Back in January I got into another Lovecraft binge (see my thoughts on that here), and during that binge I read one of Lovecraft’s most famous stories, “The Call of Cthulhu.” Around the same time, I found out there was a movie version of that short story that was made in the style of a 1920’s silent film, matching the period of when the story was written, and knew I had to see it. Which turned out to be easier said than done: it’s not on any streaming service I can find, copies at my library had all been lost or damaged to the point they needed to be taken out of circulation, and I did not want to illegally stream it on my laptop. Finally, with some Amazon gift card money, I managed to buy my own copy, and after Amazon lost the package and had to send me a new copy (was that Cthulhu’s work, I wonder?), I finally got to watch the film with dinner this evening!
“Call of Cthulhu” tells the story of a man as he recollects becoming the executor of his late great-uncle’s estate, and how he discovered his uncle’s research on a cult devoted to the worship of a being known as Cthulhu. As the man goes deeper into the mystery of the cult and even conducts some research himself, he finds himself falling deeper into a rabbit hole of madness and despair that has no way out, and some things waiting within.
Firstly, this movie looks and feels like a 1920’s silent film. It was filmed using Mythoscope, a process that combines older and newer techniques to produce a film that looks like a silent picture but with much better special effects, and it looks great. You can tell that a lot of work went into making this film just right. And what’s truly amazing is that this film was made almost in a DIY sort of way: sets were made with cardboard, tape, and even a few blankets, with cast and crew sometimes working in miserable condition and using props bought off eBay to make this work. If you watch the film and then watch the behind-the-scenes video, like I did, you gain such a deeper appreciation for how well executed this film is.
Another thing I really enjoyed about this film are the actors. They are great at their work! As it’s a silent film, much of the storytelling is done through expression and movement, like in a ballet. You never once doubt for a moment that the actor are feeling the emotions they are trying to convey to us, and that just makes the film all the more amazing. It also helps that these actors are not Hollywood stars. In a major motion picture, the narrator of the story might be cast as Tom Hanks or someone else who’s good at playing an everyday guy put into extraordinary circumstances. The actors in this movie, however, often look like folks you see on a daily basis, and that instantly makes them more relatable to me.
If there’s one thing I didn’t care for, it might be Cthulhu himself. Or maybe I do care for him. I’m kind of split on my opinion of him when he finally appears. On the one hand, he doesn’t appear on film that much, even at the climax of the story, and when he does, it’s often very quick or he’s seen as a shadow. The stop-motion used to animate him is also very well done, and he looks like how he might be styled in a 1920’s film. That’s very good. But, he is the film’s big bad, and I like to feel even jut a little intimidated by the big bads I see in film. And whenever Cthulhu is on screen, I’m just not intimidated. I guess if I had lived in the 1920’s (an age where Lon Chaney’s version of the Phantom of the Opera was so terrifying to audiences, people actually fainted in their seats or ran out the theater screaming), I might have found the stop-motion terrifying, but I’m from the age of CGI, so it takes more to terrify me. So I’m honestly unsure of whether the stuff with Cthulhu himself adds or takes away from the film.
But all in all, this is a great film, an artistic masterpiece courtesy of the HP Lovecraft Historical Society (do they have a museum to the guy yet?). And when you consider that the original short story has been called “unfilmable,” and the conditions during production tried to prove that assertion, you learn to love it even more. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving “The Call of Cthulhu” a 4.8 out of 5 (as well as the title of “one of my new favorite films”). Find yourself a copy, and enjoy the experience.
Now I just need a good adaptation of Shunned House. That story is SCARY! And it feels like the sort of story that would translate very well to film.
That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. Join me next week when I watch another Lovecraftian-influenced film. No, not Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (though I probably will see that next weekend with my sister). It takes more than a tentacled monster to make it a Lovecraftian story. No, I mean the film adaptation of Junji Ito’s terrifying manga, Uzumaki.