The Call Of Cthulhu
US Theatrical Release: October 7, 2005 (The H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society)
US DVD Release: October 1, 2005
Running Time: 0:46:41 (5 chapter stops)
Rating: None (Has some disturbing and spooky images, and if you look really closely you might spot a bare tush, but there's nothing too offensive)
Video: 1.33:1 Non-anamorphic black & white "Mythoscope" (artificially aged) (Extra Features: 1.33:1 non-anamorphic color and black & white)
Audio: (Music only) Linear PCM Stereo, "Mythophonic" (artificially aged) Linear PCM Stereo (Extra Features: Linear PCM Stereo)
Subtitles (actually Intertitles): (Deep breath) English, Catalan, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Euskera (Basque), Finnish, French, Galician, German, Hungarian, Irish, Italian, Lithuanian, Luxembourgish, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Spanish, Swedish, Turkish, Welsh (Extra Features: None)
TV-Generated Closed Captions: N/A (Extra Features: None)
Menus: Some brief animation plus background animation.
Packaging: Standard keepcase; insert has liner notes in the style of an old newspaper on one side and a Cthulhu poster image on the other.
THE WAY I FEEL ABOUT IT: 3.5/5
H. P. Lovecraft was one of the most creative and influential American writers of the early 20th Century. His imagination produced all sorts of strange concepts that stretched for incredible distances in time and space. Although his prose style could be thick and awkward at times, it was never short of fascinating ideas. Over the years, a number of films have been adapted from his work, but for the most part, they have been shifted to contemporary settings and have taken liberties with the details. The Call Of Cthulhu, on the other hand, is translated almost verbatim from Lovecraft's signature story. In fact, not only is the film a straight adaptation, it's done in the style of the times -- black & white and silent.
The story is told in a series of flashbacks that cover three separate but connected tales. As the film opens, two men face each other across a table in a plain white room. One (Matt Foyer) appears nervous and frightened; the other (John Bolen), curious. The first man fears that he doesn't have long to live, and is entrusting his personal papers to his confidante -- with the promise that they will be destroyed. For these papers contain secrets so horrifying that anyone piecing them together risks madness.
The papers, collected over a period of decades by the man and his great-uncle, Professor Angell (Ralph Lucas), relate three disparate events that share a common element: a grotesque image of a terrible beast. In the first, Professor Angell interviews a troubled young artist (Chad Fifer) regarding a series of bizarre dreams. Are they simply figments of an overactive imagination, or could there be something more sinister buried in the depths of his psyche?
The second story concerns the experience of a New Orleans detective (David Mersault) investigating a mysterious bayou cult. Acting on a tip from a family of swamp-dwellers, he and his men discover an orgy of occult hysteria deep in the woods. Shocking as it is, even that terror cannot prepare them for what they learn from a captured cultist.
The final, climactic piece of the puzzle relates the fateful adventure of a crew of sailors near Australia. What they find on an uncharted isle may be the greatest nightmare of all. Could it be the proof that turns a series of odd coincidences into an unfathomable conspiracy of evil?
The Call Of Cthulhu is all about developing an ominous atmosphere, with a haunting original score and expressionistic settings. Working on a shoestring budget of only around $50,000, the filmmakers used every trick they could come up with to create spooky settings and creepy effects. For the most part, their efforts pay off surprisingly well. Much of the time, it's easy to forget that this is a very low-budget picture.
Of course, not everything works as well as it might have. In particular, the choreography of the bayou fight sequence is amateurish at best. It unfortunately breaks the mood near the middle of the movie. Perhaps a few more practice sessions before committing the battle to film would have helped, as the actors appear stiff and tentative.
Then there is mighty Cthulhu himself, brought to life with good old-fashioned stop-motion animation. The filmmakers wisely keep him in just enough shadow to soften the jerky movement without making him too hard to see. The enthusiasts likely to be watching Cthulhu will get a kick out of it, but the non-cinephile friends who thought the original King Kong looked cheesy will probably make some disparaging comments.
All in all, The Call Of Cthulhu is a clever piece of guerilla filmmaking that stays extremely true to the spirit of its source material. Clearly, it isn't for everyone, but Lovecraft fans, silent-film buffs, and those just looking for something off the beaten path are in for a treat.
THE WAY I SEE IT: 4/5
Shot on MiniDV using a Canon XL-1 camera, the image looks like a 75-year-old print that's badly in need of restoration -- exactly as the filmmakers intended it to. The contrast is always a little off, with blooming whites and blacks that range from grayish to pitch. The grayscale palette is uneven from scene to scene, sometimes overly light and sometimes overly dark. There are also a ton of scratches and dust marks, all simulated by the filmmakers. On the other hand, detail is fairly good and the picture is clear when it's supposed to be. On an objective scale, this is really about a 1.5, but as a project to simulate an old, worn print, it's a definite success. It's easy to get lost in the idea that this is a vintage piece of expressionism.
THE WAY I HEAR IT: 4/5
The original symphonic score sounds great in plain old 2-channel PCM stereo. It's composed specifically to match the action on screen, and does a nice job of enhancing the mood. The sound is deep and rich, with an extremely wide dynamic range, sometimes barely a whisper and other times really blasting. The option to listen to it in "Mythophonic" sound is also included -- the alternate track is heavily compressed and sounds like an ancient record being played on a very old gramophone. It's a cool complement to the artificially aged image, although its value is mainly as a novelty, since the regular audio sounds so good.
THE SWAG: 2/5 (rating combines quality and quantity)
Hearing "The Call" (28:35)
A very cool behind-the-scenes doc that features interviews with key members of the cast and crew, some of whom were unfamiliar with Lovecraft's work when they signed on to the project. It's both lighthearted and informative, making it fun to watch as well as interesting. How do first-time filmmakers stretch 50 grand into a literary horror film? It's a pretty neat story.
Photographs From The Set (3:18)
A slideshow of 90 color behind-the-scenes production photos, set to music from the film.
Production Stills (2:43)
A slideshow of 50 grainy, scratched-up, black & white promo stills, set to music from the film.
This is a 3-page PDF document accessible via DVD-ROM. The first page gives some background information, and the other two make up a replica of a prop newspaper from the film. It includes several period advertisements and two articles; one is taken from Lovecraft's story, and the other is an actual article that appeared in that paper in 1925.
Deleted Footage (8:03)
This includes some Cthulhu stop-motion tests in color, plus color footage with on-set audio of a couple of scenes from the film being shot. Much of the silent "dialogue" was improvised, and some of it is hilarious.
There are a couple of kooky little easter egg clips to dig up. To view them, move the cursor around the menus, and click when it disappears.
- [*]The Call Of Cthulhu (2:39) ("Mythophonic" PCM Stereo; 1.33:1 non-anamorphic)
SUMMING IT ALL UP
The Way I Feel About It: 3.5/5
The Way I See It: 4/5
The Way I Hear It: 4/5
The Swag: 2/5
The H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society have reason to be proud of their work. The Call Of Cthulhu is an excellent adaptation of a classic story, and the faux-old-movie A/V is cleverly done. The filmmakers clearly have great respect for the source material as well as the ability to translate it to film. This is one of those titles that says "low-budget" and "solid filmmaking" at the same time. Due to the subject matter and the unusual style, it definitely won't appeal to everybody, but it's something that every Lovecraft fan should consider adding to the collection. The Society is already working on another film (which will be a feature-length talkie), and I, for one, am looking forward to it.
(Note: The Call Of Cthulhu is available directly from the H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society at www.CthulhuLives.org or through Amazon, although the Amazon listing is actually sold by the Society.)