Thursday, 25 October 2018
Hallowe'en Horror Movies - The Call of Cthulhu (2005)
Since my last HHM was a low-budget silent film, why not have another one? The H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society has a well-deserved reputation for high-quality audio adaptations of Lovecraft's tales.
It was bold, to say the least, of this group of amateurs to make a film of one of ol' Howie's more cerebral tales. It was also quite clever, though, when you think about it. There are only two big scenes - the swamp cultists, and the confrontation between the sailors and Big C himself/itself. The rest is a very traditional narrative, the 'piecing together' of a story too vast and terrifying to be more than glimpsed.
What the Society team do is use humour, some clever techniques, nice set-dressing, and a bit of good location work to give the film a classy feel. We are sometimes in Providence, R.I, mostly on Hollywood sound stages, and we get good model work with split-screen and stop-motion. It's the kind of adaptation an early film maker might have attempted if Lovecraft had been hugely successful in his lifetime. Surprisingly, they even pull off the effect of 'unearthly geometry' swallowing a hapless seafarer at one point.
This is a short film - only 47 mins - and that feels about right. We begin with a doctor talking to Thurston about the documents he inherited from his uncle, Professor George Gammell Angel. Cue the first flashback, and the various components of the tale are assembled, just like the jigsaw Thurston completes in the opening scene. I liked the old-school theatrical make-up and the use of title cards to convey much of Lovecraft's fine phrases. There are also some fine props, such as a weird key used to open Angell's trunk.
Any flaws in the film are really due to the original material, not any failing in the script. There are heroic attempts to dramatise a man spending a lot of time looking for things in various places, and talking to people to get second- or third-hand information. The actors, for my money, are pretty good, in some cases excellent, especially the bold Inspector Legrasse, the sailors, and of course Angell himself. The fight between Legrasse's police and the cultists is a little weak, but fight arranging is not easy or cheap, and the stylised approach fits the overall theme of retro-cinema.
The proof of the gelatinous pudding, of course, is the landing on R'lyeh, which is a triumph of creativity over poverty. Here there is a major change, with the crew of the Emma simply finding the Alert drifting, apparently abandoned. It's implicit that the cultists have already fallen victim to their own deity. The innocent men go ashore and Cthulhu is revealed - and is not a disappointment. Stop-motion monsters were part of my childhood, and while this is not up to Harryhausen standards, it is still pretty good. Especially well handled is the moment when Johannsen pierces the fetid colossus with the bowsprit of the Alert.
So, if you have well under an hour to spare, why not check this one out? Even if you're not a Lovecraft fan, it's good, mind-blasting fun.