The Call of Cthulhu

The H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society spent two years turning the eccentric author’s most referenced, least filmable short story into an original motion picture. Released in 2005, it has been making the rounds at conventions since. The Call of Cthulhu has been shot to resemble a film from the mid-1920s, when the short story first appeared.

Directed by Andrew Leman
Written by Sean Branney, from the story by H.P Lovecraft.

Cast
Matt Foyer…The Man
John Bolen…The Listener
Ralph Lucas…Professor Angell

Chad Fifer…Henry Wilcox

Barry Lynch…Prof. Webb
John Klemantaski…Prof. Bell
Jason Owens…Prof…Quintana

D.Grigsby Poland…Prof. Tutchton

David Mersault…Police Inspector Legrasse

Dan Novy…Eskimaux Shaman
Patrick O’Day…Johansen
Nancy…Erin Emmalee
Daryl Ball…Officer Cassidy
Clarence Henry Hunt…Castro
Ramon Allen Jr…Louis
Noah Wagner…Captain Collins

Leslie Baldwin…Mrs. Johansen

Detailed information on the cast and crew may be found here.

Available at Amazon.com

Premise:

A man, appointed to be his great-uncle’s executor, finds himself drawn into an ancient, eldritch mystery.

High Points:

This film features impressive design. Certain images capture moments of Lovecraft’s story memorably.

The film features a stunning soundtrack, both true to the era and appropriate for the film. Credit goes to Troy Sterling Nies, Ben Holbrook, Nicholas Pavkovic and Chad Fifer.

Low Points

Several aspects of Lovecraft’s story, “The Call of Cthulhu” make it work. The refracted narration, the fact that the story appears as one man’s attempt to pull together various sources which tell the story, nudges us into thinking of it as some kind of true account, even though we know otherwise. The more fantastic elements must be imagined from the printed description, and no filmmaker can match a horror tailored to the individual reader’s psychology. This film tries to capture the shadowy nature of the original story, but it faces a difficult challenge.

Still, they’ve produced an impressive short film which should appeal to fans of Lovecraft.

The Scores:

Originality: 3/6 The film has been adapted from a well-known short story, and stays faithful to the text. The HPLHS have taken a novel approach, however, by making a faux 1920s silent.

Effects: 4/6. Often the models are obviously models. Given the budget of this film and the fact that the filmmakers wanted a period feel, I found this acceptable. It’s amazing that the effects so often work so well.

Cthulhu has been brought to the screen as a stop-motion creation, which is likely how this effect would have been achieved in 1926. However, Cthulhu represents a different kind of horror than Willis O’Brien’s dinosaurs from The Lost World, and I think they would have achieved a better effect using a different technique at this point. Overall, however, this is an impressive effort.

Story: 5/6 The convoluted story holds up, though it works better on paper.

Acting: 5/6. It’s silent-movie style acting, but the roles have been cast and handled well.

Production: 5/6 The film features remarkable production for an independent.

Overall, the silent-era approach serves them well. Black and white hides a wealth of technical problems, and suggests Lovecraft’s archaic writing style and fondness for shadowy places. The absence of live sound eliminates many problems that would have plagued the film’s location shooting. In a silent film, no one has to say, “Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn” out loud. The film also can move quickly through conversations which would have proved ponderous if spoken in full, and instead emphasize the story’s eerie imagery.

Emotional Response: 4/6

Overall: 4/6. Hollywood’s direct adaptations of Lovecraft have a dismal history. This labour of love manages better than any studio effort to date.

In total, The Call of Cthulhu receives 30/42

Final Comments

It will be interesting to compare this with the big-budget Cthulhu, due for release soon, possibly later this year. Hollywood’s track record with Lovecraft does not bode well for this movie. Among the forthcoming feature’s horrors?– it stars Tori Spelling.

5 replies on “The Call of Cthulhu”

  1. Timeshredder says:

    Extras
    The DVD contains a number of special features I haven’t watched yet: making-of, deleted sequences, and so forth.

  2. chad says:

    Available Directly from Filmmakers
    Call of Cthulhu is available directly from the HP Lovecraft Historical Society (click on the "Order your DVD now!" link at the very bottom).

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  3. Jethro says:

    Scary
    I have to admit, Lovecraft’s stories are pretty much the only thing that ever got me scared enough of the "monster under my bed". Which is rediculous since Cthulhu wouldn’t exactly FIT under my bed!

    I always wanted to read the famous "The Call of Cthulhu" when I was growing up, but I could never find it. Eventually I ended up working with another geek who had a photocopy of it. It was a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy… and I got a copy of THAT.

    The thing I most remember about that is that the first page of "The Call of Cthulhu" had the last page of the previous story… and THAT creeped me out.

    A lot of people complain that Lovecraft’s stories are too vague to be scary. I say, that’s what MAKES them scary.

    • Timeshredder says:

      Re: Scary
      This film doesn’t capture the fear of Lovecraft’s story, but it remains a good little movie for a number of other reasons.

      Also– the "Making of" feature is informative and very funny. I would call it mandatory viewing for amateur/small-time filmmakers with aspirations.

      • Jethro says:

        Re: Scary

        This film doesn’t capture the fear of Lovecraft’s story, but it remains a good little movie for a number of other reasons

        I don’t think any movie could capture whatever your imagination can feed you through obscurity (:

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