Colin Timothy Gagnon (sacredspud) wrote,
Colin Timothy Gagnon

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*Another* Lovecraft Rant (and by the way, I'm home)

Yes folks, I made it home from B-Fest in one piece, my sanity (such as it is) no less intact than before I left. Full write-up will happen tomorrow. In the meantime, I arrived home to find something much scarier than anything I saw at the festival:

The trailer for Cthulhu: The Movie.

The official site says it's "loosely inspired" by the works of H.P. Lovecraft, and this really worries me. Lovecraft's style of horror adapts poorly to film because (and I know I've said it before on my journal) it's not overtly visual, and half of the formidable stigmatism against his works is due to poor film adaptations. The other half is the fault of Lovecraft's contemporaries and proteges who used their association with the Old Gent to further their own careers (notably Wisconsin's own August Derleth, who published his own works under HPL's name). The last thing Lovecraft's reputation needs is another violent, titillating, (and above all) loose adaptation of his works.

Worst of all, it appears to be a cross between The Shadow Over Innsmouth and The Call of Cthulhu.

Shadow is the stuff horror movies are made of. Guy goes to a New England fishing town, is creeped out by the locals, learns the history of the resident religious cult, and spends the night escaping the town and its half-man-half-fish inhabitants. Twenty minutes of setup, twenty minutes research and exposition, half an hour of horror-suspense, ten minutes to cool down from the suspense, and another ten for the epilogue and surprise ending. You could get it done well (including foreplay) in 90 minutes. Stuart Gordon did it in 2001 with Dagon. I haven't seen it, but I know Stuart Gordon's work, so I know he made a poor Lovecraft adaptation which functions well as a horror movie.

The Call of Cthulhu, on the other hand, has long been described as The Unfilmable, the story in Lovecraft's canon least likely to make a feature film. The H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society proved everybody wrong last year with The Call of Cthulhu, but they broke a lot of rules to do it. It's silent, it's black and white, and there's no room for nudity or gore, just gay cowboys eating pudding effeminate intellectuals paging through mouldering diaries. As a Lovecraft fan, it's the best adaptation I've ever seen, and now that I've shown it to some non-Lovecraft fans, I've learned that it's terribly effective for a general horror audience, as long as they're willing to sit through a black-and-white, silent film. Unfortunately, that proviso outweighs the awards and film festival exposure it's been getting, so CoC is never going to be picked up by a major distributor.

And this is precisely the opposite of the problem this newer movie is going to have. The trailer makes it look as if they've taken the premise from The Shadow Over Innsmouth, and applied it to the basic framework of the first two pages of The Call of Cthulhu. Throw in some steamy moments with Tori Spelling, add a little violence, and hold the budget at a modest $750,000, and you've got a small-scale movie which will turn a profit thanks to its title. In fact, the IMDB page for the movie shows that they've lifted the names of some of the characters directly from Shadow, which probably means that the title of the movie is more about marketing than anything else.

What makes me most nervous about Cthulhu: The Movie is that it comes at a time when good sci-fi, fantasy, and horror are more popular with large audiences than they've been for two decades. The end of the Lord of the Rings, Matrix and Star Wars franchises has created a void that audiences want filled, and this would be a great time for a resurgence in HPL's popularity. Yeah, we did get Serenity, and Narnia, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and Harry Potter, all within a year, but aside from HP those may all be one-offs. Lovecraft, on the other hand, is well-liked by those who have given his work a chance, and is virtually untapped. The Shadow Over Innsmouth could easily adapt as standard horror fare, and even his signature psychological horror could be made to work for a mainstream audience in the wake of quiet horror blockbusters like The Others. Slapping his name on a typical independent studio slaughterfest will do nothing but further undermine his credibility.

If I were a producer with several million dollars in industry connections to throw at a horror movie, I'd do it. As a credit card dispute specialist, I can only recommend The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, The Dunwich Horror, Dreams in the Witch-House, Herbert West: Re-Animator, and The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath as stories which could, potentially, make very faithful and commercially successful adaptations. Well, maybe not Dream-Quest, but I'd like to see it get the full Lord of the Rings treatment.

Anyway, if you know any tastemakers in the movie industry, send 'em over my way and we'll have a talk.
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