Witch Hunt (1994)

“Cast A Deadly Spell”, a made-for-HBO TV movie which starred HP Lovecraft as a private detective in a noir-ish 1940s LA where everyone uses magic, was a surprise thumbs-up from us; and it seems, from lots of other people, as they made a sequel to it a few years later.

Gone was director Martin Campbell (although writer Joseph Dougherty returned); he was replaced by Paul Schrader, who is more famous as a writer – he gave us “Taxi Driver”, “Raging Bull” and “The Last Temptation Of Christ”. Gone is the entire cast of the first movie, most prominently Fred Ward as HP Lovecraft – he’s replaced by Dennis Hopper, who was in the stage of his career when he seemed pretty happy to coast in lesser projects. The other main draws are Eric Bogosian as Senator Larson Crocket, Penelope Ann Miller as Kim Hudson, a movie star and wife of a murdered studio executive, and Julian Sands as the mysterious Finn Macha, for some reason trotting out a genuinely bizarre Irish accent.

So. This is more something that uses the same basic building blocks to tell a completely different story than it is a sequel. Gone is the noir look of “Cast A Deadly Spell”, to be replaced by a much more TV-movie looking bright LA, kind of Sunset Boulevard crossed with the paintings of David Hockney (although nowhere near as interesting as that would actually look). It’s set in 1953, although it’s very vague on the details, having tons of props that people who pay more attention than me have dated to 1958 at the earliest.

They’ve made it a red scare movie, but replaced communism with magic. I’m not entirely sure this works? Okay, both are easy to learn, simple to understand and very beneficial to life, but communism was never as widespread and as beloved as magic is here. Senator Crocket is trying to ban magic, organises rallies and Senate hearings against it; at the same time, the murder of the producer is pinned on his wife, who was being fazed out of his movies in place of a younger starlet. Lovecraft investigates and the two come together (obviously, or this would be a very strange movie indeed).

There are some fun touches, such as near the beginning when a group of execs summon Shakespeare from the 16th century, who looks horrified, only to be glimpsed in a later scene having completely transformed into a typical LA scumbag; and the running gag of Lovecraft never being able to produce the right business card, carried over from the first movie. And, in a curious bit of continuity, a main character being a transvestite. But it just doesn’t work.

I’ve been trying to ponder a way to describe this. Imagine a “Friday the 13th” sequel that’s a political thriller, where Jason just sort of idly wanders through a few scenes not really doing anything. Having HP Lovecraft as a character in a movie where there’s no mention of his mythos, and where magic is an extremely flimsy metaphor, just seems pointless? It’s also really not helped by Hopper, who’s indifferent to proceedings, and director Schrader, likewise. I wonder what persuaded either of them this was worth their time? Did HBO throw a lot of money at them, or were they both working cheap that week?

I’m sorry to report that nothing really works. It’s not a good detective, horror, or comedy movie, and everyone gives off a strong vibe of wishing they were somewhere else. The world only needs one HP-Lovecraft-is-a-private-eye movie, and this isn’t it.

Rating: thumbs down

Advertisements

Youtube Film Club: Cast A Deadly Spell (1991)

I love a good high-concept B-movie, or just one with a bizarre premise. If you’re going to make something in our world, why not try and have fun with it? Raw Force – “bunch of kung fu enthusiasts get shipwrecked on an island full of zombies”; Rome 2072: The New Gladiators – “a bike based murder TV show in the far future”; and Demon Cop – “about, er, a werewolf social worker”…among many many others. To that fine tradition we can add “Cast A Deadly Spell”.

Its premise? “HP Lovecraft is a detective in 1940s LA, and everyone uses magic apart from him. Literally everyone”.

