Saturday, 23 March 2013

Review - Movie: The Call of Cthulhu

Adapted for the Screen by Sean Branney
Produced by Sean Branney and Andrew Leman
Original Music by Troy Sterling Nies, Ben Holbrook, Nicholas Pavkovic and Chad Fifer
Costumes by Laura Brody
Makeup by Andra Carlson
Associate Producer Chris Lackey
Special Visual Effects by Dan Novy
Photographed and Edited by David Robertson
Directed by Andrew Leman

I'm a bit of a fan of fan-made movies. There's a huge glut of them out there and mostly it's about a group's love of a genre or franchise, like Star Wars or Lord of the Rings. Over the years there's been some very slick and professional fan-made productions and then there are some that pull out all the stops and simply go for it.

The H P Lovecraft Historical Society's (HPLHS) movie 'The Call of Cthulhu' is one such pull-out-the-stops movie. Instead of doing a simple, filmed-on-a-camcorder-in-some-home-made-clothes movie, or an attempt to update the classic story to the modern age to save on budget, the HPLHS society decided to make a pretty accurate story. And make it in black and white. And it's a silent movie. And it has classic stop-motion effects. Okay, let me explain it this way - imagine that there was a studio back in the 1920s who decided to make their silent movie version of 'The Call of Cthulhu'. They filmed it, added some Willis O'Brien style stop-motion special effects, and allowed a couple of disturbing scenes of mutilation and insanity to get past the censors of the time. That's the movie you have here; an almost faithful adaptation of the story made to look like a classic silent movie, made by lovers of H P Lovecraft, with some great performances by the actors (some of whom are HPLHS members) and an excellent soundtrack. It's a wonderful movie and, even though there are a couple of things that show it's modern-day technology and lack of budget, it's well worth a viewing.

From the HPLHS website: ...a dying professor leaves his great-nephew a collection of documents pertaining to the Cthulhu Cult. The nephew begins to learn why the study of the cult so fascinated his grandfather. Bit-by-bit he begins piecing together the dread implications of his grandfather's inquiries, and soon he takes on investigating the Cthulhu cult as a crusade of his own. As he pieces together the dreadful and disturbing reality of the situation, his own sanity begins to crumble.

The quality of the movie is excellent. In high definition you can see that the quality is modern film equipment given some post-production treatment to make it look like a silent film - well, it's not like there's some hand-cranked 1920s cameras just lying around, is there? - but the quality is constant throughout the movie. Once you start watching it the format is static so there's no being pulled out of the atmosphere by a sudden change in film making techniques. The makers have gone to great lengths to make sure that the movie has the same style all the way through and they've done really well.

The writing is nice and simple - it's a silent movie, after all - and they've managed to capture the best parts and essence of the story. The acting is pretty good and everyone plays their parts well. I liked the min character 'The Man' (played by Matt Foyer) and the sailor Johansen (Patrick O’Day), their performances were especially good.

There were obviously a lot of challenging parts of the story that might not have worked on a fan film, especially the entire ship/dead city sequence, but the nature of the movie makes the lack of budget negligible, in the fact that, back in the 1920s, their own technology would have been limited so they would have to make do. I especially love the fact that instead of relying on modern-day computer technology to build Cthulhu himself, they went back to classic stop-motion techniques. Yes, the models, fake sea and the animation looks weak by the standards of today's CGI extravaganzas but the movie has to be watched as a classic silent film. You know they're slightly off the mark but you forgive them that fact because it was simply the tech they had at the time, and knowing that does not detract from the finished product. It's like comparing the modern-day CGI King Kong to the stop-motion King Kong of 1933. Different era, different capabilities  The sometimes erratic nature of the original Willis O'Brien animation does not in any way detract from the wonder of the 1933 original, and that same attitude should be applied to 'The Call of Cthulhu'. The makers of the film have really tried to capture the feel of the silent era. It's not for everyone, that's for sure, but as a man who grew up with the original King Kong and all of the Ray Harryhausen classics I can see past the limits of technology.

The makers of this film should feel very proud about what they've made here. It's the first true adaptation of a H P Lovecraft story I've seen on screen and I'm looking forward to a lot more. The film industry should take a closer look at films such as this, and Lovecraft's Mythos as a whole, and see that these horror stories can be put on the screen without the need to update them to the modern age or turn them into gore-fest slasher flicks. The big screen is overdue a truly great Lovecraft adaptation and this small movie paves the way to realising that goal.

Very highly recommended.

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