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Call of Cthulhu, The

Reviewed By Scott Weinberg
Posted 01/27/06 18:14:55

"The finest Lovecraft adaptation I've ever seen. (By far.)"
5 stars (Awesome)

SCREENED AT THE 2006 SLAMDANCE FILM FESTIVAL: I traveled over 2,000 miles to cover a film festival, and one of the very best movies I saw was this: a 47-minute silent feature put together by a group of hardcore H.P. Lovecraft fanatics. Strange but true, movie fans.

When we horror geeks get together and the topic of Lovecraftian cinema comes up, we generally end up chatting about the works of Stuart Gordon, specifically Re-Animator, From Beyond, and Dagon. All good flicks, to be sure, and they obviously come from a filmmaker who adores the works, the style, and the mood of H.P. Lovecraft -- but they're not exactly what you'd call "faithful" adaptations. They're more "inspired by" projects, although ones that any horror fan would be happy to sit through.

The Call of Cthulhu, on the other hand, is absolutely a Lovecraft adaptation -- and it's an entirely awesome expenditure of 47 minutes. Halfway through this lovingly crafted and wonderfully reverent mini-movie I leaned over to a critical colleague and said "Dude ... this is some really good stuff!" His response: "It absolutely is! Who put this thing together??"

Andrew Leman and Sean Branney, creators of the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society, are who put this thing together -- and if every "fan-made" movie were this curiously cool and bizarrely entertaining, well, it'd put a lot of Hollywood suits out of a job.

Faithful to its inspiration in a truly admirable fashion, The Call of Cthulhu is about a young man who's just gained the responsibility of his late uncle's estate. It's not long before he discovers a really creepy story hidden within his uncle's journals, becomes obsessed with discovering the truth behind the monstrous myths, and heads off to interview the few remaining people who might know the truth.

Suffice to say the mystery has to do with secret cults, haunted islands, and a monster so ancient and terrifying it simply defies description.

"So terrifying it defies description" is exactly the sort of stuff that Lovecraft loved to write about, which is why it's been so hard for filmmakers to turn his most beloved stories into successful films. Characters that "defy description" generally turn out as "slimy and silly" when they're created for a movie set, and it seems that, over the years, horror-makers have simply stopped trying to adapt Lovecraft with any sort of faithful accuracy. I guess it just needed to be done by folks so in love with the author's work that they actually run an organization called "The H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society."

I could rant and rave about the silent movie "gimmick" or the drop-dead wonderful musical score; the painstakingly difficult work that comes with the "old-school" look of the movie; or the wonderfully dreadful atmosphere that bubbles up from every frame of the flick, but you'll just have to trust me on this one, Lovecrafters: The Call of Cthulhu is the first "true" adaptation of the author's work, and it's evidence of a group of dedicated geeks who didn't want to just 'make a Lovecraft movie' -- they wanted to make a damn good one. And that's precisely what they did.

By hearkening back to an old-fashioned silent film approach, Leman & Branney struck upon a brilliant idea. Since much of Lovecraft's work is best translated with a sense of vagueness, subtlety, and theatricality, why NOT adapt "Cthulhu" as a 1920's-style 2-reeler? Call it a gimmick if you like, but I'll take a seriously successful gimmick flick over a big-budget, feature-length yawnfest, any day. (For more info on the flick (and Lovecraft in general), take a click to www.cthulhulives.org)

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