The Call of Cthulhu (2005)

Director: Andrew Leman

It’s a difficult life being a fan of H.P. Lovecraft and of film, because the two don’t usually play well with each other. Lovecraft’s stories lend themselves rather poorly to being filmed, as can be seen by, frankly, looking at most of the films that have been made from them; it’s hard to adapt his mostly short stories to the conventional feature-length screen without some major violence being perpetrated against them. In the world of non-professional Lovecraft adaptations, though, the commercial feature imperative isn’t the same, so short film versions of his tales have flourished… of which this probably has the highest profile so far. I suspect that’s down to two things: 1) the fidelity with which it generally adapts one of Lovecraft’s best-known stories (barring a few changes that don’t really hurt, though I’ll confess I’m still not convinced by the Caligari frame) and 2) the manner of filming it, i.e. as a silent film of the same vintage as the story itself. Now, obviously, when you’ve seen enough actual 1920s silents you’ll soon realise this is still a bit too, hmm, modern-looking to be mistaken for the real thing, not least because it’s very visibly shot on video rather than film, but the presentation is novel even so. Running just over three-quarters of an hour, the film copes quite with the original story’s challenges; it’s a somewhat tricky beast in terms of narrative structure and it requires a fairly effects-heavy climax, and it does its best to rise to that. I mean, it is what it is; we’re dealing with the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society, not Industrial Light & Magic… and yet a big Hollywood production using IL&M to do the effects probably wouldn’t tell the story as well as this small indie job does. It gives me a similar feeling to Equinox of people making a film they wanted to see, and considering its origins the technical work is actually pretty impressive. Handily, The Call of Cthulhu is a bonus feature on the Australian DVD release of The Whisperer in Darkness, so now I don’t need to feel quite so bad about only having a DVD-R burn of the HPLHS release; I only wish it also included the terrific making-of as well…

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