Three good friends came over last night and, for some reason, I subjected them to this. So, anything that seems smarter than usual will no doubt be me ripping off something one of them said. On to the review!
Right off the bat, I felt like we’d made a mistake. The title I bought it under, “Black Magic Mansion”, is immediately contradicted by the title you see above in the opening credits, and our “I wonder what story this is based on?” question is answered by “Inspired by the writings of HP Lovecraft”. What writings? His shopping list? According to the room’s resident Lovecraft expert, and later confirmed by a quick search, most of Lovecraft’s most famous work is now in the public domain, as are the concepts behind them – so you, me or anyone else could write a story about him, inspired by him or featuring his creations and you’d be absolutely fine.
Frank Finlay, a great actor with a long and distinguished career, better known as Porthos from the original “Three Musketeers” films and Casanova from the 1971 British TV version, must have had some gambling debts he needed to pay off. He’s Chandu, a magician plying his trade at a funfair (not as ugly as the one from “The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living And Became Mixed Up Zombies”, but close).
At some point in the past, he killed his wife / assistant during a trick…it’s kind of difficult to know if you’re in a flashback or not, because wife and daughter are played by the same actress. Anyway, at some other moment in what I presume is the past, but may not be, he goes to a bookshop during a romantic holiday and buys an old pamphlet that just has “Cthulhu” written on the front; it’s full of diagrams and stuff written in a weird language. Later, his daughter becomes his assistant too, which just seems a terrible idea. If I’d killed my wife doing magic, I’d probably think about finding a new career.
So, funfair. Chandu is doing his thing at the same time as the nicest, cleanest-cut group of drug-dealing murderers you’ve ever seen are there too. They look like the average group of fun teens you’d see in a film, but their leader stabs someone to death on a Haunted House ride and steals a huge bag of cocaine, one of the others beats a cop half to death, and the main woman in the gang is sleeping with everyone and was clearly told by the director that over the top wasn’t crazy enough.
These two groups come together when the gang need to sneak out of the funfair, and kidnap Chandu, his daughter, and my favourite character in the film, the magnificent Felix (Frank Braña). Felix is best described as a camp bodybuilding grandpa, with his sweet moustache, tight vest and old-man muscles – he never speaks, possibly due to him being Spanish and not even being able to mouth English dialogue in order to be dubbed later (as many of the people in this film are). Anyway, they decide to take Chandu and friends home in their car, then steal it, but they decide to stay at Chandu’s, which has a wrought-iron gate that reads above it “Cthulhu”.
Here’s where I need to stop for a moment. Chandu doesn’t seem terribly thrilled at his Cthulhu experience, so why he’d pay to have the Elder God’s name put above his gate is a true puzzler. Did he buy the house with that sign already there, then get lucky when he found the pamphlet later? Sadly, the film chooses not to answer these questions.
As the drug-stealing murderers seem quite happy to relax in the house, wandering around, having sex, raiding the fridge, they’re gradually picked off by a series of weak special effects, all the while Chandu telling them no-one is safe in the house (why do you live there then?). They’re not locked in the house, the car works, they’ve got money to make, but no-one seems in any sort of rush to do anything, a spirit which bleeds out into the film itself. Nothing really happens before the 55 minute mark and not a great deal happens after then either, to be honest. The dialogue is sort of reminiscent of a really cheesy 70s “message” movie, with the 90s teenagers talking like old-fashioned gangsters.
One thing that does happen is maybe the stupidest C-story in all of film history. I won’t spoil it, but keep your eye on the film’s only black character. If you don’t want to throw something at the screen when his story’s…resolved…then you’re a better person than I.
For a film called “Cthulhu Mansion”, inspired by the writings of HP Lovecraft, you might reasonably expect there to be a bit of stuff about Cthulhu in it, right? Wrong. The people who made the film seem to think it’s all just a bit of Satanism, so there’s upside down crosses and a few goat drawings and pentagrams, none of which have the remotest connection to Lovecraft’s work. You’d then think they just called it that name to trap in a few fans, and it was always intended to just be a film about Satanism, but the Cthulhu references are front and centre. It’s a curious one, that’s for sure.
Throw in one of the weirdest most nonsensical endings I’ve seen in a long time, and you’ve got yourself a film. It wasn’t so much rubbish as it was boring and annoying, and without the Lovecraft connection I’d have never even thought of watching it. Sorry, Frank Finlay, you deserved better than this, but hopefully the paycheque was decent.
Rating: thumbs down