H. P. Lovecraft was a very influential author, and though he never achieved commercial success in his lifetime, his writing still inspires authors to this day. Lovecraft's most famous works revolve around his Cthulhu Mythos, a group of short stories dealing with powerful aliens who arrived on Earth before mankind evolved. These stories are written in a rather obtuse style, using antiquated spellings and words unfamiliar to the general public, but have a wonderfully eerie sense of foreboding with indescribable horrors lurking around every corner.
Because of the style of his writings and the way the stories unfold, there hasn't been a movie based on Lovecraft's works that really captures the feel and tone of the original. Until now that is. The H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society, has faithfully adapted one of Lovecraft's most famous (and best) works, The Call of Cthulhu. Always considered one of his stories least likely to be able to be brought to film, the fact that an entertaining, engrossing and accurate adaptation was made is fairly astounding. The fact that this small group of enthusiastic fans has been able to craft such a quality film with a minuscule budget is amazing. This film looks and plays much better than it has any rights to.
One of the keys to the film's success is that the creators took an unusual approach to the production: the made it a silent black and white film. This little trick worked wonderfully, and using techniques and special effects that were employed in the silent era, this group has created a film that is definitely worth viewing.
This convoluted story starts with a dying man begging the executor of his will to destroy some documents and papers that the ill man discovered years ago. Told through a series of flashbacks, three at first seemingly unrelated stories are told concerning a man with horrible nightmares, a cult in the bayous of Louisianana, and a ship found in the South Pacific with only one crewman alive. When these stories are put together however, they reveal the existence of an ancient evil that still lives and is trying to consume the earth.
The scope of this story, with settings all over the world and a climax that involves the battle between a large steam ship and a giant monster, is rather large but this film manages to pull it off quite well. Credit for this goes to writer Sean Branney and director Andrew Leman who manage to use ingenuity and creativity, along with a lot of sweat and work, to make their production look much more elaborate than it really is.
One of the best scenes of the film takes place in the swamps near New Orleans. The swamp that a group of policemen trudge through in order to find a large number of cultists who have made human sacrifices is very good looking. It wasn't until watching the bonus features that I realized that it was mainly a model. The director frequently used forced perspective to make things look and feel much larger than they really were, most often with excellent results.
Since this was being shot in black and white, the sets and costumes
were very forgiving. Railing on the deck of a ship was constructed
with PVC pipe, and where it would look cheap and stupid in color, in monochrome
it looks authentic. The giant structures on the island of R'lyeh
were made from used set canvases, cardboard, and tape on a scaffolding
frame. In the film, it looks quite impressive.
The highlight of the movie is, of course, the appearance of the monster Cthulhu at the end. This giant horror was brought to life with stop motion animation. Though the movement was jerky and uneven, it fit in well with the tone and style of the movie and made for quite an impact. Like Lovecraft's stories themselves, the monster wasn't overused and only appears briefly. This may have been due to time and cost constraints associated with stop-motion animation, or it could have been a conscious decision on the part of the film makers, but in any case the short time that the creature is on screen actually adds to the eerie feeling of the film.
The cast was made up of non-SAG actors, and they did a good job overall.
Some of the acting was a little wooden, but they thankfully didn't purposefully
overact, something that the general public seems to think occurs in all
silent films. The captain of the steamboat played his role well,
and the crew member who goes mad after seeing what lives on R'lyeh was
The only real bad section of the film was the rather short fight sequence in the swamp. These battle scenes were crudely choreographed, and looked neither realistic nor exciting. It looked staged and artificial and took viewers out of the moment.
Fight scenes aside, this was a very impressive film. It really managed to capture the feeling of foreboding that permeate Lovecraft's writings and was faithful to the original work. It's been over a dozen years since I've read any Lovecraft stories, but seeing this has convinced me that I should reread some of his works. I can't give this film higher praise than that.
The stereo soundtrack consisted of a nice musical score and minimal sound effects. The synthesized orchestral score was scene specific and was very pleasing. It helped immerse viewers in the movie and captured the tone of the action on screen very well. You can listen to the music in a regular stereo mix, or in "Mythophonic"mode, which is a lower fidelity mix with added defects to make it sound like an unrestored old soundtrack. I found that a little silly.
There are title cards available in several languages. As a matter of fact, I can't think of any DVD that has more different tongues represented. You can view this movie in (get ready for it) Catalan, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Euskera, Finnish, French, Galician, German, Hungarian, Irish, Italian, Lithuanian, Luxmbourgish, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Spanish, Swedish, Turkish or Welsh. I guess people who only speak Hindi are out of luck.
The full frame black and white image looks good. The creators tout that this was filmed in "Mythoscope" which means that they added a small amount of defects to make this look like an older film than it really is. There are some light scratches, black spots, and occasionally a hair will find itself caught in the projection mechanism. While I can see why the creators did this, I found it rather annoying. When silent films where first shown they didn't have these defects, and neither do most of the best restorations. I found the idea of adding defects counterproductive, but it wasn't distracting. (Well, not very distracting.)
Aside from that, the image was clear and crisp, and the level of contrast was excellent. There were no digital defects either. The only things marring the picture were those artifacts that the creators added themselves.
This disc has a couple of nice extras. There is a trailer, several deleted scenes including more shots of Cthulhu, and a very nice 25 minute making of featurette that shows how they created such a quality movie on a low budget. There is also a series of .pdf files that contain prop documents used in the film. You can print them out on a computer with a DVD-Rom drive.
I was pleasantly surprised by this film. I read the story this was based on years ago, and while I was confident that the images could be filmed, I really doubted that the atmosphere that Lovecraft created with his prose could be reproduced on film. I was stunned at how well writer Sean Branney and director Andrew Leman were able to do just that. Made on a shoestring budget and with a non-union crew, they have created a film that is very eerie and enjoyable. A true testament to what can be accomplished with a lot of work and passion, but with limited funds. Highly Recommended.