Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Call of Cthulhu (2005) review

    Yog-Sothoth bless the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society. They are a quirky band of Old One worshipers and I have enjoyed a host of their strange doings. This includes Shoggoth on the Roof, their Lovecraftian Christmas Carols, and now enjoys their adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft's The Call of Cthulhu.

    Conventional wisdom held The Call of Cthulhu was unfilmable. Not just because of the difficulty inherent in constructing a city composed of non-Eulicidean geometry but the fact the story is, essentially, a bunch of flashbacks within flashbacks. The entire story could be summarized as a guy reading about a guy reading about a guy reading something spooky. I'd be wrong to summarize the story this way but not inaccurate.

The old movie feel is beautifully captured.
    Really, The Call of Cthulhu is a bunch of separate stories loosely tied together under a single narrator. Which is, given it's original serialized nature, perfectly understandable. It also helps explain why no one has successfully adapted the story until now. The Call of Cthulhu inspired an absolutely kickass tabletop roleplaying game but does it hold up on the silver screen?

    I'd say yes.

    The first thing to note about this movie is it's in black and white. The second is it's a silent film. This does wonders for the work as, to modern eyes, the whole thing becomes greatly more surreal. I imagine this also helped save tremendously on production costs as the monochromatic nature of the movie helps disguise what was undoubtedly a shoestring budget.

    Despite this, I'm actually surprised at how good a lot of the stuff in the movie looks. The fact they manage to make a convincing looking R'lyeh should tell you how much love, care, and effort went into making this film. I may disagree with some of the visual choices, like Inspector Legrasse looking like Poirot, but I can't say anything was bad. At its worst, The Call of Cthulhu is kind of silly but so was the original novella.

Cthulhu is just awesome. Seriously.
    The real triumph of the movie is the soundtrack. The lush symphonic score is moody and brooding throughout, letting us feel like our heroes are slipping into a deep abyss from which they will never escape. The fact it actually sounds like a silent movie from the 1920s helps lull you into the lie this was a movie created when Lovecraft originally wrote his short story.

    Viewers should be warned the movie clocks in about 45 minutes and its high-fidelity to the original short story which hampers the narrative a bit. I also regretted we didn't get to see a fight between sailors and Deep Ones from the original short story but that would have broken the movie's budget in all likelihood. The money was much better spent in creating R'lyeh and the Big C himself.

    In fact, I'm going to praise the filmmaker's Cthulhu now. He's creepy, moves in an unsettling manner, and is great to look at. When the Big C arrives, the entire movie reaches its crescendo and they even manage to do the famous steamboat scene in a way that doesn't diminish his menace.


The strange geometry of Lovecraft's stories has rarely been so well-represented.
     The acting in the movie is an interesting choice, specifically the decision to overact whenever possible. People give wide-eyed stares, horrified gasps, sickened looks, and so on every other scene. This is more-or-less true to the original novella and another wise choice for adaptation.

     Other actors may have tried for a more naturalistic performance but the surrealist nature of both the movie and the original Lovecraft story call for individuals to be driven to the point of madness. The actors are to be commended for getting both high melodrama of silent films as well as Lovecraft's writing correct.

     One final thing to comment on, I applaud the HPLHS for also removing the racism from the original work. While it's only a matter of making the degenerate cultists Caucasian, it's something which made me more comfortable with the work.

    Did I enjoy it? Yes. Was it perfect? It's not the most must-see work I've ever seen but I think it's a definite thing for hardcore Lovecraft fans to put on their list. My biggest regret about this movie? No commentary or "making of" on the disc.


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