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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Day 298: The Call Of Cthulhu

The Call Of Cthulhu
Nice try, Cthulhu. I have Caller ID!

"Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn." To most people, that previous sentence looks like a word salad jammed into a sentence smoothee. For those, like me, who love the work of H.P. Lovecraft, that is probably one of the most famous lines in all of horror literature. The line comes from the Lovecraft story of the same name, the most popular and well known of all his work. Despite being a master of horror, Lovecraft's work has never been faithfully transitioned to the big screen. Hollywood can't seem to wrap their heads around his work and yet M. Night Shyamalan continues to get work. Sometimes you have to step out of the bright lights of La La Land in order to get to the real heart of a story and give it the love and attention it deserves.

The Call Of Cthulhu is a 2005 independent black and white silent film based on the story by H.P. Lovecraft (Pickman's Model, The Case Of Charles Dexter Ward). An unnamed man sits in a mental hospital, warning his doctor that something horrible is going to occur. The man relates the story of how he came to possess such knowledge. His grand uncle, George Gammell Angell, a professor at Brown University, had been treating a young man suffering from horrible dreams. Angell takes extensive notes until the man's death. In 1908, Angell and a group of other antiquarians gather at the American Archaeological Society in St. Lous, Missouri. John Raymond Legrasse, a police officer from New Orleans, produces a strange looking idol and asks the group of professors if they had seen anything like it. The statuette is of a hideous looking monster with wings and unearthly tentacles on it's face. While most are baffled, one eye-patched man, recognizes it and recalls when he was on an expedition and was attacked by an “Esquimaux”. He identifies the statue as “Cthulhu”. Officer Legrasses explains that the statuette came into his possession during a raid in the swamps of Louisiana. The police raided a ritual being performed by a cult who were praying to someone or something named “Cthulhu”. One prisoner is taken into custody and explains that Cthulhu is one of the Old Gods who now sleeps in the forgotten undersea city of R'lyeh. The cult is praying to Cthulhu and waiting for him to awaken from his slumber when the stars are right. After his granduncle's death, the man now in the hospital, read through his notes and became obsessed with Cthulhu, putting together all the different pieces from the story. He finds a news clipping that talks of the ship Emma which encountered the yacht Alert. Something horrible happened on that ship and only one sailor from the Emma survived. The man travels to New Zealand and then Norway in search of the sailor, only to discover that he has died. He does receive the man's diary which explains how the crew of the Emma landed on a strange and dangerous island. Who or what is on the island and does Cthulhu actually exist?

"That's the last time I eat White Castle before going to bed!"

Without a doubt, The Call Of Cthulhu is probably the best adaptation of Lovecraft's work to make it to the screen. The main reason why is works so well is because it is very faithful to the original work. Other Lovecraft adaptations like The Resurrected and The Dunwich Horror are changed around to fit a budget, or capabilities, or just because some filmmakers are lazy. Many in the past have claimed that The Call of Cthulhu story is “unfilmable,” but this movie proves the naysayers wrong. While not having a particularly large budget, director/producer Andrew Leman (The Whisperer In Darkness, A Shoggoth on the Roof: The Documentary) manages to make the most out of this lofty story through various filming and writing tricks. The movie is portrayed as being from the silent era of film and it works to the movie's advantage. Care is taken to have the film look aged and the music fits perfectly. The black and white footage allows for clothes and sets to be any color and very little makeup is needed for actors. By being silent, there's no need to worry about actors flubbing lines or audio editing. Since the movie has no speaking, the actors have to work that much harder to get across emotion and they all do a good job. How does one show the enormous and monstrous-looking Cthulhu? How about good old-fashioned claymation and perspective shots.

If there is one complaint with the movie is that it's too short. It clocks in at around 45 minutes which is a shame because it is so enjoyable. By having such a short run time, the story does feel rushed at times. While not Lovecraft's longest story, it is complex with many different parts fitting into the overarching Cthulhu story. A few too many details are crammed in and for those who are not familiar with the original story, the story may be a bit confusing. There are a few changes from the original story, but nothing significant to completely change the story. The claymation used for Cthulhu is just OK and some may even be disappointed. We only get a few brief shots and it does keep with the “era” that the movie is supposed to be from. To be fair, it's difficult to create a giant, winged god with tentacles on it's face. There is a bit of action, but no blood or gore to speak of, which is perfectly fine. The story has a traditional horror feel and it ends on the proper down-note.

Collect the whole set

With enough effort and love, just about anything can be created. While Lovecraft stories may not be the easiest to reproduce on the big screen, The Call Of Cthulhu proves it is not impossible. The story is translated well which keeps the hardcore Lovecraft fans happy while giving non-fans a good introduction to his work. By making the movie into a black and white silent film, they are able to create a unique viewing experience that most people have never seen. It also helps that doing so kept costs down. The sets look great and the expressive acting makes you forget there are no speaking roles. If you're a fan of Lovecraft or just want to see something unique, definitely check out The Call of Cthulhu.


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