The Call of Cthulhu, Dir. Andrew Leman

HP Lovecraft Historical Society / HPLHS Motion Pictures

Starring: Matt Foyer, David Mersault, Noah Wagner, Chad Fifer.

Reviewed by Djibril

This is a silent, black and white movie presented in the manner of a 1920s motion picture, with everything from the overuse of eye-shadow to the shaky sets and stop motion animation (via the use of brief intertitles for dialogue) adding to the authenticity of this illusion. At forty-seven minutes, The Call of Cthulhu is also shorter than a modern Hollywood movie, and fact that is belied by its epic scope. The action, as anyone who has read Lovecraft's story knows, moves from Boston, to Greenland, to New Orleans, to New Zealand and Australia, to Norway, and back to the USA. Scenes are set in hospitals and manor houses, in a frightful swamp, on storm-tossed ships, and on a mysterious sunken island in the South Pacific. Given the limited budget and largely amateur cast of this production, it is a testament to their devotion and ingenuity that this range of settings were able to be presented without embarrassing weakness, even given the use of the Mythoscope® technique (which involves a combination of primitive shooting techniques with green-screen, digital layering and compositing, and re-mastering to create a 1920s motion picture feel).

By cinematic standards this is a simple enough story: the hero (Foyer)—who narrates the events, mostly at second hand, to his psychiatrist—has inherited from his great-uncle an investigation into mysterious events surrounding the cult of Cthulhu. An artist's fevered dreams of old gods, a police investigation into a murderous cult in a Louisiana bayou, and a report of a raving, shiprecked sailor combine to reveal the unspeakable truth about the Great Old One who lies sleeping in his undersea home of R'lyeh. As usual in Lovecraftian tales, the discovery of this reality is enough to make the investigator lose his sanity, and the moral seems to be that we should be better off if we did not try to learn the truth about the enormity and inhumanity of the universe.

It has been said that Lovecraft stories are very hard to film in the Hollywood style, and poor efforts such as Re-animator (1985), From Beyond (1986), and Dagon (2001) seem to support the argument. This film, however, made and supported by fans rather than Californian moneymen, proves that it can be done, and with almost no budget, but a large helping of dedication and a degree of faithfulness to the text that Hollywood will never achieve. The Call of Cthulhu is also a very funny production, without descending into campness or farce like the musical productions the HPLHS team have created in the past.

At no point in this film were the special effects distracting from the entertainment or the suspension of disbelief. Even the dream sequences and the crazy geometry of the island of R'lyeh, which were visibly made of shaky cardboard were, in the context of the grainy black and white pictures, acceptable. The stop-motion Cthulhu was the only moment when less might have been more, as the writhing face-tentacles and groping claws were really not very scary (but the deaths of the gibbering, fleeing sailors more than compensated for this). Even the acting, which in a low-budget, non-professional film is often the single most damaging weakness, was glossed over by the 1920s effects—the make-up, the absence of voices, and the exaggerated expressions were all true to the genre.

If you have ever been a fan of Lovecraftian literature or the Cthulhu mythos—or for that matter of the silent horror movie—go an buy this film. You'll love it. Even if you are not such a fan, go to the HPLHS website and buy it anyway. It's not expensive, and the hilarious "making of" featurette alone is worth the cover price.

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