The fourth volume from the H. P. Lovecraft collection has been re-released,
and it takes a slightly different tact than the previous installments.
This time the three versions of the same story, Pickman's Model,
are presented and it makes for some very interesting viewing. All
three films are unique and while one doesn't work as well as the others,
it is fun to see how Lovecraft's story, and especially the role of Pickman
himself, is adapted by three different directors on three continents.
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.
Volume 4: Pickman's Model
One of the more well known Lovecraft stories, Pickman's Model has
never been a favorite of mine though I don't dislike it. The story,
as Lovecraft wrote it, is a monolog given by a man named Thurber to his
companion Eliot concerning a mutual friend of theirs, Richard Upton Pickman.
Pickman was an artist who painted disturbing images, grotesque but realistic
pictures of inhuman creatures, and he had recently disappeared after being
shunned by the local art circles. In the story, Thruber tells of
the last time he saw Pickman, and how his artist friend took him to a secret
studio in an old and run-down section of town. Once there they go
into the basement where Pickman does his work. There is an ancient
well in the floor, but more unusual than that are the bizarre and monstrous
painting that the artist has created. They fill Thurber with terror,
and their depictions of monster that live underground and haunt basements
and subways are so real as to cause Thurber to never again go underground.
The real horror however, is when Thurber discovers where Pickman gets his
The three main films on this disc all use the same story for inspiration
but develop it differently. All three have their merits and are worth
Chilean Gothic (46 minutes):
This featured film was made for broadcast on TV in Chile, has the largest
budget on the disc, and is the most impressive. Having more time
and money to work with, the creator's expanded Lovecraft's story, adding
more characters and events to make Pickman's tale more horrific.
This version revolves around a reporter, Gabriel (Rodrigo Sepúlveda),
who is looking to establish the circumstances surrounding the death of
his friend, Anibal. All he knows is that his friend was spending
time with an artist, Richard Upton Pickman, who can't be located.
He tracks down Pickman's only friend, an old professor, and his ex-land
lord, who both give him clues and hints about the artist's personality
and where he has gone. Gabriel tracks the reclusive man down, but he soon
wishes that he hadn't.
This version worked very well and has a feeling of dread and foreboding
running throughout it, much like Lovecraft's story. The director
wisely leaves much of the horror off screen, including Pickman's drawings.
The viewer's imagination is can come up with something much more intense
than any painting and that helps add to the suspense of the piece.
This is an excellent version of the tale that uses the story as a starting
point and alters it to fit a different media. Just what the best
A/V: The 1.66:1 color image was a little grainy and was
on the soft side, but these flaws actually worked in the film's favor,
enhancing the spooky aspect of the movie. The stereo Spanish soundtrack
is fine, and English subtitles are available.
Pickman's Model (Italy) (31 minutes): An
excellent adaptation of Lovecraft's story. Starting with an eerie
scene of Pickman hiring a model and taking her to his basement, the narrative
changes a few of the details but keeps the feel of the original.
Pickman is a lame and creepy man which adds a lot to the story, and the
director came up with a nice way to illustrate Pickman's horrid paintings:
instead of trying to come up with an image as scary as those described
in the story, the art is represented by a series of fast flashing horrific
images. Not being able to focus on any one, it creates a creepy felling
that is very effective. The ending was also very well done.
The best version of the story on this disc.
A/V: The full 1.78:1 anamorphic color image looked like
it was recorded on digital tape. There was a lot of aliasing and
fine lines had a tendency to shimmer when the camera panned over them.
There was a lot of digital noise too, especially on the blank canvas in
the basement. The Italian 5.1 surround sound was effective though
with the music filling the room nicely and creating an eerie atmosphere.
There are optional English subtitles.
Pickman's Model (Texas) (30 minutes):
This student film was made in 1981 by an RTF student at my alma-mater,
UT Austin, and because of that the first film that I screened from this
disc. Unfortunately is feels like a student film. Filmed in
black and white, the sets are always a bit too bright; making the basement
Pickman brings his friend to look like a quickly decorated set. The
acting is likewise not that impressive with both Pickman and Thurber.
What's most troublesome though is that the ending didn't work well...where
Lovecraft's story ends abruptly with a shock; this one drags on after the
revelation at the end which makes it even less effective. This
was also the only film to actually let viewers get a good look at Pickman's
paintings, another poor choice as they look rather amateurish instead of
A/V: The full frame black and white image was a bit grainy
and on the soft side, but it was otherwise fine.
Between the Stars (6 minutes): Based
on a line from an unfinished Lovecraft story, this short film concerns
a man who's only escape was looking at the stars at night. A rather
odd film, it was fun to watch even if it was a bit pointless.
A/V: The 1.66:1 B&W image suffered from some digital
artifacts, mosquito noise mainly, but otherwise was fine.
In the Vault (6 minutes): A CGI
animated short about a bitter grave digger, George, who didn't do his job
very well and ended up paying for it. It's a very loose adaptation
and the director decided to add some humorous sections, like George pissing
on a casket before covering it with dirt. This didn't suit the mood
of Lovecraft's at all and made the cartoon lighter than it should have
been. The animation style is rather dated too, and looks like something
from a videogame rather than a film.
A/V: The computer graphic look good on the full frame image.
Not spectacular, but good.
Also included on this disc are a couple of nice bonus features.
The first one is a ten-minute interview with authors Ramsey Campbell and
Robert B. Price, two fans of Lovecraft who talk about his work, its place
in literature, and how it affected them. They have some interesting
things to say and its worth watching. There also two introductions
by Campbell and Price that were shown before films at the H. P. Lovecraft
Festival one year. They're very short but fun.
The disc also comes with a nice 8-page booklet that includes essays
on all the films.
This is another fine collection of films based on the works of H. P.
Lovecraft. Presenting three versions of the same story make this
one of the most interesting volumes in the series. The approaches
are so different the disc never gets boring, even when watching the same
tale three times in a row. This is a great series and well worth
checking out. A strong Recommendation.