…but they will be eaten last

Yester-day, I received a copy of The Call of Cthulhu (2005), which I watched this morning.

I come at this movie from the perspective of one who has read all or most of the fiction by HP Lovecraft, but actually liked only one of his pieces (The Rats in the Walls, Weird Tales, March 1924). I read Lovecraft's work largely because of its cultural significance; and especially, in particular, because it informs some work that I do admire (for example, Michael Shea's brilliant story, The Autopsy[1]).

Most films based upon Lovecraft's work, certainly every other Lovecraft film that I've seen, take great liberties with the material. Call of Cthulhu works sincerely to be faithful, and its makers had the clever idea of trying to give this film the look-and-feel that it would have had, had it been made shortly after the story was published — The Call of Cthulhu (2005) is a black-and-white, silent film.

And my over-all evaluation of it is very positive. This film will be enjoyed by most fans of HP Lovecraft, and by most admirers of horror films from the silent era. It will also appeal to those who enjoy films that are well made on extremely tight budgets.

I have some quibbles and qualms. The acting is too naturalistic; part of what makes classic horror films work is the very unnaturalistic acting in them, and it would have been better if the acting had captured the look-and-feel of 1926 or '7. The costuming doesn't look authentic when the men are in suits, for the simple reason that the collars are too low on their necks for the periods in which scenes are set. I reälize (from watching the extra features on the DVD) that it was terribly hot and uncomfortable when most of these scenes were filmed; but, while that and budgetary constraints might excuse the flaw, a flaw it remains. The direction and cinematography gives most of the film a look that is probably too modern; though there is something of an extra burden for the audience in the cinematography of the typical film of the silent era, this film needed either greater contrast, or the grey-scale of someone such as Carl Theodor Dreyer. While montage is used to good effect in this film, it is a bit anachronistic; it was considered avant-garde into the sound era. And, while I appreciated that text (title cards and what-not) did not linger as if each member of the audience had to sound out the words, the happy speed wasn't very authentic. Cthulhu probably would have worked better as drawn and painted animation, and in any case his neck is probably a bit too long and certainly far too thin. And, while the use of green screen was, through most of the film, remarkably adept, given the budget, it was rather evident in some of the swamp scenes.

But my recommendation is that the reader nod at these qualms and quibbles, and watch the film in spite of them. It's almost surely worth 47 minutes of your time.


[1] The Autopsy first appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Dec 1980. It has since been reprinted at least a dozen times, including in Dark Descent 1: The Colour of Evil (Hartwell, ed; 1990) and in Aliens Among Us (Dann & Dozois, ed; 2000).

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2 Responses to …but they will be eaten last

  • I really enjoyed that film. It was quite well done.

    It's strange how HPL's work either grabs you at a certain age, or it never does at all. I hit it just at the right time, I think, and was fascinated by it during my teen years. Later, I found it difficult to read and looked upon it with a much more critical eye.

    The main thing about HPL's fiction, though, was that it was unique in horror literature. What he achieved was to make the supernatural logical by inserting the aspect of science into the tales. No one had done that. He was, after all, an atheist and a materialist, and for him supernatural horror was a guilty pleasure. His fiction was a way to take the guilt out of it.

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