Lurker films have released their fifth DVD collection of films based on the works of H.P. Lovecraft: Strange Aeons. All of the movies on this disc are low budget independent affairs, but they are all interesting in the way they approach Lovecraft's work. While some work better than others, they are all worth watching and the best of the lot are great. A disc that fans of the writer should seek out.
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 5: Strange Aeons:
Strange Aeons (77 minutes): This is an adaptation of the Lovecraft story "The Thing of the Doorstep." A college professor, Richard Upton (Grayson F. Kellmer), is surprised when his star pupil, Edward Derby (Erick Robertson), starts dating the daughter of his old mentor, Asenath Waite (Angela M. Grillo), and pretty much drops out of the program. It seems that the woman has a strange hold on Edward, and when they are married only months after they met, Upton really starts to get worried. He has good reason to be worried too. Unbeknownst to him, Asenath can switch bodies with people, and using Richard as her pawn she intends to open a dimensional rift and let one of the Dark Lords though into our dimension.
This film is a good attempt to bring a Lovecraft work to the screen, and it nearly works, but not quite. The film starts off rather slowly, where the original story has a great opening line that really grabs a reader's attention: "It is true that I have sent six bullets through the head of my best friend, and yet I hope to show by this statement that I am not his murderer." The movie starts with a man being locked away in a padded cell, then after a long credit sequence it moves to a class room lecture. Not exactly gripping.
The movie also drags in parts and feels padded. One of the problems is that the audience knows what's going on with Asenath taking over Edwards body, but the main character doesn't. So viewers get to see Upton bumble around for a while never quite realizing what's going on. This can be rather frustrating to watch.
The acting was generally mediocre. Kellmer and Robinson gave it a good shot and did a good job in the few scenes with a lot of emotion, but when they were called to stand around and give dialog it felt as if that's what they were doing, just reciting lines rather than living what was happening. The one exception was Angela Grillo who was menacing, sexy, and bitchy all at the same time. The movie was always interesting when she was on screen.
On the plus side, this movie did remain pretty faithful to the story and updated it to the present without changing it very much. It also has a nice atmosphere most of the time, where it feels like something is going to jump out at any moment, but never does.
A/V: This movie was shot with a digital video camera and it shows. The anamorphic 1.78:1 image has a lot of tell tail signs including a good amount of aliasing and jagged lines. The field of focus for the lens was a bit to narrow too, because the backgrounds are always too soft. Even with these problems the movie is watchable. The stereo soundtrack was about what one would expect. There was a little use made of the front soundstage, but not a lot.
From Beyond (9 minutes): This stop-motion animated film was my favorite on this disc. A man is invited to an old friend's house, and when he arrives finds an odd machine and a prerecorded message on a TV that tells him to sit down. As he does, the machine starts up and opens up a different and totally monstrous world.
Claymation is the perfect technique to bring some of Lovecraft's indescribably horrors to life, and this film does a wonderful job of that. It makes the creatures seem more 'real' than traditional animation and not as slick and artificial as CGI. This film is very creative with the way it portrays the alternate dimension, and the twist at the end works wonderfully. A brilliant piece.
A/V: 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, and the colors could have been a bit more vibrant. Overall it looked fine.
Maria's Hubris (13 minutes): Made in 2002, this short is also based on "The Thing on the Doorstep" and works better than the feature film. Though it cuts out more of the story, it gets to the heart of the piece and quickly tells the story it sets out to. The background music adds a lot to the eerie atmosphere of the piece.
A/V: The anamorphic (1.78:1) image is fine if a little soft and with some digital noise. Nothing major. The 5.1 audio is in German with burned in English subtitles, but the rears are hardly used.
Let Sleeping Gods Lie (16 seconds): A CGI animated trailer for an upcoming (?) movie. Very slick looking, but blink and you miss it.
Lovecraft (Trailer) (1 ½ minutes): a coming soon trailer for a documentary on Lovecraft. This clip features interviews with Neil Gaiman, Peter Straub, and director Guillermo del Toro among others. Looks like it will be a very interesting docu.
Don't Feed the Book (1 ½ minutes): An amusing cartoon about a man who walks into the wrong bookstore. Cute, but it doesn't really have a punch line.
This disc also has an interview with director John Carpenter who's a big fan of Lovecraft. He talks about why a lot of people don't 'get' his work and how hard it is to get a big-budget Lovecraft project off the ground. It only last 5 minutes, but it's pretty interesting. In addition there are a series of short spots that were shown at the H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival to open various programs. It was nice that they included these with the disc.
There's also a 9-minute behind the scenes look at the shooting of Strange Aeons. This is basically just footage of the cast and crew going about their business without any narration. Ehh. It didn't do too much for me.
The bonus material is wrapped up with a commentary to Strange Aeons by writer Kelly Young and director Eric Morgret. This is pretty good commentary. They talk about the casting, where the movie was shot, production problems, etc. It would be especially interesting for people who want to learn more about making a small budget film.
This disc is like having a film festival in your own living room. With shorts, interviews, behind-the-scenes featurettes and a full-length movie, it's a lot of fun working your way through it all. While the feature didn't work as well as I was hoping, it's still an interesting take on "The Thing on the Doorstep" and it definitely has its moments. The short "From Beyond" was brilliant, and the German short "Maria's Hubris" was also very good. This disc is well worth the price of admission, especially for fans of H. P. Lovecraft's writing.