Tag Archives: H.P. Lovecraft

30 Days of Madness, Day 28 — Prince of Darkness (1987)

by Tom Kapr

Wherein I attempt to watch one new-to-me horror film every day of October till Halloween and write a quick review. I will end my review with a letter grade like we do on our podcast (A, B, C, D, or F–pluses and minuses are for the non-committal!) and with the movie’s rank on my Flickchart.

princedarkness3

“Say goodbye to classical reality, because our logic collapses on the subatomic level into ghosts and shadows.”

Written & directed by John Carpenter.

Starring Donald Pleasence, Victor Wong, Dennis Dun, Alice Cooper for about a minute, and a bunch of white people with bad hair.

In my last review of Christine, I lamented how unfairly forgotten and underrated it was compared to Carpenter’s other work. With Prince of Darkness, I get it.

The slow build toward apocalypse is good and tense (at least when Mustache McGee and Lady Hockey Hair aren’t making out and having inscrutable conversations), helped along by Carpenter’s soundtrack and the acting talents of Pleasence as a priest from a secretive Catholic sect and Victor Wong as an eccentric quantum physicist. But then about halfway through it kind of stalls and just plateaus. The freaky things that start happening are undercut by underreaction from characters almost across the board. It starts to crescendo again, but then there are weird scenes that go nowhere, leading to a pretty trifling “apocalyptic” climax. It doesn’t help that the screenplay’s grasp of theology is tenuous at best, so it all feels rather silly.

As with any Carpenter flick, a lot of the special effects are really well done, but the philosophy behind the homeless zombie horde was a bit insulting. Every homeless person in the vicinity of this parish immediately becomes part of a hive mind, but not the scientists or students, because, what, they have better brains and aren’t susceptible? Not until they get physically infected, anyway. There’s even a conversation about it when the physicist is comparing their behavior to that of the ants, which do have a hive mind, and the other bugs and creepy crawlers that start showing up. It just draws an uncomfortable parallel, as if the homeless are on the same plane as the other vermin. It’s not Carpenter’s most nuanced writing.

And that’s too bad, because the idea of crossing the usual Judeo-Christian religious traditions with quantum physics in an apocalyptic plot is unique, and would be fascinating, if the religious part of it was treated with as much respect as the physics part. If only the entire script was as good as that excellent line from Victor Wong’s character that I used at the beginning of this review.

I also said in my Christine review that this would fill the remaining gap in what I consider the “classic Carpenter” era–1976 through the 80s. That is, the era beginning with Assault on Precinct 13, which put him on the map and allowed him to make Halloween, which catapulted him to being one of the premiere directors in Hollywood working in the horror, sci-fi, and fantasy genres. Through the 80s, he made film after film that cemented him as a cult classic director.

I didn’t start watching R-rated horror and sci-fi until the late 90s. I was in high school, and Escape from L.A. was my introduction to Carpenter, though I didn’t know who he was at the time. I wasn’t even fully aware that it was a sequel. But I developed a kind of affection for that film and for Snake Plissken as a character. I had already been a fan of Kurt Russell. In college, I saw Vampires, and by the time I saw Ghosts of Mars I knew Carpenter’s reputation and had already begun familiarizing myself with The FogThe ThingStarman (which I’d seen part of as a child and was freaked out by it), Big Trouble in Little China (a personal favorite and a film that is more important than it gets credit for), They LiveHalloween, and the original Escape from New York. Unfortunately, Ghosts of Mars was a terrible movie, but I’d become a late-blooming Carpenter fan who figured it was just a case of a master filmmaker losing his edge.

Prince of Darkness isn’t the only film of his from his “classic” era that I’m not sold on. I’m pretty indifferent toward The Fog and found Assault on Precinct 13 too disturbingly violent to be enjoyable. (I just don’t need to see little kids getting gunned down in the street in what is essentially a basic action movie, though an important one. Even with something like City of God, I’d rather not watch that kind of thing.)

Nevertheless, I think Carpenter, even post-Ghosts, remains one the most fascinating and respectable filmmakers in history. Now I need to fill in the pre-Assault and early-90s gaps. And I’m especially interested now to see In the Mouth of Madness. I did not realize until today that it is the third in what Carpenter calls his “Apocalypse Trilogy,” after The Thing and Prince of Darkness. That is a fascinating trilogy of apocalyptic themes–one extra-terrestrial in nature, one mixing Judeo-Christian religious tradition with quantum physics, and the third an exercise in Lovecraftian horror.

Final grade for Prince of Darkness: C

My Flickchart ranking: #1629 (out of 3273, a relative 50/100)

Option C — The Call of Cthulhu

By Tom Kapr

Each week on the Buried Cinema podcast, one of us podcasters chooses a movie and another chooses a second movie to pair with it. This past weekend, we covered Brian’s pick of Pacific Rim and Steve’s somewhat odd pairing, Odd Thomas. Here’s the film I would have paired with Pacific Rim; this is Option C.

