What I'm Watching: The Horror of HP Lovecraft
Ooops, I fell off the map just a little bit, huh? Well, never mind that, I am back, and if I keep momentum going, there should be a bunch of What I'm Watchings coming around. Starting right here with The Horror of HP Lovecraft. Wait, or was that PM Lovecraft? I forget...
Adapting Lovecraft's work has always been problematic for any number of reasons, chief among them being his use of language and atmosphere is damned near impossible to capture well. Can this little indie flick succeed where others have failed?
This is an anthology flick, and I am gonna take each section as it comes, although I kinda dread the idea of an anthology containing NINE stories and only clocking in at about 85 minutes. The movie also features an idea of a wraparound story, that I'll get back to in the end, to talk completely about it.
But the setup is, the wraparound features the writer/director Elias making a documentary about the life of HP Lovecraft, the obscure horror writer. Which is a notion I dislike right out of the gate. Sure, outside of horror circles Lovecraft might not be widely known, but unless you're name is Stephen King, you can say that about almost ANY horror writer. I also think he's better known than he's given credit for, but I digress. I can at least run with the conceit. But once Elias is done making some genuinely funny jokes, and some hilariously awful filmmaking (Deliberately so, which isn't a criticism...yet), it's time to dive into the shorts, which I'll tackle one at a time.
"This is not Lovecraft's cow!"
The Statement of Randolph Carter - The first short gets going with a ton of narration and gesturing at a map, then a young guy watches an older guy climb down into an endless pit where he screams over a tin can, and THAT'S IT.
In fact, get used to "AND THAT'S IT" with these comments, because these 'short films' showing a tiny fragment of an event and doing nothing happens a lot. My fears of the tight runtime are already bearing fruit. Rotten, rotten fruit.
That said, this short DOES have a strong Lovecraftian feel to it, in that sense of scientists poking at the unknown and then getting eaten because of it. But it's really summed up by, "Hey, howabout a story where a guy goes down a hole, and doesn't come back?" There needs to be more meat on those bones.
Nightmare Men - Next up, a guy goes off into the woods to find a Lovecraftian artifact, gets killed because of it, then wakes up in a white cell with another guy screaming over whether they're alive or dead...AND THAT'S IT.
This one feels a bit sillier, despite the murder. But I do enjoy the existential quandary they find themselves in, although again, just as it does something interesting...
Remain - A painter receives some eldritch paintbrushes, and his canvas is covered with this demonic face. It speaks to him, and when he touches it, he dissolves into a puddle of human goo/paint...AND THAT'S IT.
But this is easily one of the best shorts. It's all done in stop motion, even on the actual guy doing the acting. The effects are cool, and VERY well done, and it's at least something resembling a story, although one that's over far too soon. It is at least effective in having a story structure.
BugBoy - A guy discovers the woman he loves is marrying someone else, so he crawls into a cocoon to grow mandibles on his face and eats them...AND THAT'S IT.
I would argue this is probably the strongest IDEA, and easily very Lovecraftian (Although waaay more Kafkaesque) but it just stopped short of going anywhere interesting. The gooeyness and effects help this one a lot.
Witch's Spring - A guy meets a redheaded woman who turns out to be a witch, who takes his heart to stay young and powerful...AND THAT'S IT.
Another strong story at least, that at least has a beginning, middle and end. It does something, plus has some good tension as you wait for things to go wrong. It's also a good play on the dangers of blind dates, with some fun modernizing of internet dating.
"I'm a pagan." "Right, so no meat or dairy?"
Coo-coo-Cthulhu - A guy visits his therapist, drenched in goo, and eventually he peels off his trenchcoat crying out that he is a Starspawn, revealing he is covered in squidbits...AND THAT'S IT.
This one definitely has some good atmosphere, and the guy has a GREAT Lovecraftian look from his coat to hat and such. It looks like he stepped straight out of Innsmouth. He's also got that whole crazed thing down, but the story, such as it is, is nothing more than "Hey look, I'm wearing a tentacle!" ...AND THAT. IS. IT.
Alecto - This short involves a violin teacher who has a nervous breakdown, gets petted by marionettes, then kills his student, maybe, AND THAT'S IT.
