Every so often a movie arrives and reminds me of the old cliché, "don't judge a book by its cover." Directed by Henry Saine from a script by writer/producer/co-star Devin McGinn, "The Last Lovecraft: Relic of Cthulhu" is another justifier of that adage. Sporting a mediocre Photoshop montage of all the film's key events, it screams, "bargain basement dreck." Lovingly inspired by the works of H.P. Lovecraft, McGinn crafts a genuinely goofy, modern handling of the horrors put to page by the pen of Lovecraft, but with the twist that Lovecraft's writings were a warning to humanity disguised as fiction. When Cthulhu's general Star-spawn returns to Earth in an attempt to reunite the broken titular artifact, thus raising R'lyeh from it's watery tomb and allowing Cthulhu to rule the planet he was banished from centuries earlier; humanity depends on Lovecraft's last surviving heir, Jeff (Kyle Davis), a passive office drone. Thrust into action, Jeff enlists the help of best friend Charlie (McGinn) and Paul (Barak Hardley), a thirty something Lovecraft aficionado from their high school days, who still lives at home with his profane grandmother.
"The Last Lovecraft" is a slow build to the comedy, taking a dicey risk on setting up a sizeable back-story, paying homage to the works of Lovecraft with clever care, introducing Star-spawn in a splatter inducing scare sequence, and having comic book nerd Charlie fill the clueless Paul in on Lovecraft's world in amazing abridged fashion through the use of a very funny animated comic book sequence. I can't think of another film that has Cthulhu ripping dinosaurs in pieces, while the Old Gods' Soggoths are wiped out by a giant meteor. McGinn and Saine want the audience, namely Lovecraft fans to know they care about the material and while it's impossible to get too deeply into the mythos, that all the creepy cults and sea beasts came from a very creative mind, decades earlier.
I won't say the film hade me laughing at every turn; there are a few very hearty chuckles to be had. It does do a very fine job of keeping you smiling, while managing to draw on Lovecraft's terror for a jump or gross reminder of the perils nipping at the heels of our heroes. Our trio are for the most part, genuinely funny, with Davis and McGinn feeling like an old married couple, while Hardley does his best as the bumbling, oafish nerd. If the film has a weak point, he's it; a little stiff at times and not as quick when it comes to comic timing. Strangely a cameo by Martin Starr (best remembered as Bill Haverchuck on "Freaks and Geeks") as Paul's equally nerdy, infantile friend will make viewers wonder why Starr wasn't handed the bigger part, as his abilities are never in question. Fortunately, the final comedic addition, Captain Olaf (Gregg Lawrence), injects what Hardley lacks and then some.
Tying our heroes' quest with their mysterious pursuers, Olaf is a funny spin on the crusty old sage of the horror genre. Obviously insane, Jeff and Charlie still need his help, as he's the only man to fight one of Cthulhu's minions and live to tell the tale. I don't want to spoil any of the surprises, but Olaf's matter-of-fact remembrance of an intimate violation by a horrid sea beast strangely bonds the slimy factor of Lovecraft's creatures and the film's sometimes-juvenile (and dark) comedic tone. Throughout the quest, Saine peppers gaps with sequences involving Star-spawn and a menagerie of creatures. The effects work is far from A-level, but still squirm inducing. A few highlights include retractable tentacles in his palms that easily shoot through the heads of nameless fodder, and a beastly minion that does lose some credibility when Saine highlights the artificial costume in full light as opposed to keeping it in the shadows, where its form is distinguishable but details are unknown. Saine doesn't shy away from gore (nothing over-the-top, but still bloody) and the result is a very R-rated comedy.
While I may have a heavy bias when it comes to the works of Lovecraft, non-fans should still find "The Last Lovecraft" a fun diversion. Running shy of the 80-minute mark (including credits), McGinn and Saine know not to stretch a concept too thin, which sometimes works to their disadvantage, as a few gags could have been more fully developed. If I were forced to encapsulate just what the movie was to a non-Lovecraft fan, I'd tell them to think of the Frog Brothers from "The Lost Boys," and to apply that concept slightly toned down to an un-ironic menace and season it with a healthy dose of slapstick. Hopefully, the teased idea for a sequel some day is realized, whether it is another independent film, animated feature, or comic book, as "The Last Lovecraft" is most assuredly an ambitious success.
The 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is a solid effort for a lower budget impendent film. Aliasing is the biggest issue, appearing subtly but noticeably nonetheless. Color levels feel natural, while contrast levels are a bit on the high side, with the nighttime finale rendering blacks just a hair on the dark, dark grey side. Detail is consistently above average, which actually makes reveals a little too much sheen on the synthetic monster costumes.
The Dolby Digital English 5.1 audio track is effective in action sequences, with the film's few jump scares giving your system a kick, as do the gunshots fired by our heroes. There are a few times where dialogue winds up being a little muddled, and there's one glaring instance of over amplified ADR work. Spanish subtitles and English subtitles for the hearing impaired are included.
Sporting a small, but worthwhile set of bonus features, "The Last Lovecraft" opens with a laid back commentary from Devin McGinn, Kyle Davis, and director Henry Saine. Saine also lends commentary to a "Pencil Test" animatic of the film's memorable comic book origin sequence. A solitary extended scene is included that is quite effective, bringing in some of the Cthulhu mythos, but it is obvious it broke the pacing of the final scene. A behind-the-scenes photo gallery and the film's original trailer round out the extras.
"The Last Lovecraft: Relic of Cthulhu" is a finely produced independent horror-comedy that never outstays its welcome and does a great job of providing entertainment for fans and non-fans of H.P. Lovecraft alike. I would advise a rental to those unfamiliar with Lovecraft's work as it's not for everyone, but you won't be lost as set-up is something McGinn and Saine excel at. For Lovecraft fans like myself, this is a nice modern spin on the master's mythos and wouldn't feel out of place on your shelf near Re-Animator. Recommended.