The first volume of The Lovecraft Collection contained several good adaptations of the stories of H. P. Lovecraft (read the full reivew here.) The second volume of the series takes a different tact, presenting a group of stories that are inspired by the writings of Lovecraft. The feature film is Rough Magik, a pilot episode from a series pitched to the BBC that was never picked up. It's an interesting concept and would have made a very good series. In addition there are four short movies and some nice bonus material making this second volume, Dreams of Cthulhu, a fitting sequel to the original.
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 2 - Dreams of Cthulhu:
Rough Magik (41 minutes): This pilot for an unmade BBC TV series is quite good. After a mother builds an altar to a strange and unearthly creature "The Sleeping God" and sacrifices her two children to it, a secret arm of the government is called in.
Led by the enigmatic Mr. Moon (Paul Darrow) this isn't the first time "The Sleeping God" has controlled people and made them perform horrific acts. The events are starting to occur with startling frequency, which causes Moon to seek out Kenneth Reese Warren (Gerrard McArthur), one of the last members of the "Night Scholars."
Told mostly through flashbacks, Moon drugs Warren and makes him relate the first time he encountered the effects of an ancient evil god, back when he was serving in the military during the Falkland Islands War. There he saw soldiers who were driven mad, as well as a man who isn't afraid of the invaders, or his British rescuers. They only have guns, which aren't really a threat to him.
This could have been a great series, and it's a shame the BBC didn't pick it up. Paul Darrow (from Blake's 7 fame) does a magnificent job and makes his character both a protagonist and strangely sinister. Justine Glenton steals the show as well as wonderfully setting up the horrific tone of the program as the mother who slaughters her children. Attractive and energetic, she has a marvelously creepy smile as she lovingly tells her children that the statue she's created is of the Sleeping God. "He sleeps. He Dreams. And he calls."
One of the aspects of the show that set it apart from other SF/Horror shows is that it's fairly clear from the beginning that the humans are fighting a loosing battle. This isn't a war that they can win; their goal is just to postpone the inevitable. This constant underdog feeling would have worked well in a horror show and it's a shame the show wasn't picked up.
A/V: The anamorphic 1.78:1 image looked good. The beginning and some of the British scenes were shot on film and the location shots were recorded on digital tape. The latter looks a little flat but nothing major. The colors were adequate but not exceptional and the detail was fine. The stereo soundtrack was about what one would expect. There was a little use made of the front soundstage, but not a lot.
Terrible Old Man (33 minutes): A modern-day telling of the Lovecraft tale. A trio of small time crooks are on the run after a botched robbery where an old lady was killed. Stopping at a diner in a small town, they see a strange old man pay for his coffee with a gold coin. Sensing an easy theft with a huge payoff, the group discovers where he lives and comes back that night. The resulting robbery is anything but easy.
This was another good adaptation. Director Bob Fugger did a good job building the suspense. During the whole film it feels like the crooks are rushing towards disaster which makes the movie engrossing. It's like a train wreck in slow motion, you just can't look away. The three criminals (Rene Defazio, Todd Sanderson, and Rock Moran) do a fairly good job of being worthless miscreants. They're unpleasant and argumentative and viewers won't feel sorry for them at the end. The makeup for the Terrible Old Man left something to be desired, but the sets used for his house was pretty eerie. This was a no-budget film (it's not even listed in the IMDB) that is quite well made. Something of a rarity.
A/V: The stereo audio track was fine, though the dialog was a bit muddled in places. It was hard to make out a few lines, but nothing major. There wasn't a lot of dynamic range and minimal use of the soundstage, but that didn't hamper my enjoyment of the film. The 1.78:1 image was anamorphically enhanced and looked pretty good. There was some minor aliasing throughout the movie but it was never distracting.
From Beyond (21 minutes): Bob Fugger returns with another ultra-low budget short that doesn't work as well as Terrible Old Man, but is still an interesting piece. A man visits a friend he wasn't seen in a long time after getting a mysterious message and discovers that the friend has created a "cursed electrical machine" that opens a pathway to another universe.
While this didn't grab me the way the previous short did, it was a faithful adaptation of the Lovecraft story. Fugger was able to once again create an eerie piece with almost no money. This could have easily been embarrassingly bad, but though there's some overacting the piece is quite enjoyable.
A/V: This was the only film that I thought looked below average. The widescreen anamorphic image was very soft and had a lot of grain. The colors were very muted too, which may be what the director had in mind. Instead of making the film look dark and mysterious though it made it look cheap. The stereo soundtrack fit the dialog-based film well.
Experiment 17 (5 minutes) and Experiment 18 (9 minutes): These two shorts hypothesize what might have happened if Adolph Hitler was able to obtain a copy of the Necronomicon by the Mad Arab Abdul Alhazred, a fictions book that appears in several of Lovecraft's stories. These films illustrate the last two experiments that were tired to unlock the power of the book.
This is a nice idea and the films are simple but work well, especially the second one. The first is a little too predictable, but the set up is interesting and a bit eerie. Experiment 18 is a nice work that is mysterious and creepy.
A/V: These two black and white films were purposefully scratchy with a lot of grain to make them appear like the sole surviving prints of a Nazi experiment. They succeeded in that, and the full frame image, though it was very soft at times, was fine. The stereo audio (or possibly two channel mono) was fine, though also artificially aged as well.
This is a re-issue of this collection. The first pressings, which were released in 2004, had poor sound which has been corrected. There were also a pair of heavy metal rock videos from songs inspired by Lovecraft that are missing on this disc. They were replaced with the two "Experiment" shorts.
This disc also has an interview with Lovecraft scholar S. T. Joshi that lasts a bit less than 10 minutes. This time around Joshi talks about Lovecraft's life, the things that influenced his writing, and his personal philosophy. It's interesting to note that he doesn't mention Lovecraft's strong racist views.
There's also a 17-minute interview with the cast and crew of Terrible Old Man. They talk about the genesis of the project as well as the shoot itself.
The bonus material is wrapped up with a commentary to Rough Magik by writer/producer Steven W. Parsons. Parsons is a little dry in his delivery, it often sounds like he's reading from a script, but he does have some interesting things to say. He not only talks about the production and difficulties with the shoot (he and the director clashed and the director eventually walked off the project) but also how the show was going to evolve and the various story ideas that they had. This is a commentary that's worth listening to.
This was another intriguing volume this some excellent offerings.
The main feature, Rough Magik would have made a great show (though I hate
the title and the way they spelled "Magik") and could have possibly been
another X-files if given the chance. The shorts were all good too,
and Terrible Old Man was very entertaining. It just goes to show
what you can do with even on a shoe-string budget. While I did enjoy
the first volume just a bit more, this one is still highly recommended,
expecially for Lovecraft fans.