Tag Archives: Lovecraft

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.

Those pesky other dimensions

As Bonnie and I left the theater last night after a showing of “The Mist” (part of the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival and Cthulhucon going on this weekend in Portland), I wondered why it is that whenever the military, or scientists, or military scientists punch a window through the fabric of space-time into another dimension, and the window turns into a door through which things pour into our world, those things are always (1) big, (2) mean, and (3) a lot like bugs, deep-sea creatures, reptiles, dinos, or some combination thereof.

Wouldn’t you think that just once in a while, by the law of averages, we’d punch our way into a dimension of ponies and buttercups?

That said, “The Mist” is one of the better film adaptations of Stephen King. Not directly Lovecraftian, though the sense of brooding mysterious cosmic horror is Lovecrafty.

The evening’s offerings also included “The Haunted Palace,” a 1963 film based–loosely–on HPL’s The Case of Charles Dexter Ward. In the hope of cramming the film into the studio’s “Poe Cycle,” AIP bookended it with quotes from a Poe poem and plopped a transplanted European castle, a la the Hearst palace, into the middle of rustic Arkham. Hence the title.

I had seen bits of it before but this was my first exposure to the complete film. It’s really not too bad, and has a lot of wonderful shots and some classic Price mugging. I couldn’t help but notice, however, that after Charles Dexter Ward and his wife (anyone who knows HPL is eye-rolling at that!) arrive at their inherited, abandoned palace carrying a total of two small suitcases approximately the size of lightweight portable sewing machines, those reticules disgorge, in the course of the film, a dazzling profusion of full-length brocade dressing gowns and ruffled shirts (him), and lacy peignoirs, satin dressing gowns, and full-crinolined skirts (her).

Now, I love luggage, and I love packing. It has long been my dream to find the perfect piece of luggage, one that violates the laws of physics by being much bigger on the inside than its exterior dimensions would seem to allow. Apparently the prop department at AIP in the 60s had a couple of these treasures.

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.