The Call of Cthuhlu (2005)

It’s always been a difficult thing to try to film an H.P. Lovecraft story. Stuart Green’s two, three, FOUR films aside, as they’ve got nothing to do with the dreary, humorless spirit of Lovecraft. (Green’s films are in fact funny and bright – the two things they shouldn’t be. And while I enjoyed his first two Lovecraft films, they do little more than exploit the author’s name)

There’s The Dunwich Horror (1970) starring Dean Stockwell and Sandra Dee, and Lcuio Fulci tried to do a zombie version of a story in 1980, but all of this is crap really; there’s a couple dozen awful things out there made after Re-Animator planted the idea in cheap filmmaker’s heads – they throw in the word Cthuhlu and stick poor Lovecraft’s name on the cover… At least when Roger Corman ran roughshod over Edgar Allen Poe he left a batch of great Peter Lorre and Vincent Price moments (at the very least) in his wake.

Well, I came across a beautifully designed DVD cover at Jerry’s in Los Feliz a few weeks ago for The Call of Cthulhu and grabbed it. Jerry’s I might add, just might be the best video store for Lovecraft related films – even if they are mostly rotten.

It turns out this was a self-financed film from last year, in black and white – SILENT yet – with fine acting, excellent music, and an overall great job of conveying the mood and anxiety of a Lovecraft short story. Considering it was shot in backyards in Pasadena and Glendale, it’s ambitious, full of well-executed nestled flashbacks and dreamy atmostphere.

It reminds me a lot of Guy Maddin’s exercises in cinematic history – particularly Tales of the Gimli Hospital and his excellent short The Heart of the World. By making it silent and b/w, they immediately eliminate many of the traps – Lovecraft’s leaden prose, realism vs. fantasy and the need for expensive special effects.

Cthulhu himself is – as expected, as feared – the weakest part of the film. He’s depicted in stop-motion animation, and while some of the miniature sets are quite convincing, such as the Louisiana swamp, and the city R’yleh, they would have really benefited from having some more expertise from the Harryahusen school of modeling of the winged-cuttlefish Old God.

I doubt that this is very easy for people outside L.A. to find, but I enjoyed it tremendously and wanted to give it a little space here amongst John’s reviews of Gigli and Jerry Lewis material.

Published by


Mark Mauer likes movies cuz the pictures move, and the screen talks like it's people. He once watched Tales from the Gilmli Hostpial three times in a single night, and is amazed DeNiro made good movies throughout the 80s, only to screw it all up in the 90s and beyond. He has met both Udo Kier and Werner Herzog, and he knows an Irishman who can quote at length from the autobiography of Klaus Kinksi.

11 thoughts on “The Call of Cthuhlu (2005)”

  1. I always thought Lovecraft’s mythos would make a brilliant TV series, something along the lines of the X-Files. It’s important to get the tone down and to be genuinely creepy without falling into the kind of Sherlock Holmes stodginess. And Chtulhu would have to be only partially seen because, yes, the presentation might be laughable rather than scary. I now have a hard time picturing Cthuhlu without thinking of Dr. Zoidberg.

    In any case, I’m looking for this film. There’s an anthology film called Necronomicon which doesn’t do too badly–particularly a creepy piece involving David Warner. Lovecraft should really be taken on by someone like Svankmajr or the Brothers Quay.

  2. Agreed. It’s too bad the Brothers Quay seem to have stopped working – or at least become unable to get their work seen. They’d make an interesting Lovecraft film to say the least.

    Michael – Did you like their live action film? Instiute Benjament (or something like that?) Slow, but good, with a really nice soundtrack.

  3. No, I haven’t yet seen any of their features. IMDB lists these films since the Benjamin thing but I don’t know how available any of them are. Svankmajer too of course would be good for a Lovecraft adaptation–he’s already done two Poe pieces, Fall of the House of Usher, and the Pit and the Pendulum.

    The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes (2005) (as Quay Brothers)
    The Phantom Museum: Random Forays Into the Vaults of Sir Henry Wellcome’s Medical Collection (2003) (TV)
    In Absentia (2000)
    Duet (2000)
    The Sandman (2000) (TV)

  4. hey, I looked up Institute Benjamenta and found this description at Amazon. Imagine my surprise to find that it coincidentally describes my graduate school experience at USC perfectly!

