The H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival

Last weekend was the annual H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival here in Portland. (Ia! Ia! Cthulhu fhtagn!) In recent years the minions of the Old Ones have gathered for this event at what I consider the perfect venue (and not just because it’s close to my house):  the Hollywood Theatre, a shabbily magnificent old-style movie palace, with three screening rooms, one of which is enormous. A winding ramp leads up to the second floor. The ramp is oddly off-kilter, but its non-Euclidean geometry is the perfect introduction to the Mall of Cthulhu on the second floor, where vendors hawk all kinds of good things: books, comix, Miskatonic U. athletic wear, and much, much more. I always treat myself to something during the festival. This year I bought a CD of a 30s-style radio play of At the Mountains of Madness. It was produced by the good folks at the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society, who also created the wonderful silent-film-style live-action Call of Cthulhu a year or so ago. I haven’t yet listened to the CD. I’m saving it for the end of this month, when Zach and I may venture into the aeon-blasted peaks surrounding the fabled plateau of forbidden Leng . . . er, drive to Chico to visit Z’s stepmom, then take the long way home on back roads through the Klamath and Siskiyou mountains. We shall strictly avoid any ancient buried cities we happen to find.

Each year the HPL filmfest presents half a dozen or so feature films, old and new, and several blocks of shorts. Some are directly based on Lovecraft’s fiction; others are indirectly Lovecraftian–sometimes very indirectly, but the festival’s organizer, Andrew Migliore, is pretty good at keeping the focus on weird and cosmic horror rather than pure grue. I often find the shorts to be the best of the fest. They are wildly varied in tone and quality, but they always represent wonderful inventiveness and energy. Another reason I like to I catch all the shorts blocks is that at least some of the features are available on DVD. John Carpenter’s The Thing and In the Mouth of Madness, frex, were screened this year. So was Larry Fessenden’s new film, The Last Winter, which sounds very promising. I would’ve worked it into my fest schedule had I not learned that it will play at the Hollywood for a regular run in December. There are, however, always features that are difficult, if not impossible, to get on DVD. (I will never forget an amazing, confusing, but very Lovecraftian Italian film I saw at the fest a few years ago; last time I checked it was not yet available in NA format.) A film called Wishbaby had its world premiere at this year’s festival, and one called Chill, based on “Cool Air” had its regional premiere.

Highlights of the weekend, in no particular order:

–A very funny live skit by Chuck and Dexter, a pair of prankish auteurs who have contributed some of the cleverest videos to recent festivals . My favorite short of theirs is “Antiques Road Show: Arkham.”

–A 21-minute short called “Of Darkness” that I thought was brilliant. It was a simple idea, filmed in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, with very a simple set and minimal props. It was about half a dozen kids (not professional actors, but amazingly well directed) in a simple, terrifying story about a book that opens and lights that go out.

–“The Masque of Ollock,” an eerie 8-minute animated horror fantasy created by Robert F. Kauffman, based on his book of the same title. The soundtrack was disturbingly cool; I scanned the credits and saw that it was by The Church, which reminded me of how much I liked that band and launched a search through boxes of old CDs when I got home.

—“A Short Film About John Bolton,” a funny-scary parody of a BBC documentary about a British painter; spot-on skewering of a pretentious gallery owner and a clueless interviewer; a nod to “Pickman’s Model.”

Nobody, a 90-minute feature that made its regional premiere, starring Costas Mandylor and George O’Ross (the director, Shawn Linden, was at the fest). It was slow and stately, but deeply atmospheric and filmed in extraordinarily good, lived-in-looking 1950s period detail. It’s a film noir about the fateful intersection of a mobster, an assassin, and a witch on a winter night in some nameless city . . . with structural echoes of Groundhog Day and Memento.

–Two adaptations of “The Shadow Over Innsmouth: Cthulhu, a feature length piece filmed here in the Pacific NW, and “Call,” a 43-minute “long short” made in Scotland. I liked Cthulhu but liked “Call” more–the setting in a Scottish seaside city, with actors speaking their lines in Trainspotting-thick Scots accents, added piquancy.

I was too busy all week, finishing an overdue book about Rodents (couldn’t work in a reference to “The Rats in the Walls,” though), to write this up. As I went to bed last night, I was thinking about the festival and preparing to write about it. Then I had a dream about NEXT year’s HPL film fest. Zach was there (highly unusual–he almost never goes) and so, for some reason, was Sharon Stone (I think she had a bit part in some horror movie that was showing and stopped by to sign autographs or something). A bunch of us were sitting around in what looked like an elementary-school classroom, talking, and she asked, “Who is this Lovecraft and why do you like the stuff?” Everybody started babbling enthusiastically, and after a minute she said, “Maybe I should make a Lovecraft movie. What are his women characters like?” General hilarity ensued. Just then a crane outside the window accidentally drove a long metal bar right through the wall, about 3 inches above Sharon Stone’s head. Everyone sat there stunned for an instant, and then Zach said, “Stuff like that happens all the time in Lovecraft.” I was about to take issue with him and point out that he’s never even read any Lovecraft, but I woke up.

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