Lovecraft Movies: Cthulhu Mansion (1992)

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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.

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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.

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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

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The Last Lovecraft (2009)

Directed by: Henry Saine

As you’ve probably already realised by now we’ve moved, and changed our name; mostly in fear of getting sued by the legal might of Poundland, now we are the International Syndicate of Cult Film Critics. Still, Poundland is likely to continue to supply a significant proportion of my films, and ‘The Last Lovecraft’ (UK DVD Title) was purchased alongside a roll of kitchen foil and a pack of notepads that I’m supposed to be using to scribble down a rough draft of my upcoming assignment on the differences between psychodynamic and person-centred counselling. Instead I find myself writing about another low budget straight-to-DVD movie.

Inspired by H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos ‘The Last Lovecraft: Relic of Cthulhu’ is a cheaply made homage, somewhat similar in style to ‘Shaun of the Dead’. In this movie our Shaun is named Jeff, and he works for the SQRLY Squirrel gift delivery company. Jeff (Kyle Davis) is sensible, albeit a tad naïve. Jeff and his confident slacker co-worker, and aspiring comic book artist friend Charlie (Devin McGinn) suddenly find themselves after a dull day at work on an adventure quest when a mysterious grey haired professor turns up in their apartment. The Professor, a member of The Council of Cthulhu tells Jeff that he’s the last living descendent of Lovecraft, and must therefore become the guardian of one half of the relic of Cthulhu. Jeff’s duty is to prevent both pieces getting put back together. If that happened then Cthulhu would rise from deep beneath the ocean and wreak havoc upon Mother Earth.

The gore is hilariously gungey, reminding me more of the classic kids show ‘Get Your Own Back’ then a nasty slaughterhouse horror. After an over the top bloody double murder on board a boat we are introduced to the villainous Starspawn, Cthulhu’s General. Half man half squid, big red and pretty evil looking; Stawspawn, assisted by the devious Cult of Cthulhu possess the other half of the relic. Unfortunately the ‘deep ones’ Starspawn’s violent mutant piranha-like creatures are quite literally plastic and rather pathetic looking despite contributing towards a significant proportion of the films body count.

Jeff and Charlie are joined by Lovecraft nerd Paul (Barak Hardley), a bespectacled overweight manchild who lives with his potty mouthed Grandmother. The trio takes their half of the relic on the road, fleeing from Starspawn in search of the only man who can help them – Captain Olaf, a gnarly sea dog who had encountered the ‘deep ones’ up close, and some might say personal, as his “fish raped” quip suggests . Olaf lives in an RV somewhere in the desert reminiscent of the one featured in the first season of ‘Breaking Bad’, an unlikely place for a showdown that will determine the fate of the world.

My biggest gripe with the film is that some of the cast are hamming it up, and some blatantly can’t be arsed because they knew the film was going to end up as a festering bag of shite. In a film like this everybody needs to be pulling in the same direction, if you’re going to be outrageous I want Klaus Kinski levels of madness, or if you can’t quite reach that level aim a little lower on the crazy scale, like Ben Foster’s performance in the otherwise woeful ‘Alpha Dog’. Low budget films demand acting on a scale of extremes, varying from terrible to dramatically am dram Shakespearean. You can’t really phone in the performance.

The biggest enemy of a movie that could be categorized as “so bad that it’s good” is ‘boredom’ and ‘The Last Lovecraft’ contains several scenes that go nowhere, not to mention the anodyne plot; and though the creators may dream of cult status, this is one DVD you’re unlikely to lend to a buddy, or put on during the final hours of a drunken gathering. Although it feels a lot like ‘The Last Lovecraft’ was cobbled together after a late night session descended beyond the “I love you, man” point to a “Dude, let’s make a movie”.

There are some fun moments in what is actually quite a short and painless film experience, the brief cameo of Martin Starr as Paul’s equally hopeless pal Clarence and the animated sequence which tells the tale of Cthulhu are meagre highlights, there just isn’t enough here to recommend.

– RJW

3/10

The Last Lovecraft on IMDB
Buy The Last Lovecraft [DVD]