Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Microreview [film]: The Call of Cthulhu

The Meat

H.P. Lovecraft has a shaky inspirational track record when it comes to film. Most film adaptations of his fiction are abysmally bad, and this is all the more confusing when you consider how good almost everything else Lovecraft inspired is. Take, for simply two examples, Metallica from 1984 to 1986, and the career of Stephen King. What is it about Lovecraft's dense, intricate fiction that has made it so hard to adapt that probably the best Lovecraft adaptation is a movie that pretends to be something else entirely -- an Edgar Allan Poe adaptation? (The Haunted Palace, a 1963 entry in the Roger Corman-Vincent Price series of Poe collaborations, actually based on Lovecraft's novella The Case of Charles Dexter Ward)

If director Andrew Leman's adaptation of Lovecraft's seminal The Call of Cthulhu is any indication, it may be because Lovecraft's stories and prose are decidedly of their own time. So what Leman did, he left the story where it belonged, and in 2005 he made a silent film out of it. This adaptation of the 1926 story was inspired by the idea that it would be a "timely" adaptation of a story written and published when the visual currency of the day had non-sync sound. Writer Sean Branney's transposition of the story to the screen is straightforward, almost literal, hewing to the original structure of the story, but the execution is nearly flawless. The opening credits could pass for vintage, and while the movie is clearly shot on digital video (there's no recapturing the look of that old, slow film shot on hand-cranked cameras) and the green screen process shots are obvious, everything from the camera framing to the character makeup to the staging and performances are totally credible signatures of silent film. But beyond that, with limited resources these filmmakers leveraged their creativity and design prowess to bring Lovecraft's imagination to life.

To date, this is my favorite discovery I've made on Netflix Instant, where you can still catch the movie and I recommend you do so in time for Halloween. You can buy the DVD from the filmmakers here.

And yes, Cthulhu makes an appearance. And he is stop-motion. And he is awesome.

The Math

Objective Quality: 6/10

Bonuses: +1 for the opening credits alone; +1 the dream sequences in R'lyeh; +1 for the combination of old-school and new-school visual effects techniques (which they call the "Mythoscope" process); and +1 for the balls to even attempt this thing in the first place.

Penalties: -1 for feeling a little bloated even at only 47 minutes

Cult Movie Coefficient: 9/10. Very high quality/standout in its category.

[See explanation of our non-inflated scores here.]