    Plot Synopsis: Jakob arrives at the Institute Benjamenta (run by brother and sister Johannes and Lisa Benjamenta) to learn to become a servant. With seven other men, he studies under Lisa: absurd lessons of movement, drawing circles, and servility. He asks for a better room. No other students arrive and none leave for employment. Johannes is unhappy, imperious, and detached from the school’s operation. Lisa is beautiful, at first tightly controlled, then on the verge of breakdown. There’s a whiff of incest. Jakob is drawn to Lisa, and perhaps she to him. As winter sets in, she becomes catatonic. Things get worse; Johannes notes that all this has happened since Jakob came. Is there any cause and effect?

  5. I became a bit soured on Svankmajer after Little Otik, which I found tedious and unpleasant. Not that his stuff is ever easy-going. I did like his Alice (“Click click click,” said the white rabbit…) and much of his other stuff, but the jerkiness and eastern European harshness of everything makes me less likely to pick up his stuff lately.

    Any other cool animators out there picking up Harryhausen’s torch? It’s great that it’s not a dead art form, considering how much simpler and cheaper it must be to just do this stuff on computers (and end up with crap like Jimmy Neutron winning an Oscar.)

    There’s some beautiful stuff showing up on the Cartoon Network and Nick. The stories are usually lame, but really nice artwork. (Foster’s home for Imaginary Friends). Not stop-motion, but really well drawn.

    Also – there’s a bunch of Miyazaki stuff on Cartoon Network this month. But it won’t be letter boxed and will have commercials, so who cares really?

  6. I use Svankmajer’s Faustus in one of my classes to great effect. Students really like the wild ending. And if I’m not mistaken I saw Institute Benjamenta on the Sundance Channel a week or so ago. Mark Rylance (now artistic director of the theatre company housed at the Globe in London) played the leading role. It was an intriguing film–there is a highly choreographed scene in a classroom that was exemplary.

  7. Rough Magik (2000) Part 2 of the H.P. Lovecraft collection on DVD. Put together, it seems, by a group that collects Lovecraft films onto DVD, the main feature of this collection (and the only part I watched) was a one hour TV film, intended as a piot for a BBC series. It starts off with a bang, as a mom prepares what looks like a children’s birthday party, then she presents her kids to a statue of Cthuhlu and stabs them to death. Taa-daa!

    The show did not get picked up though, and as a stand-alone feature it isn’t terribly successful, but it seemed ambitious. In fact, it seemed to attempt to be exactly the kind of thing Michael describes in his earlier comment. A government agent, faced with a growing number of gruesome crimes like the knife-wielding mom, decides to search out a small group of people that understand what’s going on (Chtuhlu-spotters) and tried to force them to help control the problem. But those people really don’t want to hav e anything to do with the search, in order to maintain their own sanity. It’s watchable, if you don’t mind BBC’s shoddy standrds (ahem!), and there is indeed a scene of a woman in prison.

    There are 2 other volumes of films, all under the title of the H.P. Lovecraft Collection, all of which seem to take the Lovecraft ideas more seriously than Stuart Gordon’s stuff. Though it’s certainly not to guarantee they’re all particularly good.

  8. Mark,

    that would be great…I’d really appreciate it…I’m not sure I have your email, Mark–I’ll check and if not I’ll send a message through the email group.

  9. we have just been watching alice by svankmajer, 20 mins a night. we take it in small doses not because we don’t like it but because it gets late fast these days. anyway, i am surprised by how pleasurable i find watching it. it’s not an intellectual pleasure at all. i feel really mesmerized, just like when someone tells you a good story with a lot of good voices. i like the sounds a lot, and the objects are fantastic, so bizarre, messy, dirty, and aged. i like the texture the dirt and scuzziness adds to the objects. our obsession with cleanliness and tidiness defintely deprives us of a whole other dimension to the world of things. i wonder if it has to do with the move to the city, with urban life. this is a very visually captivating, very sensual film. and i finally understand why michael with so impressed by li’l pony’s use of dolls with scissors in his bitch-o-rama. no kidding.

  10. Gio..yes, it’s great stuff. definitely see other Svankmajer and get the collection of shorts by the Brothers Quay, particularly “Street of Crocodiles”

Leave a Reply