After the tentacles: HPL Film Fest 2015

I spent much of last weekend at the Hollywood Theater for this year’s H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival. It was one of the better festivals of recent years, partly because I saw some very good films and partly because I got to spend a lot of time hanging with some reading and writing friends, especially Dale Ivan Smith and Anthony Pryor.

Organizers made a heroic attempt to widen the scope of the festival this year, with a lot of panels and readings held in an auxiliary location a block from the theater.  I appreciate the widening, but I attended almost none of those events–interesting as many sounded–because the festival is still about films for me, and I wanted to see as many as I could. (More on that in a moment.) I did, though, enjoy a very good dramatic reading of Alex Shvartsman’s story “Explaining Cthulhu to Grandma,” presented by Pulp Stage. I heard a talk by Charles Stross, the guest of honor, whose Laundry Files books I like a lot. And I was on hand when Wendy Wagner read “Queen of a New America,” her delightful and twisted story from the anthology She Walks in Shadows. I got to hear readings by Andrew Fuller and Molly Tanzer at the same event.

And now for the films. There were three feature films I wanted to see, and six blocks of short films. The shorts blocks have always been my favorite part of the festival, so I worked my schedule-fu to see all six of them and two of the features. I came home last night with tired eyes and brain, but with the satisfaction of having seen some fine films, a lot of decent or interesting ones, and only a couple of real duds.

Here are my standout picks:

Black Mountain Side, feature length. A tense, eerie, and professional iteration of “people alone in the wilderness when weird shit starts happening and minds buckle.” It reminded me, in a good way, of Larry Fessenden’s Wendigo and The Last Winter, but at the same time it was fresh and assured, and not without some black humor. (The screenplay for this film won Best Screenplay award at the 2013 HPLFF.)

Tesla vs. Cthulhu: The Nightmare of Desolation Sound, short. Well-done episode, in full period style, in the ongoing attempt of Tesla and others to halt the irruption of the Great Old Ones and their evil minions.

Mercy, short. A very tight short film with a character arc and a distinctive tone, dealing with a mysterious find on a beach and its aftermath. This film won the festival organizers’ award for Best Short of the year. It is the letter M in Filmmaking Frenzy’s ABCs of Death 2.

Cat Killer, animated short. I know, the title. It’s a bleak fable, but beautifully animated and surprisingly touching.

The Trap, The Littlest Chtulhuist, and The Call of Farqunglu, shorts. Amid an infinity of shorts involving the ocean, tentacles, a mad artist and his dreadful model, or the sole survivor of a descent down a flight of subterranean stairs, these three films were a breath of fresh, funny air. The first two are live action, the third animated with customized Lego figures. All made me laugh, and all were well-written and produced.

There were plenty of others I enjoyed–too many to mention. I look forward to next year’s festival. If you like any of the films I’ve mentioned here, you should, too.

Props to the festival’s organizers and volunteers for a job well done, and to the Kickstarter backers who made it happen.

 

 

 

 

 

Stephen King’s Return to Cosmic Horror

A couple of days ago I finished Revival, Stephen King’s latest. (“Latest” as of this writing. By the time I finish this post and put it up, it may have been supplanted.) I enjoyed it a lot. It was leaner and less over-stuffed than many of his novels–even many I like–and it marked a return to his roots in horror. Not chase-you-with-an-ax stuff but cosmic horror in the Lovecraftian vein. Indeed, Lovecraft’s work, along with Machen’s The Great God Pan, gets a shout-out from King when he lists his influences, and HPL, the Lovecrafty Ludwig Prinn, and other notable names in the pedigree of this particular vein of doors-not-meant-to-be-opened horror get name-checked or obliquely referenced toward the end of the novel. Revival‘s got that authentic 60s Maine flavor that King does so well, although it ends in 2014; it’s got a character-driven story and a narrator you cannot help but like and trust; and it sticks the knife deep into religion and twists it, which is something I always appreciate. In its tone and its air of dark weirdness it reminded me of another favorite, From a Buick 8. Nicely done.

Lunch with Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Specfic writer and publisher Silvia Moreno-Garcia has traded rainy British Columbia for somewhat- less-rainy Portland–for a few days. She shared a couple of her vacation hours with me at lunch today.

