It would be easy to write off H. P. Lovecraft as an over-rated hack.
After all, his plots are very simple more often than not, there's frequently
little in the way of character development, and his prose is turgid and
opaque. Indeed critics have raised all those points and more (especially
the way he labels a creature as indescribably horrific only to describe
it two pages later) but these people miss the point. Lovecraft's
strength, and the reason he's remembered today when so many of his contemporaries
are forgotten, is in his unique ability to create a horrific atmosphere
and a pervading sense of unease. No other writer has been able to
consistently generate a feeling of foreboding and discomfort the way Lovecraft
can. He's the father of modern horror fiction, and has influenced
such diverse writers as Stephen King and Batman scribe Denny O'Neil (who
named Gotham's Arkham Asylum after the fictions city of Arkham Massachusetts
which appears in Lovecraft's fiction.
Because of his prose style and the way he leaves much of the horror
to the readers imagination, Lovecraft's stories are innately difficult,
some would say impossible, to accurately adapt to other mediums, especially
a visual one like film. This hasn't stopped many people from trying,
and the results have been more often than not unsatisfactory, at least
as far as the feature films are concerned.
Lurker Films has now released a series of discs containing adaptations
of Lovecraft-inspired movies that do capture the horror master's style
and atmosphere on film. Known as The Lovecraft Collection,
each of these discs offers some interesting takes on Lovecraft's stories.
Cool Air (43 minutes): The
featured film on this disc is excellent. It is one of the better
Lovecraft adaptations around. When writer Randolph Carter moves to
New York City in the summer of 1925, he takes a room in a boarding house
run by an overbearing landlady. It's hot and muggy everywhere in
the city. Everywhere except for the room right above Carter's, which
is rented by the reclusive Dr. Murnoz, is unnaturally cool.
When Carter suffers a near-fatal heart attack, he manages to crawl up
to the Doctor's room before collapsing. Waking the next day, he discovers
he's in the man's cool, dry room. Murnoz has saved his life, and
the two men become friends. It turns out that the room is so cool
due to a strange machine that runs on ammonia, a sort of pump that cools
the air. This is required to keep the good Doctor alive, ever since
he contracted a rare disease years ago. When the machine fails however,
Carter will learn his friend's dark secret.
This was an excellent film. A faithful adaptation, it doesn't
try to mimic the story (though it does a good job of that) but rather to
recreate the feelings that reading the story evokes. Hearing the
Doctor's story viewers feel sad for the man trapped in a small room, and
the sympathy that the film evokes is even more pronounced than in the short
story. The climax of the movie was well done too, opting not to go
for cheap special effects the creators wisely left much of the visuals
to the viewer's imagination, just as Lovecraft often did.
Main character Randolph Carter (writer/producer/director Bryan Moore)
is rather wooden and unconvincing in some of the film, but Jack Donnor
(of Star Trek (the original series) fame) does a magnificent job as Dr.
Murnoz. He really caries the film an makes viewers feel sorry for
the man without getting rid of the creepy feeling that the man evokes.
The scene where he's telling of his past is heart-wrenching, but at the
same time he seems a bit sinister.
A/V: The full frame black and white image looks very good.
There is a lot of grain in the picture, as the creators intended, and a
few scratches that they didn't. (This occurred with the very first
screening of the film due to an inexperienced projectionist.) The
image has a good amount of detail and digital defects are minor.
The stereo soundtrack is excellent and really accents the mood that
the images are trying to create. The film makes good use of slow,
bass-heavy music to set the tone. An excellent example of how music
can really enhance a low budget film.
Nyarlathotep (13 minutes):
Based on a short prose-poem, this film tells of a Egyptian archeological
expedition that causes the God-King Nyarlathotep to arise. This ancient
being tours the world illustrating his magical powers and wreaking havoc.
A fair adaptation, the acting is a bit stilted in places but overall they
go a good job of capturing the mystery and fear of the piece.
