Lovecraft Movies: Pickman’s Muse (2010)

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One of our vague aspirations at the ISCFC is to cover every movie based on an HP Lovecraft story – this is often done on Bad Movie Monday, where my friends gather to chat and enjoy some fine cinema. Check out our tag to read the rest, if you’d like, there’s a few gems in there (2008’s “The Colour From The Dark” might be my favourite).

This could be the lowest-budget of all the Lovecraft adaptations we’ve reviewed so far. Shot on digital camera with an almost complete absence of CGI and, in classic Lovecraft fashion, horror suggested rather than just shown, it’s got a slightly confusing provenance. The DVD cover says “based on The Haunter Of The Dark”, which indeed it is, but the movie has taken its name and a few other bits and pieces (including the main character’s name and primary occupation), from another Lovecraft story, “Pickman’s Model”. “The Haunter Of The Dark” is a brilliant story, one of HPL’s greatest, and “Pickman’s Model” is sort of an interesting experiment but not a particularly fantastic story (it’s a first person monologue directed to the reader) but it’s interesting to see how the two elements will combine.

Pickman is a painter of the extremely bland subjects that hang in hotels and doctors’ offices – nothing unusual, interesting or visually disturbing. Only he’s suffering from painter’s block, and it’s not til he starts having visions of a mysterious but handily local church that his creativity is kicked into gear, with his new paintings (unseen by us) causing horrified reactions from his landlady and anyone else he shows them to. His art “dealer” says he’s doing almost exact copies of the art of Goodie Hines, who was famous, killed 8 people and is now locked up in an asylum, under the care of Dr Dexter, who’s also Pickman’s psychiatrist…

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No sense revealing any more about it to you – if you’ve not read the story, then you’ve got an interesting tale ahead. But we’re reviewers here, and the actual entertainment presented to us is decidedly ropey in all the technical aspects. The acting is completely amateur, with the honourable exception of Tom Lodewyck as Goodie Hines; Barret Walz as Pickman seems unable to remember who his character is from one sentence to the next and Maurice McNicholas as Dr Dexter could be out-acted by anyone reading this, comfortably. I suppose they could use the excuse of it being dream-like and having that odd logic, but no-one in any dream I’ve ever had acts like they’ve never spoken out loud in English before. The four pre-teen girls Pickman meets outside the church are easily the best actors in this.

The digital photography just looks cheap, with the added bonus of numerous scenes being mostly obscured by extremely strong light sources – if it’s deliberate, it’s a terrible idea and if it’s accidental then someone ought not to be working in the movies any more. I’ll happily give a thumbs up to the sound, though, which seems like a lot of thought went into it.

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I’m beginning to wonder if Lovecraft is just a bad fit for the movies. His stories involve bookish non-hero men, and much of the action is in the mind, or in suggestion, both tricky things to pull off on the screen. Something like “At The Mountains Of Madness” would require a huge budget to really do right (and if the rumours of Guillermo Del Toro trying to make it are true, then it might be the first real classic adaptation) but it seems a heck of a lot of films just don’t get it right – he’s also prone to the “Hellraiser” sequel thing of turning a non-Christian mythology into simple tales of Heaven and Hell.

Even if it were a movie based on a story by a more easily adaptable author, this would be a stinker. Even though it’s barely a movie, at 75 minutes, it drags almost unbearably, with a loud groan going round the room when we checked at what we thought must surely be the end to find out there was still more than half an hour to go. But then, after watching and really wanting to like it, but being unable to, we watched the special features on the DVD, one of which was “deleted scenes”. Now, these scenes would have both made the film a more decent length and helped explain some of the fairly thinly sketched plot, and they didn’t even put them in the finished movie! This tells you all you need to know about the people who made this – sorry, writer / director Robert Cappelletto, but this one was just no good.

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I feel like we ought to institute a new trophy, and “Pickman’s Muse” can be its first recipient. Congratulations, inaugural winner of the “Would’ve Worked Better As An Hour-Long TV Show” award! (aka “The Full Moon Award”)

Rating: thumbs down

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