Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Lovecraft film feels authentic, but it's too light on fright

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THE Call of Cthulu is the shorter film in a double bill of H.P. Lovecraft-inspired horror films programmed by Cinematheque, which also includes Whisperer in Darkness. Both are products of the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society, which chose to celebrate the horror author by filming his works according to the film style of the years in which they were written. In the case of The Call of Cthulu, that would be 1925. (Because Whisperer was written in 1931, it more resembles a period sound film.)

For a film not even an hour long, this is pretty challenging stuff.

The Man (Matt Foyer) -- that's how he is referred to in the credits -- hears about the mysterious cult of Cthulu from his dying uncle (Ralph Lucas). One of the Great Old Ones, Cthulu is apparently a sleeping god whose wakening may herald doom for mankind. The Man inherits his uncle's research papers and starts to cobble together clues to the secrets of the cult.

The time frames jump back and forth. Warning: There are flashbacks within flashbacks.

The thing to remember is that this is pretty accurate to Lovecraft. Moviegoers unfamiliar with the author's actual works might assume director Stuart Gordon was faithfully translating Lovecraft with his kinky 1985 horror classic Re-Animator, but if you're looking for homicidal zombies, naked women in peril and savage dark comedy, this is not the place.

In fact, Lovecraft's was comparatively benign material, far more likely to focus on a group of scientists and academics talking. The author may have written about monsters, but his forte was in his chilling talent for suggestion. If he were alive today, Lovecraft probably would have preferred the suggestive horror of films such as The Blair Witch Project or the first Paranormal Activity over more explicit thrillers.

The style of this particular film, shot in 2005, is reminiscent of Guy Maddin, in that it's silent and shot on what looks like distressed black-and-white film. Presumably, the Maddin-esque quality is what attracted Cinematheque to the oddball material.

Maddin's magic is missing, however. Dialogue inter-titles play hell with the movie's momentum. The film boldly attempts big visual effects on a tiny budget, especially in the final scene in which sailors visit an uncharted island where they fall prey to a huge tentacled monster.

While the film translates Lovecraft's literary style to film, there is one Lovecraftian aspect deeply missed.

It's not in the least bit scary.

Noble and imaginative as the attempt may have been, that means it's ultimately a failure.

randall.king@freepress.mb.ca

The Call of Cthulu

Starring Matt Foyer and Ralph Lucas

Cinematheque

PG

47 minutes

2 stars out of five

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 24, 2012 D5

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