Unlike some of the odder concept movies we’ve covered here at the ISCFC, the people behind this have got the chops to pull it off. There’s director Martin Campbell, who also directed all-time great TV show “Edge Of Darkness”, the Hollywood remake with Mel Gibson, and two James Bond movies (“GoldenEye” and “Casino Royale”). Writer Joseph Dougherty has been responsible for both “ThirtySomething” and “Pretty Little Liars”. And it stars Fred Ward (“Tremors”) as Lovecraft, David Warner (“Final Equinox”, “Beastmaster 3”) as the guy who hires him, Clancy Brown (“Highlander”) as Lovecraft’s former partner / villain, and a very early role for Julianne Moore as the femme fatale.

Much like its spiritual counterpart “The Maltese Falcon”, there’s a MacGuffin which drives the plot along – the Necronomicon! I mean, someone does want it to open up a portal to whichever dimension Yog Sothoth lives in and revive him, but it’s not important to the plot. They just want that damn book! Lovecraft, after some unspecified earlier incident, refuses to use magic, but everyone else does – every scene, there’ll be something floating along in the background, or a guy shaking a cocktail without using his hands. While it could have become annoying in the wrong hands, it’s just subtle enough to still be entertaining.

The Necronomicon is stolen from Amos Hackshaw (Warner), there’s a subplot with Lee Tergesen (“Wayne’s World”) playing two parts, one of whom is Lilly Sirwar, the love interest of the thief – he’s a convincing woman, it wasn’t until about two-thirds of the way through that my wife went “is that a guy?” – and Lovecraft is trying to find it and keep it out of the hands of Harry Bordon (Brown).

They really make an effort to make the world they’re in feel normal and lived in, along with recreating the classic film noir flavour. Unlike films noir, there’s substantial roles for people of colour though, which is great, such as HP’s landlord / dance teacher Hipolyte Kropotkin (Arnetia Walker). There’s also a huge zombie familiar, who I thought might have been pro wrestler Viscera but was actually a fella by the name of Jaime Cardriche, and Bordon makes an off-hand remark about buying them in packs of six from Haiti.

Those of you with long memories may remember our coverage of movies based on HP Lovecraft stories, or in one case “inspired by the stories of” (which meant a few character names and not much more). This would go right to the top of the list of those movies, and I think it counts as much as “Cthulhu Mansion” ever did, as his mythos is a prominent part of the plot (summoning Yog-Sothoth, etc.) I just asked my friends back in the UK about “Cast A Deadly Spell” and they all acted amazed I’d never heard of it, considering how much they’d enjoyed it. Heck, there’s even a sequel of sorts! Same writer, diferent director (Hollywood legend Paul Schrader!) and different star (playing Lovecraft is Dennis Hopper!)

For a made-for-HBO TV movie, this is infinitely better than it has any right to be. The mood of the era is captured beautifully, the cast is absolute dynamite, the plot is interesting, the wild concept doesn’t dominate proceedings, and I was interested from beginning to end. If you’d like to watch it, it’s available for free too, so knock yourselves out.

One last thing – there’s lots of comparisons made by other reviewers to “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”, and…I guess? I don’t really see it myself, although admittedly there’s a private eye, the period setting and the wild world that everyone accepts as reality. Okay, so I may have just convinced myself, although this is perhaps a little darker than that was. It has more in common with something like “The Rocketeer”, an underrated gem from the same sort of era and about the same sort of era.

Rating: thumbs up

Lovecraft Movies: Pickman’s Muse (2010)

1488032

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…

HPL09-197

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.

tom-lodewyck-07

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.

muza_pikmana1

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

The Dunwich Horror (1970)

 

Dunwich_HorrorI occasionally like a good pop culture debate with no real right or wrong answer, and a fine example of this is “when did modern horror start?” What do you mean by modern, what do you mean by horror, etc, but two front runners for this particular prize are “Night Of The Living Dead”, from 1968, and “Halloween”, from 1977. Pretty much everything before “Night…” could be classed as “old-fashioned”, everything after “Halloween” is modern. Obviously, there are exceptions, which is why it’s a fun argument, but there’s also some interesting movies made in the middle, and “The Dunwich Horror” is one of those.

