The Call of Cthulhu
February 6, 2006
In the past, adaptations of horror writer H.P. Lovecraft’s short stories have been downright awful (The Dunwich Horror) or faithful in spirit only (Dagon). Some of the best efforts (In the Mouth of Madness) have been more homages to his fiction than actual adaptations. The clever folks at the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society have filmed their own adaptation of one of Lovecraft’s most famous stories, “The Call of Cthulhu” and done it as a silent movie that looks and feels like it was made in the 1920s – the time period in which Lovecraft lived and set most of his stories in.
The problem with adapting Lovecraft’s stories to the big screen is that he quite often did not actually describe the monster. The narrator would only say, “It was so horrible that I can’t even begin to describe it!” Or words to that effect. So, the big pay-off or money shot (i.e. the reveal of the horrible creature) that most horror films rely on is hard to replicate. Also, Lovecraft’s dense and very literate prose is not easy to translate and often quite specific to a certain time and place making any attempt to put it into contemporary setting is quite a challenge. It makes sense that these filmmakers would keep it in its original time period.
A young man (Foyer) finds himself in charge of his great-uncle’s estate and while going through his papers he comes across a box containing files on the “Cthulhu Cult,” a series of newspaper clippings concerning strange, supernatural phenomenon. He finds an account of his great-uncle’s meeting with a young artist suffering from horrific nightmares of strange creatures. The further he investigates his great-uncle’s notes, the more he realizes that there is something greater and very evil at work, involving an ancient race of creatures lying dormant for years deep in the ocean, waiting to be summoned so that they may rule the world.
The Call of Cthulhu faithfully recreates the look of 1920s silent films complete with a slightly scratchy, artifact-laden print. The rich, black and white cinematography (filmed in Mythoscope no less) of David Robertson is fantastic. It has a texture to it that looks just as good as Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow’s (2004) retro-sepia tone look but for a fraction of the budget and with no CGI anywhere to be found. The cinematography also gives the movie the atmosphere and mood of a classic horror film and creates believable and very authentic feelings of dread. The visuals are enhanced by a suitably atmospheric, symphonic score by Troy Sterling Nies, Ben Holbrook, Nicholas Pavkovic and Chad Fifer that compliments what we are seeing on the screen perfectly.
The cast acquit themselves admirably. Silent acting is so specific and can look silly and dated now but this is not the case with this film. Everyone’s performances take on a theatrical quality that is quite effective.
The special visual effects by Dan Novy – especially the dream sequences – are well done and totally believable within the context of the movie. A trip to a foreboding, unearthly land is something right out of Robert Wiene’s The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) with a dash of Ray Harryhausen for good measure. There are a few moments where the effects take on a slightly fake quality but it only adds to the charm of the movie. In this day and age it is so refreshing to see a film that does not rely on CGI but opts for real, tangible effects that are still as effective as ever.
The Call of Cthulhu clocks in at a compact 47 minutes, sticking strictly to what’s in the original story – no more, no less. The faithfulness to Lovecraft’s story is easily one of the best as these guys don’t have to kowtow to some major studio pressuring them to make it more commercial. And this is why more times than not, independent horror films are superior to studio ones.
The film’s trailer, presented in “Mythoscope” sound, effectively conveys the look of the movie without giving away too much.
“Hearing ‘The Call’” is a 28-minute making of featurette. The filmmakers set out to make a “sincere” adaptation of Lovecraft’s story and felt that a silent movie was the best way to go about it. Shooting the film in that way forced them to think creatively to solve certain problems. One gets the impression that this was a labour of love done by a group of friends who got together and made this wonderful film. The cast and crew talk about their experiences with good humour for this highly enjoyable extra.
“Photographs From the Set” is a three minute montage of behind the scenes pictures.
There are “Production Stills” from the final film.
Finally, there are eight minutes of deleted footage, including several takes of the stop motion Cthulhu doing its thing and some amusing improvisations by the actors because they didn’t have to memorize dialogue.