Friday, February 23, 2007

Answering the Call of Cthulu

I discovered H.P. Lovecraft when the 1985 “Re-Animator” film came out on home video, followed the next year by “From Beyond.” Sure, they were low-budget films with bad acting and crappy effects - but I’ve been a longtime fan of “Doctor Who” and one thing that show taught me is this: you can forgive just about anything about the production quality so long as you’ve got a great story. I’m amazed at how pervasive Lovecraft’s ideas are in the modern horror-fantasy genre - yet his actual stories tend to be made into lackluster films. That’s probably because he wrote more about ideas than people. Heck, some of his characters don’t even get names!

I heard someone say a long time ago that his “masterpiece” work, the “Call of Cthulu,” was never going to be properly adapted to film. First of all it jumps all over the world and through time, so there’s the production cost issues of just getting the scenery right. The other problem is, well, it’s an H.P. Lovecraft story. Film makers and goers tend to like “character” stories, and Cthulu really isn’t one. So they stick a bunch of human-interest sub-plots onto Lovecraft’s story and Viola! You’ve turned it to crap and missed the nihilistic point of Lovecraft.

So I recently heard of a silent film adaptation of “Call of Cthulu” that I’m now quite interested in seeing. Granted, I’ve probably seen more silent films than your average film goer, thanks in part to my Film Studies courses in college, a friend who was majoring in Cinema, and the fact that I had rented pretty much every “talkie” at my local video store, and when I first got broadband I found a number of places online where I could watch all the old public-domain movies I wanted. I have to say, too, that Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis” is still among, not just my favorite silent films, but all-time favorite films. I’m not a purist about it though, I also like the Georgio Moroder version with the rock soundtrack. I’m all for anything that makes classics more attractive and accessible to a modern audience, lest they otherwise become forgotten entirely.

Well, it appears that “silent films” haven’t been forgotten. WIRED recently did a piece on the resurgence in production of silent films as a challenging sub-genre of film production. I also recently saw a silent sci-fi film made by Iowa college students that aired on my local cable access channel. Normally I don’t stop on cable access, but when you see a b&w film without any dialogue featuring a woman with a ray gun shooting at some kind of evil probe - well, I don’t know about you, but I just HAVE to see how that turns out! Unfortunately I never did find out what that project was called since I caught it after the opening credits. Well, back to the H.P. Lovecraft thing, a group in Chicago has now adapted “Call of Cthulu” to the silent film genre. I’ve only seen the trailer, but it looks like they got the feel of a 1920’s era silent movie down pretty well, and the film-makers claim that they were able to stay more true to Lovecraft’s story by not having to deal with character dialogue.

If you’d like to check it out, info and the trailer are on the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society web site.

On a related note, I was sad to see that Cthulu Coffee is closing up shop. I remember them at CONvergence 2003. You can still download PDF files of their MANY convention posters with clever slogans, as well as buy Cthulu logo goodies from their cafe press shop. Perhaps they’ll find someone who also loves Lovecraft and worships the “bean of darkness” to continue it?

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