 

Our HP Lovecraft review series rumbles on apace, after the really pretty good “Colour From The Dark”. I was in a good mood from the opening credits, which felt like Bond crossed with Morricone, and the names that came up left my cult-movie-loving brain in happy anticipation – AIP, Samuel Z Arkoff, James Nicholson, and Roger Corman – Corman, working for AIP, made the extraordinary run of Edgar Allan Poe-based horrors in the 60s. Add in a script from future Oscar-winner Curtis Hanson (LA Confidential), an early role for Dean Stockwell, and expectations are, for once with one of the movies we review on this site, moderately high.

Dunwich6

Although this wasn’t directed by Corman – this one’s credited to Daniel Haller, who’d go on to direct loads of TV shows – it has that same feel, with the gorgeous super-bright technicolour in full effect (some beautiful purples in the Whateley house, for example). Our story kicks off with the Necronomicon, the “ancient” book of spells and demonic knowledge that Lovecraft made up and loads of people since have tried to prove is a real thing – Professor Armitage (Ed Begley) is giving a lecture about it and then just asks two of his students, Elizabeth (Donna Bacala) and Nancy (Sandra Dee, who got 5% of the profits from her participation) to just put it back in its locked box again. Ah, more casual times! In walks Wilbur Whateley (Stockwell), who wants to borrow the book; the Professor is all “no can do, random stranger”; there’s an attraction between Wilbur and Nancy; an extremely well written restaurant scene; and then Wilbur wangles a lift back to Dunwich as he’s missed his last bus.

 

Up to now, there’s been a bit of doubt, but Wilbur’s sabotaging her car lets us know for certain he’s up to no good. She’s forced to stay with him in his big old mansion, and then (thanks to a cup or two of magic tea) she’s in his power, forcing Elizabeth and the Professor to track her down. Because it’s Lovecraft, you know there’ll be some unusual family secrets, small towns and large dark forces; and because it’s Corman, you’ll know it’ll be quickly told and probably a little cheap. I’m being way unkind to Corman, though, who had a huge affinity for this sort of material and made some of the best horror of the 60s.

TheDunwichHorror-Still1_cr

This might be the best of the Lovecraft films we’ve done so far. A lot of criticism at the time came from its psychedelic trappings (filmed in 1969, released in 1970, it’s safe to say that “2001” had a bit of an influence), but when you’re dealing with something which, as in the original story, is invisible, trying to give some visual cues to the audience, the way they did it works extremely well. If you’ve got no money to represent a mutated child of an Elder God, then give us a light show from the monster’s POV. Well done movie!

 

Also, a good portion of Lovecraft adaptations get to the point of the story where Christianity is irrelevant and the creatures of the Cthulhu mythos come into play, and just go “Satan is sort of the same as these guys, right?” Some of them work, most of them don’t, but they all miss something important with the reduction, that idea of men (it’s always men) looking further than they should, staring into the abyss and definitely having it stare back into them. “The Dunwich Horror” lets you know right from the off it’s going to be doing it the right way, with Yog-Sothoth mentioned by name in the first five minutes and worshipped thereafter. Which isn’t to say it’s an extremely close adaptation of the story, but it gets the important stuff right.

TheDunwichHorror7

It’s perhaps a little creaky, erring more on the side of the early 60s Corman than the modern – with a few trims for hippie nudity, it could have easily been made 15 years earlier. And the ending’s a little bit rushed, with them perhaps battering you over the head with the similarities to “Rosemary’s Baby”. But it’s got a great atmosphere, well told, well directed, with some – okay – pretty ropey performances (Stockwell’s a bit mannered) and at least one really good one from Ed “dad of Ed Begley Jr” Begley; it was his last role as he died three months after finishing this.