A/V: The full frame black and white image has some grain
and scratches added in to make it fell like an older film. There
is a good mount of aliasing, especially in the background. The audio
is mixed a little low, and the narration is muddled and sometimes hard
An Imperfect Solution (16 minutes): Taken
from the same series of stories that the Re-animator films were adapted
from. A doctor has come up with a solution that he believes will
bring the dead back to life. He needs the right subject to prove
his theories though, and if he can't find the right corpse, ....he'll make
This was a very nice adaptation that was a lot of fun. It's set
in the 1920's, as the stories were, and they have more of the Lovecraft
flavor because of it. There's a nice sense of dread through most
of the film. My favorite of the shorts on this disc, Bob Poirier's
performance as Herbert West is excellent. It's just as I've always
A/V: The color full-frame image looked fine. The
colors were muted to create and old-time atmosphere, but the picture was
sharp with only some light aliasing to mar the otherwise fine presentation.
The Hound (18 minutes): This
is one of the more difficult stories to adapt, and though the creators
made a valiant attempt, the result isn't as satisfying as I was hoping.
The black and white film tells the story of two men who collect and study
unholy objects that they collect by robbing graves. On one such expedition
they take an unusual jade icon from around the neck of a long diseased
man who was rumored to be a ghoul. Afterwards they are pursued by
an unseen evil presence that turns deadly.
The tale is completely told with narration, a very close reading of
the Lovecraft story. The images that accompany Lovecraft's words
don't accurately illustrate what is being said. How could someone
(especially a filmmaker on a small budget) recreate the museum that the
pair had created? As Lovecraft described it:
Our museum was a blasphemous, unthinkable place, where with
the satanic taste of neurotic virtuosi we had assembled an universe of
terror and decay to excite our jaded sensibilities. It was a secret room,
far, far, underground; where huge winged daemons carven of basalt and onyx
vomited from wide grinning mouths weird green and orange light, and hidden
pneumatic pipes ruffled into kaleidoscopic dances of death the lines of
red charnel things hand in hand woven in voluminous black hangings.
In the film much of this description was omitted, but the "unthinkable
place" was just a dank basement with brick walls. Similarly the actors
didn't seem to convey the terror that the pair of men were experiencing
when the Hound was hunting them.
Still it is an admirable attempt, and the narrator does a very good
job of reading the story.
A/V: The non-anamorphic widescreen black and white image
was okay but not great. The white levels were slightly off which
caused some blooming at times. The detail was fine, and the black
levels were adequate. There was some aliasing in places but it was
never distracting. The stereo soundtrack had its problems however.
The narration was very muddled and it was hard to understand some of the
words at times. It isn't a fatal flaw, but it does take away some
of the enjoyment of the film.
The Hapless Antiquarian (7 minutes):
An A-B-C poem (A is for the Antiquarian.....B is for the Book....) of a book
collector who has the poor luck of discovering a copy the Necronomicon
in an old book story and the fate that befalls him. While not based
on a Lovecraft story, it was very cute and I was impressed that they were
able to follow the ABC format and rhyme scheme while telling a good, if
a bit simple, story.
A/V: The full frame sepia-toned image looked nice, if a
bit soft, and fit the subject matter well, as did the stereo soundtrack.
In addition to the five films, there are a number of nice bonus features.
First is Behind the Machine, a 25-minute look at the making of Cool
Air. The cast and crew are interviewed and they relate some interesting
anecdotes including how they had to break into the abandoned building that
they used to shoot the film.
The Lovecraft scholar S. T. Joshi is interviewed also, and he has a
lot to say. He talks about how Lovecraft's reputation has risen in
the last 30 years, and discusses the backgrounds to the stories that were
adapted in this volume.
The final two bonus items are Dunwhich 1927 and The Scroll.
Both of these are short humorous advertisements for the H. P. Lovecraft
There is also a nice 8-page insert that includes an interesting essay
about Lovecraft and his opinion of movies, as well as pieces about some
of the films presented on this disc.
As a Lovecraft fan, I enjoyed seeing these films that were obviously
made by others who appreciate the man's work. You don't have to be
a fan in order to enjoy these however. Most people who enjoy suspenseful
films that contain a feeling of dread rather than revulsion will appreciate
these offerings. Cool Air and An Imperfect Solution are excellent,
and the other movies are definitely worth watching. With over an
hour and a half worth of films and copious extras, this disc is Highly