H.P. Lovecraft wrote some of the most seminal horror fiction of the early 20th century; his prose, though purple, perfectly captures a particular flavor of terror - his protagonists often find themselves pitted against the unknown, creatures so horrid they defy description - which is why most attempts to translate Lovecraft to movies fail so miserably. Film demands the concrete, and Lovecraft's cosmic abominations defy such limitations.
How utterly quaint, then, that this most successful and faithful translation takes off from one speculation - what if Lovecraft's most famous story enjoyed such mainstream success in 1926, after its initial publication in Weird Tales magazine, it had been made into a movie? A full year before The Jazz Singer started that newfangled talking picture nonsense, The Call of Cthulhu would have been made as a silent movie... and that is what director Andrew Lehman has created.
The story itself is episodic, as the narrator inherits an investigation begun by his uncle, the revelations of which caused the older man to sicken and die. To his own detriment, he continues following the story, uncovering bestial cults that worship an ancient, sleeping god - one who rises momentarily, when the stars are in alignment, much to the dismay of a shipwrecked crew that happen upon his recently-risen island home.
Produced over the course of two years on what can charitably be called a shoestring budget, Call derives unexpected stength from its 1926 vintage conceit. Model ships, tarps standing in for roiling seas, such things are easily forgiven, considering their supposed age; Lehman called upon the resources of Los Angeles-based Theatre Banshee, scoring a great cast and some exceptional workmanship. The heights of the original story - the discovery of ancient, bloody cult rites in the center of a Louisiana swamp, and the unveiling of Great Cthulhu himself in the lost city of R'Lyeh - are beautifully executed, and so satisfying to the Lovecraft fan, it is almost shameful.
Judging the video quality of Call of Cthulhu is going to be problematic, at best - shot on digital video, the footage was converted to monochrome, with film-look and aging effects added. the image is always exceptional, however, with only the occasional obvious digital composite to spoil the effect of an old movie. The symphonic score is available in a "Hi-Fidelity" version and a "Mythophonic" (mono) version. It is certainly worthy of the hi-fidelity treatment. The retro-themed index cards are gorgeous.
Look to the left, and see that the movie has been translated into 24 different languages. These are not merely subtitles - the intertitles for each version are substituted for the original English cards, making this a truly international disc.
The H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society is known for its humorous stage offerings, like "Shoggoth on the Roof". This carries over into warnings such as, "Violators of copyrights may have their eyes plucked out by byakhee as they sleep."
Hearing the Call is a well-done featurette on the making of the movie, combining interviews, on-set footage and photos. Photographs from the Set (In Vibrant Natural Color) is a montage of making-of photos, containing some marvelous footage of miniatures, forced perspective shots, and other in-camera trickery - a nice little primer on filmmaking. There are also Production Stills - moody black and white framegrabs, on which the old film-look overlay is more than a little apparent.
Deleted Scenes opens with additional footage of the stop-animated Cthulhu, prefaced with typical Lovecraft Historical Society wit: "Mighty Cthulhu, as an acting novice, was nervous in front of the camera and often required multiple takes to get his scenes right..." You'll get a much better look at the model here than you would in the movie. This is followed by unaltered footage from two scenes, in color and with sounds, so we can hear the actors improvising their speeches.
There is also a trailer "in Mythophonic Sound!" and a PDF file of a prop newspaper one can print out with one's very own computer ... if one dares!
Dr. Freex, 7/28/2007