 

Add this to the top of your hypothetical Lovecraft movie list, I say.

tumblr_mfo51rHTbM1qzrs0co1_500

Rating: thumbs up

Colour From The Dark (2008)

colourfrompostbig1

When HP Lovecraft wasn’t insulting the working classes or non-white people, he could turn out a pretty fantastic story, and as he’s both famous and in the public domain, lots of movies have used those stories, and have had no problem with altering large portions of the source material. Sometimes, like “Cthulhu Mansion”, it’s an “inspired by the fiction of” credit (which means “we took the famous words and ignored the rest”); sometimes, like with  “Dark Heritage”, they try and stick closer.

“The Colour From The Dark”, though, is a sort of halfway house. The title gives us a clue – HPL’s original is called “The Colour Out Of Space”; and is about the horror caused when a few people interact with an very alien race (this is a very very brief and incomplete summary of the original). Lovecraft apparently spent a great deal of time imagining what an alien race completely and utterly different in all things to humanity would act and behave, and that fed into the story, one of his very best. He also tried to imagine / describe a brand new colour, which I’m sure you’d agree is a bit tough for a visual medium like the movies. This, on the other hand, puts the action very much in the hands of people (so I think, it’s open to interpretation).

colour-from-the-dark-1

It’s Italy, in 1943. A small family is farming the land as families there had probably done in roughly the same way for centuries, and it looks a beautiful peaceful little idyll. Of course, the date should give you a clue, and when we see the neighbour of our main family giving help to a Jewish woman, we know something’s not right (even though there’s only one Nazi in the movie, really). Pietro the farmer, his wife Lucia, and Lucia’s younger sister Alice live together, but all is not well with Alice – for reasons which I think remain unspecified, she is mute and has some “difficulties”.

 

One day, Alice drops a bucket down the well, and trying to retrieve it, Pietro causes…something?…to happen. Smoke billows out of the well, along with a sort of lightning-looking thing, and things start happening pretty much immediately. The vegetables they’re growing, watered by that same well, start growing to monstrous size, and then even stranger, soon Alice is talking again and Lucia has become a sexual dynamo. Only Pietro appears unaffected initially, but things get darker and darker for our family, and…well, it’s available to watch for free, I’ll leave you to discover that.

colour3

“Colour From The Dark” does a remarkable job of giving that feel of Lovecraft’s best fiction, perhaps more strongly than any movie the ISCFC has covered so far (with the exception of “Dagon”), that we are ultimately powerless against forces much too big and alien for us to understand. Now, here’s my theory about this movie, as it’s definitely not to do with aliens. The thing that causes the crops to fail and the people to slowly descend into madness is a Nazi chemical weapon, accidentally dropped in the bottom of the well. The Nazis and fascism could count as the “alien” belief system, which isn’t so much fought against as survived by people like the Italian villagers. I do want to point out that I ran this past my friends, who watched the movie with me, and they think I’m talking rubbish. So you may have a very different take to me.

 

It’s let down a little by some technical stuff. The CGI is awful, and presumably the budget was very small indeed (tiny handful of sets, a garden with very obvious blue screen behind the cast for some shots). It’s quite visually boring, too – look at a movie like “The Reflecting Skin” for how to shoot those sorts of locations with not much money. The three main women in the movie all look way too similar, which leads to unnecessary puzzlement at the beginning of a few scenes; although the acting is fine, with a series of perfectly workmanlike performances, with one particular exception.

3857_0_screenshot

Debbie Rochon, as Lucia, is absolutely amazing. Her transformation is entirely believable, her sexuality almost leaps through the screen and grabs you, she’s mysterious and beautiful and far far too good to have just had a career as a low-rent “scream queen” (including a lot of Troma movies and a couple with Donald Farmer, so we’ll be seeing her again soon). Every scene with her in ends up elevated.

 

Sadly, the low budget is not my only criticism. While filmmaker Ivan Zuccon nailed the atmosphere (he’s made a lot of Lovecraft adaptations, so it’s perhaps to be expected) he really didn’t write enough movie. The middle is really slow, and while I’ve tried to spin the Nazi thing as a plot substitute for aliens, the whole thing with the Jewish refugee and the town’s Nazi never really went anywhere. It could have been set literally anywhere with the tiniest bit of tweaking.

