The works of venerable horror writer H.P. Lovecraft have, in some ways, become the backbone of the genre, especially cinematic horror. An astonishing number of relatively contemporary horror flicks and genre TV shows--everything from 1965's DIE, MONSTER, DIE through Rod Serling's series THE NIGHT GALLERY (1970s) to Sam Raimi's THE EVIL DEAD (1981) and beyond--have either borrowed elements from Lovecraft's literary mythos or attempted to adapt one of his stories.
In spite of Lovecraft's unquestionable influence on the genre, few filmmakers have been able to accurately or faithfully translate the writer's works to either the small or large screen. At best, most attempts to adapt Lovecraft either vaguely evoke the nihilistic subtext of the author's work (e.g., Stuart Gordon's 1985 classic RE-ANIMATOR) or pay simple homage by making a reference or two (as Raimi does by building his EVIL DEAD stories around Lovecraft's ubiquitous fictional book of the occult, the Necronomicon). Until now, that is. Under the guidance of director Andrew Leman and screenwriter Sean Branney, the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society has filmed and released a little film entitled THE CALL OF CTHULHU (2005), based on the author's story of the same name. And it is being praised by critics and fans alike as being one of the most faithful Lovecraft cinematic adaptations ever.
The film follows the three-part narrative construction of Lovecraft's original story, using flashbacks and similar devices to shift back and forth to various time frames. The story centers on a young man who has inherited his late great-uncle's research documents pertaining to the Cthulhu Cult. Intrigued by his uncle's obsession with the cult, the nephew studies the documents closely and pieces together the dread implications of the research, and soon after he himself resumes his uncle's investigation of the Cthulhu Cult. When he finally understands the dreadful and disturbing reality of what his uncle has uncovered, his own sanity begins to crumble. Unable to cope and ultimately institutionalized, he passes the information on to his psychiatrist, who in turn hears Cthulhu's call....
In a daring but clever and creative move, filmmakers Leman and Branney decided to cinematically adapt Lovecraft's influential 1925 horror story THE CALL OF CTHULHU in the form of a faux early silent film, complete with black-and-white photography, title cards for dialogue, and a classical music score. There are even artificial scratches and wear marks, making it appear as if the film were indeed made in mid-1920s--the period in which Lovecraft wrote many of his famous works--and only recently pulled from the studio vaults and dusted off for posterity. By making the film look like a product of 1925 instead of one from 2005, the filmmakers have been able to utilize old-school FX like stop-motion animation, in-the-camera trick-photography, and miniatures, avoiding the temptation to heavily rely on CGI and other high-tech contrivances that could bog the film down and cause distraction or deviation from the actual story. The result is a "vintage" film that draws the audience into another place AND another time as it faithfully unfurls Lovecraft's tale of ancient mystery and hair-raising horror.
The cast does an excellent job in realizing director Leman's Lovecraftian vision and writer Branney's script. Acting in a silent film requires skills foreign to most contemporary actors, and it is consequently a dying art. Yet the performances in THE CALL OF CTHULHU are very effective. Especially good are Matt Foyer, who portrays the nephew, and Noah Wagner, who plays the captain of an ill-fated island expedition. It is obvious that, before stepping before the camera, both actors carefully studied classic silent cinema to learn the pantomime and exaggerated facial expressions required to relay emotion without the benefit of sound. Not only do they and their fellow actors do an on-target job of recreating the "feel" of a genuine film from the Silver Screen's silent era, they also do a great job of acting and thereby create a credible populace for the world of Lovecraft's mythos.
In addition, the special FX by Dan Novy and crew are very well executed and totally believable within the context of the film. Dream sequences are reminiscent of the German Expressionist silent classic THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI (1920), and the stop-motion sequences are a clear nod to the master of the form, Ray Harryhausen. True, some of the sets and FX are obviously of the low-budget ilk, but this really only adds to the overall old-school charm of the flick.
The DVD edition of THE CALL OF CTHULHU from Lurker Films is well worth the price of admission. Not only does it offer a pristine digital transfer of the faux silent-era flick, it also offers a very interesting making-of documentary (with sound) that features some behind-the-scene footage and interviews with cast and crew. Even the menu screens on this disc are cool, evoking the style of the art-deco movie houses of the 1920s and 1930s. This DVD is a must-have for fans of Lovecraft, and it will make a fine addition to the film collection of any true fan of horror cinema.