worldwide. Unfortunately, Lovecraft's stories have often been considered unfilmable with most attempts yielding mixed results.

In 2005 the H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society released The Call of Cthulhu. Realizing the limitations of their resources they decided to produce the film as if it had been made in 1926; the year in which the short story was written. The movie is in black and white and is silent. The few murky shots of Cthulhu are executed using a period-appropriate stop motion technique. Scenes of Cthulhu's island city of R'lyeh are created using simple but effective sets that wouldn't be out of place in a German expressionistic film like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920). Additionally, the film benefits from an efficient 47 minute running time.

With a few minor deviations, The Call of Cthulhu follows Lovecraft's original short story. A man recalls his investigations into the Cthulhu cult that had originally been the obsession of his recently deceased great uncle, who had been an archeologist. Although the story is not told in chronological order, his great uncle began his research in 1908 when a police inspector showed him a hideous idol and told him of the bloody cult ritual that he had broken up. Along with the cult, his great uncle began to research strange dreams of an ancient city and a horrifying creature that had been haunting people worldwide. All these unrelated events seemed to revolve around a creature called Cthulhu. The man picks up the investigation where his great uncle left off and eventually discovers that all evidence points to the reawakening of the creature. Finally the man finds the account of the sole survivor of a crew that had the misfortune of finding R'lyeh and the horror that lives on it.

This film was obviously a labor of love. Not only does it do Lovecraft's story justice, but the filmmakers also went out of their way to make the movie seem like it was from the appropriate era. Subtle details that I noticed included dark makeup around the actors' eyes and the use of focused light on a page to draw attention to specific words or passages. They even digitally inserted dust, flaws, and hairs to give the film the appearance of having been made in the 1920s. All this effort isn't completely able to hide the modern origin of the film: despite efforts to soften the image many scenes are too sharp to have been filmed in the 1920s and the higher frame rate of the modern camera (24 frames per second or higher versus 16-18 frames per second) better captures fast moving images (e.g., running actors, flames), which adversely affects the film's antique feel. These are minor complaints, though. I very much enjoyed the movie and look forward to more films from the H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society.

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