Colour-from-the-Dark-2008-movie-Ivan-Zuccon-4

But, this is definitely in the “win” column for Lovecraft movies. Great atmosphere, interesting plot, and one amazing performance.

 

Rating: thumbs up

Bleeders (1997)

Bleeders-movie

HP Lovecraft’s short story “The Lurking Fear” has already been covered twice by us at the ISCFC, in 1989’s “Dark Heritage” and 1994’s “Lurking Fear”, and it’s a fascinating exercise in how different groups treat the same source material. “Dark Heritage” sticks closest while giving us a ton of gay subtext; “Lurking Fear” sadly doesn’t have much lurking or fear in it, relegating Lovecraft’s story to the B-plot, opposed to an A-plot about bank robbers hiding their stash in a graveyard; and now “Bleeders” (aka “Hemoglobin”) uses the main beats  – underground-dwelling de-evolved trolls, family with heterochromia (two different-coloured eyes) – and uses them to tell yet another different story. But who wins the “Lurking Fear Adaptation Competition”?

 

On a beautiful clear day – surprising for a Lovecraft story – a bored sounding narrator accompanies a boat sailing into a small town’s harbour. The Van Daam family moved to the USA a couple of centuries ago, to escape the people in Europe who weren’t thrilled by incest; after keeping completely to themselves for centuries, if you know what I mean, they eventually died off in the 1920s, and their mansion has sat empty ever since. John and Kathleen Strauss, the couple on the boat are a curious pair, partly because they have absolutely zero chemistry, partly because John spends a good two-thirds of the movie either unconscious or laying about, sickly-looking.  At the same time, the town’s cheapskate undertaker has been forced to dig up all the town’s corpses due to her substandard coffins, but hasn’t learned her lesson, and decides to re-bury a few of them on the Van Daam land, because screw them, they’re all dead, right?

hqdefault

The ugliest, cheapest looking trolls it’s ever been my misfortune to see are annoyed at the removal of the coffins, so they start to move further afield than their warren of tunnels underneath the town; and there lies the movie. Rutger Hauer, who was presumably in town, had a few spare days and needed the cash, plays the doctor who tries to figure out what’s wrong with John, autopsies a troll and discovers – shock horror! – both sets of sex organs, and generally acts like the only person in town who has a clue. Will John (well, his wife) find his family? Why are his eyes different colours? If you’ve read the other reviews or seen the other movies, you’ll know already but don’t spoil it for everyone else.

 

One question you don’t get the answer to is “why are there virtually no men in this town?” The grave-digging crew is all women, and the only men left are Hauer and an old drunk fella. A reference is made to them all being out on a fishing trip, and it’s not like anything creepy is going on as there are kids around, but it feels weird, like they decided to change the plot three-quarters of the way through filming and left this in as a massive red herring.

bleeders_3

Lovecraft’s stories are perfect for TV and movie adaptation, because there’s interesting locations, not too much in the way of “special effects” (with a few notable examples, of course), and they often have a narrator character who can be turned into the typical movie leading man with no problems. That’s the case with the story here, but for some reason “Bleeders” has gotten rid of that chap and replaced him with…nobody, really. And that’s a pretty substantial problem – who’s the lead in this movie? It’s not John, as he’s mostly comatose. It’s not his wife, as she’s just there to help him, forgives him remarkably quickly for trying to rape her, etc. Hauer’s only in it for 15 minutes or so and there’s no-one else who does much of anything. Not all movies need the classic protagonist, but this is a story designed to have one!