Nearly three years ago, I did something I called the 30 Days of Madness, in which I watched and reviewed 30 horror films (one per day, more or less) throughout October leading up to Halloween. I didn’t review the big movies that everyone knows; I stuck mainly to more obscure stuff. One of the best movies I watched that month was The Call of Cthulhu. I am re-publishing my review of that film as this week’s Option C. The more obvious connection here is “giant monsters from the sea,” but the less obvious connection is Pacific Rim writer/director Guillermo Del Toro’s long-gestating passion project, which has been stuck in development hell for years (and will likely, and unfortunately for all of us, stay there).

Here it is, from October 3, 2010; my review of The Call of Cthulhu:

—–

“That is not dead which can eternal lie, and in strange aeons even death may die.” –H.P. Lovecraft

The Call of Cthulhu (2005) Written by Sean Branney. Directed by Andrew Leman.

 

 

H.P. Lovecraft is one of the most celebrated writers of horror fiction in the history of the genre, his name unabashedly spoken in the same breath as that of Poe, and his works have inspired the likes of Ray Bradbury, Robert Bloch, and Stephen King. Unfortunately, I have not read but snippets of Lovecraft’s stories, so this film is my introduction to a full-fledged Lovecraft narrative. I trust the faithfulness of the film’s narrative, and with good reason — it was produced by the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society.

Aside from its immersion in Lovecraft mythology, The Call of Cthulhu is also immersed in cinematic history. It is a silent film — yes, a silent film released in 2005 — and it displays its makers’ knowledge of the styles and techniques of the silent film era. The makeup and acting imitate the conventions of the era, as do the impressive art direction and the rousing orchestral score. I was pretty excited to see some Harryhausen-esque special effects. As a huge fan of Jason and the Argonauts and an admirer of Ray Harryhausen’s work in other such mythology-based productions, I often long for the days of stop-motion in this CGI-heavy digital era.

The filmmakers even replicate the usual negative scratches and projections of hairs caught in the lenses that viewers will often see in copies of films from the 1920s and earlier. If I have one criticism, it is that the film very much looks like it is trying to imitate these old films, rather than looking like an old film itself. It is obvious that this film was shot on modern technology and then aged in post-production. I wish they had instead used the old technology, or shot on 8mm, to reproduce the look of the silent era, as it would have added a layer of genuineness to the production that I found lacking.

This criticism aside, however, The Call of Cthulhu is a cool little film, coming in at under 47 minutes, and is great fun to watch, especially for students of the history of the medium of film and for admirers of Lovecraft’s work. It is an interesting look at the ability of madness to move from person to person like a virus, as the obsession with the mysteries of the cult of Cthulhu infect each new individual who hears the story from the last person to be driven mad by it.

—–

Tom was once a mere temp worker until he was kidnapped by mad scientists and imprisoned on a satellite in outer space where he was forced to watch bad movies with a couple of sarcastic sentient robots. He escaped over a decade ago, yet still he sits alone in a darkened room watching bad movies, whispering wisecracks into the dark. His favorite films include City Lights, Casablanca, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Amélie, Stagecoach, and the Toy Story trilogy. He edits the Rant Pad and the Buried Cinema podcast.

30 Days of Madness, Day 5: The Black Cat

Oh God! can I not save

One from the pitiless wave?

Is all that we see or seem

But a dream within a dream?

–Edgar Allan Poe

The Black Cat (2007) Written by Dennis Paoli & Stuart Gordon. Directed by Stuart Gordon. Starring Jeffrey Combs as Edgar Allan Poe.

“The Black Cat” is an episode of the Masters of Horror series created by Mick Garris, who was also a writer on Steven Spielberg’s Amazing Stories series in the 80s. Masters of Horror ran for two seasons on Showtime from 2005 to 2007–two seasons of 13 episodes each, appropriately. Each of these hour-long episodes was a stand-alone horror mini-movie, helmed by a director known for previous work within the horror genre. This particular episode was directed by Stuart Gordon and stars Jeffrey Combs, the director-actor team best known for their work on the 1985 film adaptation of an H.P. Lovecraft short story, Re-Animator.

“The Black Cat” is one of Edgar Allan Poe’s most notorious short stories, a typically first-person narrative of one man’s descent into madness, which in this case leads from mutilating his cat’s face with a pen knife during a drunken stupor to an escalation of violence that culminates in a confrontation with his wife in their cellar. This episode of the same title is based in part on the short story and in part on the actual events of Poe’s life in 1840s Philadelphia around the time his wife Virginia (played by the beautiful Elyse Levesque) began showing signs of tuberculosis. They might even have titled it “Edgar Allan Poe in Love,” were “The Black Cat” to Poe as Romeo and Juliet was to Shakespeare. The episode’s plot hinges on Poe’s struggle with writer’s block and on his relationship with the woman he loves and how she, and their pet black cat named Pluto, influence his work. As Virginia descends into disease and Poe descends into alcoholism and depression, his grasp on reality begins to slip away and he experiences the madness that would lead him to write “The Black Cat.” The inception of several other of Poe’s works are also expertly and subtly worked into the plot.

