The Call of Cthulhu (U.S., 2005) * * *
D: Andrew Leman
A 45-minute short, The Call of Cthulhu is a cleverly executed Z-budget epic inspired by the famous and influential H.P. Lovecraft story. In what you would call a labor of love, Andrew Leman, taking an absurdly ambitious (and devotedly faithful) script by Sean Branney, has perfectly transposed the cosmic-gothic horror of Lovecraft into the world of German Expressionist-styled silent film, replete with title cards, painted cardboard sets--the lot. The plot involves an ancient death cult being suddenly revived globally as an evil god begins to awaken on an island recently emerged from the bottom of the ocean. Leman and his crew had a very tiny budget from which to work. By choosing to make his film in the style of a 1920's silent film, the ambitious scale of the story becomes contained, and the format's limitations become strengths. Similarly, the audience's expectations become tempered: you don't expect a 1920's horror fantasy to contain eye-popping special effects, just pleasingly abstract sets, simple in-camera visual tricks, and dark, angular shadows. You also don't need to worry about delivering the proper pronunciation of "Cthulhu." Despite the self-imposed boundaries, the technique also allows Leman and Branney to faithfully adapt Lovecraft: they can build some miniature sets and some cardboard ones, create a simple matting in the computer, underlight the sets, and utilize old stock footage for montage sequences, and voila: an epic Fritz Lang would be proud of. There's even a stop-motion monster in the finale. While Call of Cthulhu cannot ultimately be more than what it is--a neat little hat trick--it also has all the homemade charm of an early Kenneth Anger or Guy Maddin film. If you're a Lovecraft fan, it's required viewing, and will have to satisfy your appetite until Guillermo del Toro finally does his version of At the Mountains of Madness.
I would have blogged about that yesterday, but my internet connection was down; still, there's little to say about today's Halloween-related activities, since I went to see a screening of Sansho the Bailiff (****, by the way) at the Cinematheque. However, I did squeeze in a few issues of the Marvel Comics Tomb of Dracula when I got home. This is the series created by Marv Wolfman and artist Gene Colan that become a short-lived hit in the 70's, eventually spawning the Blade film series (vampire-hunter Blade was a secondary character in the comics). Read the series--collected in four paperback volumes--for Colan's draftsmanship, not Wolfman's writing. Wolfman, despite the excellent name, had a tendency toward meandering plotlines and numbing repetition. (Typical action scene: Rachel Van Helsing dives at Dracula, who pushes her away; then Blade does; then Frank Drake does; then Rachel Van Helsing again...) But Colan is a true master of comic book art, and he elevates the series to a classy level it didn't really deserve. Truly in the spirit of the Hammer horror films of the 60's, which is why I'm a sucker for the series anyway, and it's suitable October reading.