 

Add to this barrel of laughs a complete “TV movie” feel in terms of acting and cinematography, and perhaps the ugliest most stupid ending I’ve seen in a long time, and you’ve got yourself a loser. Honestly, and it surprises me to say this, but I’d rather watch “Dark Heritage” again than this. At least that movie had a point – this is just a poorly guy with weird coloured eyes wondering why the hideous troll-mutant-things don’t attack him, and a whole pile of plot strands that don’t come close to tying together.

gemoglobin3

There’s one more curious name attached to this, and it’s not director Peter Svatek, who went on to a career in awful TV movies before breaking a 5 year drought with a documentary about MMA superstar Georges Saint-Pierre. It’s Dan O’Bannon, writer of “Dark Star”, “Alien”, “Total Recall”, and “Return Of The Living Dead”, a genuine shlock superstar. He’s got previous Lovecraft form, having directed “The Resurrected”, but his involvement her is still a puzzler. Maybe he was bored one weekend and knocked a script out, or maybe he was paid to add his name to the script, as he did with “Dead and Buried”? I guess we’ll never know.

 

Rating: thumbs down

The Unnamable (1988)

2013-11-09-the-unnamable

If I’d not written notes while watching “The Unnamable”, right now the morning after watching it, I’d have struggled to remember what went on. It’s not so much that It’s bad, it just commits the unforgivable crime of being boring.

Now I’ve given you the entire review in two lines, I suppose I ought to be a bit more thorough. At some point in the late 18th century, a chap has a creature locked up in his house. He releases it and tries to reason with it, but sucks to be you, my olde-timey friend! He’s done for, but luckily after he takes a dirt nap a bunch of witches imprison it inside the house, and as long as no light falls on it (in other words, keeping the curtains closed) it should stay there forever.

Then, suddenly and inexplicably, we leap into a really bad amateur dramatics class. Wait, what? This is actually still the movie? Present day, Miskatonic University, and a group of people who look a good decade too old to be students are discussing ghost stories and the legend of the “Unnamable”, which it turns out is the very namable Aylda Winthrop, daughter of our unfortunate first victim. Fortunately, though, that the house is on the campus, twenty feet away from them and they decide to go and spend the night there, having clearly never read any horror stories. Only one of them turns up and he immediately dies, but the next day, some cool jocks and sorority pledges decide to go, plus the dead fella’s two friends mill about as well.

The pulse-pounding library scene!

The pulse-pounding library scene!

The huge majority of the film is set inside the old “haunted” house. If you can ignore how a house has been left untouched for over 200 years with original stuff still inside it, considering how many people appear to be able to just wander in at will, then they at least try with this segment – interesting camera angles, not too much of that acting business, which is best left to professionals, and the pace moves from unbearably slow to just really slow. People are killed and other people try and figure out how to stop the creature.

If you’re wondering just how slow the movie was, my friends and I spent a good ten minutes discussing the torches they used. One of them is so awful that it actually makes things worse – one small circle of light that stops your eyes from adapting to the vast expanse of darkness that surrounds it. Is there a brightness level lower than 1 candles’ worth?

One of my friends made the excellent point that this feels a lot like a student production – they’ve been given permission to film on what looks like a real campus, the old house looks like a real old house, it’s the director’s first film, and there are no stars, big or small, in the cast. Plus, it’s really awful in a lot of ways – women are props, and pretty unpleasant sexual harassment is played for laughs; the soundtrack is amazingly bad; the monster appears to have failed to graduate from Scary Pose Academy; and when something exciting happens, it happens completely off-screen. Seriously, you thought you were all loaded up with thrills so you’d leave the fight against the skeletons to our imagination?

Well hello to you!

Well hello to you!

So, if you want to watch someone who looks like a stereotype of a gay guy from the 1930s take part in some of the worst conversations ever captured on film, this is the film for you. Otherwise, probably best you stay away. Lovecraft’s original short story works because, well, it’s short, and the monster in it is a great deal more scary than a woman in white makeup waving her arms about. But, as the sequel has the great John Rhys-Davies in it, I suppose we’ll be watching that soon too.

Rating: thumbs down

Youtube Film Club – The Resurrected (1991)

5d3d8-resurrected

Considering the incredible pedigree of the people involved – directed by Dan O’Bannon, who wrote “Dark Star” and “Alien” and directed “Return of the Living Dead”; starring Chris Sarandon, from “Fright Night”; it’s a bit of a surprise how this film managed to go under the radar. It’s also based on one of Lovecraft’s best stories, “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward” so…no, I got nothing. It’s clearly the film’s fault I’d never heard of it before yesterday.