Jeffrey Combs, the man who played Lovecraft’s Herbert West a quarter of a century ago and is best known for that role, was, it seems, born to play Edgar Allan Poe. Not only is he pitch-perfect in his portrayal of the writer’s descent into madness, but he looks so unnervingly like Poe that one may entertain thoughts that the filmmakers had taken a cue from their Lovecraftian work and re-animated the man from his grave. The look of the film is appropriate–almost monochromatic in its hues–appropriately foreboding and appropriately Philadelphian. It is reminiscent of Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow in its color scheme, all grays and muted colors until a sudden splash of red that all but glows against its surroundings. In both films, it is this which makes the eventual and inevitable blood all the more vivid.

This would be Pluto's "after" photo--as in, after daddy attacked me with a penknife.

“The Black Cat” is one of the most relentlessly horrifying films I’ve ever seen. It starts with a dramatic reading of “A Dream Within a Dream,” the scratch of a cat’s claws, and a mere speckling of consumptive blood on a white pillow. From there the tension is slowly ratcheted up minute by minute until there is an occurrence of violence, that first fully bloody scene which had me squirming in my seat; but each occurrence of violence only heightens the horror until the next, and the next, escalating in the ferocity of the violence until the thoroughly terrifying climactic confrontation in the cellar. I have rarely been so on edge watching a film, and this for almost its entire running time. It is also, however–and partly because of these things–one of the best horror films I’ve ever seen. It must be one of the closest approximations of bringing the horror of Poe’s writing to life; and, in the tradition of the best horror films, the focus is on the escalation of terror and suspense, as opposed to so many horror films which are only on gore.

I want to be clear on this: “The Black Cat” is an immaculate horror production, one of the best I’ve ever seen, but it is also one of the most horrific and violent I’ve ever sat through. I took a couple of short breaks during its 58-minute running time just to collect myself before I could proceed.

“Yet, mad am I not–and very surely I do not dream. But to-morrow I die, and today I would unburden my soul.” –Edgar Allan Poe, “The Black Cat”

My Netflix rating: 5 stars (out of 5)
–Tom Kapr

30 Days of Madness: Day 3 — The Call of Cthulhu

By Tom Kapr

 

“That is not dead which can eternal lie, and in strange aeons even death may die.” –H.P. Lovecraft

 

The Call of Cthulhu (2005) Written by Sean Branney. Directed by Andrew Leman.

H.P. Lovecraft is one of the most celebrated writers of horror fiction in the history of the genre, his name unabashedly spoken in the same breath as that of Poe, and his works have inspired the likes of Ray Bradbury, Robert Bloch, and Stephen King. Unfortunately, I have not read but snippets of Lovecraft’s stories, so this film is my introduction to a full-fledged Lovecraft narrative. I trust the faithfulness of the film’s narrative, and with good reason — it was produced by the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society.

Even the beautiful artwork is nostalgic of the silent era.

Aside from its immersion in Lovecraft mythology, The Call of Cthulhu is also immersed in cinematic history. It is a silent film — yes, a silent film released in 2005 — and it displays its makers’ knowledge of the styles and techniques of the silent film era. The makeup and acting imitate the conventions of the era, as do the impressive art direction and the rousing orchestral score. I was pretty excited to see some Harryhausen-esque special effects. As a huge fan of Jason and the Argonauts and an admirer of Ray Harryhausen’s work in other such mythology-based productions, I often long for the days of stop-motion in this CGI-heavy digital era.

The filmmakers even replicate the usual negative scratches and projections of hairs caught in the lenses that viewers will often see in copies of films from the 1920s and earlier. If I have one criticism, it is that the film very much looks like it is trying to imitate these old films, rather than looking like an old film itself. It is obvious that this film was shot on modern technology and then aged in post-production. I wish they had instead used the old technology, or shot on 8mm, to reproduce the look of the silent era, as it would have added a layer of genuineness to the production that I found lacking.

This criticism aside, however, The Call of Cthulhu is a cool little film, coming in at under 47 minutes, and is great fun to watch, especially for students of the history of the medium of film and for admirers of Lovecraft’s work. It is an interesting look at the ability of madness to move from person to person like a virus, as the obsession with the mysteries of the cult of Cthulhu infect each new individual who hears the story from the last person to be driven mad by it.

And thank God for it after the past two nights’ viewings.

My Netflix rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

 

“The most merciful thing in the world… is the inability of the human mind to correlate its contents…. Some day the piecing together of disassociated knowledge will open such terrifying vistas of reality, and our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light to the peace and safety of a new dark age.” –H.P. Lovecraft

 

Go to Day 5 — Puppet Master

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