Moreno-Garcia is, among other things, the publisher of Innsmouth Free Press. If you like horror and dark speculative fiction, you probably already know the site. It’s an online magazine packed with reviews, interviews, articles, and–thrice annually–fiction. (Horn-tooting: Moreno-Garcia and editor-in-chief Paula R. Stiles bought a story of mine, “The Second Sphinx,” for an upcoming fiction issue.)

Innsmouth Free Press serves up cosmic dread and Lovecraftian horror. As its recent anthology Historical Lovecraft shows, IFP’s vision of Lovecraftian horror is much broader than tales of appalling Elder Gods and forbidden tomes, wonderful as those are. In our conversation today Moreno-Garcia shared her enthusiasm for weird and dark fiction that reaches beyond the derivative to explore new territory, not just in subject matter but in approach to storytelling.

One weird tentacle has probed its way into Portland’s restaurant scene, and I’m not talking about calamari. Lunch took place at the Lovecraft Bar, a dark venue decorated with a cabalistic ceiling painting, Lovecraft posters and images, and many, many skulls. Animal, not human. In this spectral setting Moreno-Garcia and I talked about Clark Ashton Smith, the challenges and the importance of writing about the Other (cultures, races, eras), and trends in publishing. Ebooks are accounting for a much greater portion of total Historical Lovecraft sales than expected, Moreno-Garcia told me–a fact that fits in with a lot of what I’ve been reading lately about ebook sales.

Here’s hoping the Lovecraft Film Festival resumes here in Portland next year. It might lure Silvia Moreno-Garcia back for another visit.

Shout-out to HorrorMasters.com

In lieu of some “best of 2010” list, I’m going to close out the year with props to a site I think is one of the most useful I’ve found:

If you’ve read HPL’s “Supernatural Horror in Literature” you’ve seen his remarks on, say, Edward Lucas White’s story “Lukundoo.” If you then thought, Hey, I’d like to read that story, and googled it, you probably wound up at HorrorMasters, a site with a vast library of classic horror, novels as well as short fiction, all free, readable online or downloadable. There’s new fiction, too, but for me the best thing about the site is the availability of hundreds of older works, including many that cannot be found at Project Gutenberg or Google Books. It’s a priceless resource.

If you haven’t checked out HorrorMasters, give it a try. “Lukundoo” isn’t a bad place to start.

The Last Lovecraft Film Festival?

Highlights of Friday night were three short films–catch them online or from a VOD service if you can. “Frank DanCoolo, Paranormal Drug Dealer” (8 minutes, crazy and hilarious); “AM 1200” (40 minutes, reprised from an earlier festival, but worth seeing again); and “Derailed” (French, 16 minutes, very creepy).

This was the 15th year of the HPL film fest here in Portland. The guy who founded it and has run it every year has stepped down. Someone else may take up the torch and continue the event; there is also a plan to start up a yearly HPL FF in the LA area.

The sad fact is that I’ve found the festival progressively less compelling over the past couple of years. Not that my interest in HPL and all things cosmically horrific has waned–far from it. But the menu of screenings has grown smaller and less exciting. Perhaps the festival organizer worked his way through all of the earlier and obscure films that could possibly find a place in the festival, and there’s just not enough new stuff being made.

There used to be more feature films each year than I could possibly see, as well as three to five 90-minute blocks of shorts, which were usually the most fun, innovative, and exciting things on the program.

This year the handful of feature-length films included Stuart Gordon’s Dagon, which has been shown at the festival before (it premiered there a couple of years ago); Burrowers, which has been on the Syfy Channel half a dozen times; Pan’s Labyrinth, included perhaps as a nod to Guillermo del Toro, who’s supposed to be filming At the Mountains of Madness; The Whole Wide World, which a lot of Lovecraft and Howard fans have already seen; and The Unnameable and The Unnameable II, campy fun but featured at the festival in earlier years. So . . . not so much excitement about the features. The guest list was long; the festival has included more and more panels and Q&A sessions in recent years. Others may like these, but they don’t appeal to me.

The Mall of Cthulhu is always good. Vendors and booksellers from all over peddle their wares amid a sea of black-garbed browsers. It’s fun to cruise the tables and decide that yeah, you do need that Miskatonic U. parking sticker for your car, or that that collection of essays from some small press about the greater meaning of the Cthulhu Mythos looks like suitable bathtub reading.

I’m in the middle of a deadline crunch and didn’t attend the rest of this year’s fest. But I’m glad I went for one night, both to enjoy the shorts and to be part of the crowd for what may be the final HPL FF in Portland.