A guy called Charles Dexter Ward has become obsessed with a long-dead necromancer called Curwen who bore a striking resemblance to him, and has abandoned his old life in order to continue Curwen’s experiments. Mrs Ward is distressed by this, so she goes to visit a private investigator, John March (John Terry, aka Hawk the Slayer) and asks him to track her husband down and find out exactly what he’s up to. This gradually reveals how far down the rabbit hole Ward has gone, but it’s when he suddenly develops rotten teeth and a rather bizarre old-fashioned way of talking that things really get strange.

Although this film is very definitely of its era (the PI’s office is bright and ugly) it manages to capture the spirit of Lovecraft remarkably well. Sarandon is fantastic as Ward, that archetypal quester for dark truth, And Jane Sibbett (from “Friends”) is also great as his wife Claire. There’s lots of touches, like the blackboard with maths and occult symbols side by side, and the repeated use of “Saturn Devouring His Son” by Goya, which indicate the people behind this film spent a lot of time on it. Even though the original story is about a doctor investigating Ward, the change to a PI makes sense and the atmosphere is excellent. And the effects! Some of Ward’s failed experiments are incredibly grotesque and look fantastic, right out of a really horrible nightmare.

This scene needs more blood, I think

This scene needs more blood, I think

But, there’s weirdness to it, and to setting the story in the modern day. Ward transports the bones of other dead necromancers to his home in order to perform experiments to create resurrection powder. But, I just get the feeling it would be fairly difficult to both find, steal and transport those bones to the US, and would take a bit more than the < 6 months the film tells us. At one point, the PI just breaks into Claire’s home because he’s had an idea where some old document is hidden – hey mate, you know they have phones, right? Or you could wait til the morning and ask?

O’Bannon was never really a director – aside from a student short, this and “Return…” are his only films, and this shows in the lack of connective tissue to too many scenes. Ward is arrested a little over halfway through the film and locked up in an asylum, but there’s no real indication why the police would suddenly decide to raid his house in such force. Most strangely of all, when the PI visits Ward in the asylum to trigger the film’s climactic battle, he’s able to just stroll into his padded room and be left there unsupervised while carrying a suitcase full of human bones. Really? Also, the PI continues on the case long past the point where the wife would have said “you know what, my husband’s been found and he’s stopped his experiments, bill please”.

Talking of O’Bannon, apparently, he and writer Brent Friedman (now a TV writer, and responsible for ISCFC favourite “American Cyborg: Steel Warrior”) had separately been developing this story for years, and combined their efforts for this. Although O’Bannon isn’t credited as a writer, a lot of his ideas made it into the finished film.

book

I really wanted to like this film. It has a great atmosphere, a strong cast, one of the all-time great Hollywood iconoclasts as director…but it just didn’t quite work. You can see O’Bannon knows his horror, just think of all the classic horror trappings – dark / stormy / foggy nights, an asylum, old books full of mysterious diagrams, grotesque paintings, dark cellars and tunnels, torches that keep going out, family secrets, oh and exploded human bodies – but…although it’s only 100 minutes long, it feels a lot longer, and like so many of the Lovecraft-based films we’ve seen so far, it would have benefited enormously from being a TV special, like an hour-long episode of “HP Lovecraft Presents…” (which is fantastic idea, actually, I ought to try and sell it to a TV company).

I’d definitely recommend watching it, though. Available in HD, for free, on Youtube, and if you’ve got a passing interest in Lovecraft or O’Bannon you’ll get a lot from this film.

Rating: thumbs in the middle

PS. While seeing what other reviewers thought (and to see if I missed anything big), I happened upon Video Junkie’s review, and we seem to have had very similar ideas about the “horror trappings” bit, although his flows better than mine. Anyway, please visit his site and read some of his stuff, because it’s great.