Rain, rain everywhere, and not a drop to drink. Rain, rain everywhere, and all the roads did shrink. At least that's the way it felt as Zombos and I hustled along the Cross Bronx Expressway in a mad attempt to reach Chiller Theatre Expo before the dealer's rooms closed. It was raining heavily, and we were making slow progress over to New Jersey. Even the New Jersey drivers were driving with caution in the deluge. (Note to self: check list of signs of the coming apocalypse. I believe 'New Jersey drivers driving cautiously' falls between 'when hell freezes over', and 'belief that global warming is as real as Big Foot'.)
The Elder Gods were with us, however, and we made it with a little over an hour to spare. Going at such a late hour is rather beneficial as the dealer's rooms are actually strollable. Zombos dashed off to find Zacherley, and I carried along his list of things to pick up, as usual.
One item on the list was the DVD, The Call of Cthulhu. This silent movie is a competent showing of enthusiastic amateur filmmaking that brings H.P. Lovecraft's classic short story to cinematic life.
It is an intriguing challenge: to create an appealing black and white silent film for today's iPoded, simstim-headed, hypertechno-affectualized audience drowning in audio and visual overload. Director Andrew Lehman and a cast of dedicated actors and creative production people tackle this challenge head-on.
The start of the movie is a fun homage to Universal Studios' 1929 globe circled by biplane logo, combined with a retro-look text that evokes the opening credits of their classic horror films. The onscreen intertitles, used to convey dialog and narrate story points, are done well with exacting period detail.
While I can quibble with some things, like merchant marine sailors wearing clean, pressed clothes, and spotlessly white and uncrumpled caps, and everybody — except for the Cthulhu swamp worshippers — looking so darn clean-cut and unrumpled, the film has an art film sensibility. It ably captures the slowly building terror of Lovecraft's fatalistic theme as no other, more expensive production has.
This is a credit to the actors, whose performances are greatly enhanced by the lack of dialog sound, and superbly aided by the moody score. As I watched this film, I was reminded of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Here, the use of close-ups and tightly framed shots, along with an occasional dutch shot (horizon not parallel to the frame), make creative use of the low-budgeted sets. The island, where the ill-fated seamen meet the big Squidworth, with it's expressionistic, starkly angular landscaping like the streets where Dr. Caligari and Cesare prowled, is imaginative and creepy.
The Tale of Inspector Legrasse segment of the film, which corresponds to the same section in the short story, is nicely handled on that one shoestring budget. David Mersault is a great choice to play Legrasse. His look and manner are spot-on, and the mist-shrouded swamp encounter with the "indescribable horde of human abnormality" worshippers of Cthulhu and the Great Old Ones, is an exciting mix of scoring, model and greenscreen work, along with the full-scale set design. The only fault I can find with the scene is that it lacks kinetic energy in the climactic fight scenes, both within the separate scenes themselves, and in how the scenes are intercut. What should be a bloody knock down and drag out affair comes off a little luke-warm. The lack of combatants — there's that small budget again — also affects the intensity of the confrontation.
The climactic confrontation between Cthulhu and the ill-fated sailors, The Madness from the Sea segment of the film corresponding to the same section in the short story, is another fine example of doing much with little. Again, model and greenscreen work, and imaginative, full-scale sets combine to realize the otherworldliness of the alien god and his "hideous monolith-crowned citadel" jutting up from the sea. However, the use of stop-motion animation to portray Cthulhu does not work well here, and should have been eschewed for a more shadowy, mostly hidden from view perspective of the thing that
...cannot be described — there is no language for such abysms of shrieking and immemorial lunacy, such eldritch contradictions of all matter, force, and cosmic order.
The documentary on the DVD portrays the tenacity, angst, and artistic juryrigging that made this film a reality. It also provides an informative introduction to the Lovecraftianites that would not let a miniscule budget stand in their creative way. The Call of Cthulhu is an entertaining and faithful cinematic version of the classic story, and required viewing by any Lovecraft aficionado.
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