This plays out wordlessly, which gives it some great great atmosphere, the puppets are *amazing* and creepy. Also, it's at another that manages something of a whole story that works well enough, another strong contender. And while it doesn't have dialogue, it still manages toconvey a story and state of madness, and has a gorgeous sense of style, direction and editing that suits it well.
Chaos of Flesh - A guy wanders into the woods, sees a girl being dragged off, and stops the guy about to kill her...so she picks up the axe, is a misshapen monster, and kills the guy who saved her...AND THAT'S IT.
Well shot and creepy, but again, the story is nothing more than "Guy saves a girl and she kills him".
And This was on a Good Day - This is nothing more than a Lovecraft inspired music video and it is fucked up. Very Gilliamesque, but then even stranger by like 1000 percent. It reminds me of stuff you'd catch on MTV in the early AM back in the 90s, the experimental indie, alternative stuff, and it's kinda awesome, and weird, and just several minutes of WTF imagery.
Wraparound - And we're back to the beginning with Elias's wrapper. Really, it's kinda dopey, but there's some good fun and good jokes buried inside it. It's absurd, for the most part, but it's trying to be, and just trying to be fun.
It fails in that it doesn't work as a proper wraparound segment, though. It doesn't really tee up the segments, just is kinda it's own thing talking about Lovecraft with lots of unfacts and silliness. If I remember correctly, it was actually a short film itself, and then cut up to go around all the other stories. The whole interviewing thing, to learn about Lovecraft, could have EASILY been worked into queuing up the other shorts, if it had been done after the fact, or with foreknowledge of what the shorts would be. Sit down with"Randolph Carter" to talk about his story, stuff like that, or a random person eyewitness report of a story they heard from a relative. Stuff like that.
But there are certainly a few highlights - A creepy Stephen King stalker who would rather talk about him than Lovecraft, the host interviewing his mom out of sheer desperation for content is hilarious in her accommodation, and of course, what would a cheesy low budget indie flick be without Lloyd Kaufman? Elias interviews Kaufman about Lovecraft, and he *hilariously* turns any potential answer into an attempt to shill for Troma. It doesn't get much better, or more Kaufman than that.
Oh, and then the host dies during one of the bits, but comes back to wrap things up. That really could've done that better, since it breaks any sort of narrative they might have once had.
So, you probably think I hate Horror of HP Lovecraft. Well, you'd be wrong. Most of my problems with the anthology come from reaching so far, and not even coming close. There are a TON of good ideas here, that just end up fizzling before they're actually stories. They're too short, and absolutely could have done more.
It pretty much fails as an anthology, missing the mark of having stories and instead having rough plot ideas, as well as having no real wraparound story, but considering the genesis of this whole thing as the short film that became the wrapper, before this was a larger anthology, it's at least understandable.
There is a lot of fun here, especially in the interview gags, and some of the shorts, while they may not always be good stories, are almost all well made, well directed, and/or well edited, to the point where I want to see more from the contributors. There is TALENT here, and this is a good showcase for some of their skills. Especially shorts like Remain and Alecto (Which is the closest to a legit Lovecraft adaptation as we get here.)
Elias himself has a strong voice and creative vision, and I definitely look forward to seeing what he does next. The Coo-coo-Cthulhu short may have been the most frustrating in its brevity, but the acting was solid, the direction was quirky and off putting in the right, deliberate ways, and it shows he has a good grasp of some of Lovecraft's tone, even if Coo-coo was a humourous take on it.
My biggest complaint is that I wanted MORE. The movie left me wanting, because they kept stopping when there was clearly more story to tell, after these plot outlines presented their ideas.
It's worth seeing, if you want something silly and fun, that isn't really Lovecraft. I would've loved to see at least ONE adaptation of a Lovecraftian story. Fortunately, a number of the shorts really do nail the vibe, or the tone, or something from his works.
We're talking about a low budget indie anthology where Lloyd Kaufman shows up to hock his wares. You can kinda guess what you're getting in for with that, and if you're just up for a few laughs, this is a good place to find some, and some unique visions on storytelling. Despite all my own poking fun at the movie, it is genuinely entertaining at times, in a fun, campy way, with the occasional deep dive into the world of Lovecraftian horror.