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Call Of Cthulhu (2005)
Director: Andrew Leman

review by Jonathan McCalmont

Lovecraft's had something of an uneven history when it comes to movie adaptations of his work. Despite being credited as a writer on almost 60 films, with the exceptions of 2001's cruelly overlooked Dagon, and 1985's Re-Animator, his unique blend of gothic horror and gritty psychodrama has failed to transfer memorably onto the silver screen. That is until now.

The Call Of Cthulhu is a short film closely based upon the identically titled novel that remains the most widely read and accessible element of the Cthulhu mythos. A silent film, shot on a small budget with a largely amateur cast and crew (the director's movie experience is limited to a few uncredited prop design jobs), The Call Of Cthulhu nonetheless manages to distil everything that is great about Lovecraft and put it all on screen.

The story takes place in flashback as a mental patient begs his psychiatrist to burn the research that he and his great uncle so carefully pieced together. Drawing on the experiences of black cults in the New Orleans swamps, the deranged rantings of Eskimo mystics and the fevered dreams of an artist, it becomes clear that beyond the worlds of science and organised religion there is a deeper, darker and older myth about the return of ancient gods to the planet they once controlled. Desperate to learn more, the mental patient eventually tracks down the log book of the sole surviving member of the crew of a ship that was blown off course during a storm and ended up landing on a strange island that appears on no maps´┐Ż what the sailors found there leads only to madness.

The film is made to look like a silent film of the 1920s or 1930s but intelligently does so using a mixture of period and more modern techniques. Nowhere is this more evident than in the acting, which is pitch-perfect. The actors seem to combine the over-emoting of period films with more modern and naturalistic techniques that eliminate the back-of-hand-pressed-to-forehead silliness of period cinema. This serves to give the entire film a sense of looming dread that perfectly matches to tone of the book.

However, for all its technical achievements, this film is not just a simple curiosity. It is an accomplished horror film in its own right. The scenes in the swamp and with the Eskimo are palpably horrifying as are many of the scenes on or around the island. However, crucially, the climax of the film fails to deliver due to the director's decision to show rather than suggest the presence of Cthulhu. Made from plasticine, old squid-face looks a little thin and is too comical to be truly terrifying. If the director had resisted the urge to show Cthulhu and stuck to shadows and glimpses, the ending would have worked less well. Lest we forget, Cthulhu is supposed to be so horrific that he drives people mad... the model isn't. What is frustrating about this is that it is a lesson that should be obvious from reading Lovecraft's work. Rather than describing his creations in detail, Lovecraft tends to stick to vague outlines and mutterings of 'indescribably horrible' because he knew that if he described these creatures then people would picture his literal words rather than the ideas behind them.

Despite a miscalculation at the climax, The Call Of Cthulhu is a beautifully and intelligently made and acted film that sticks closely to Lovecraft's vision. In a time of 're-imaginings' and 'based upons', it is a pleasure to see creative people trust an author's original vision. This region '0' DVD from Lurker Films is well worth hunting down.
Call of Cthulhu

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Related items
(book reviews):

The Complete H.P. Lovecraft Filmography
by Charles P. Mitchell

An H.P. Lovecraft Encyclopedia
by S.T. Joshi and
David E. Schultz

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