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The Hell Plaza Oktoberfest

The Hell Plaza Oktoberfest

Adam Jahnke - Main Page

I've always been particularly fond of Halloween and the month of October in general. I like the weather. I like the fact that the sun goes away earlier. I like the trees changing color…or I would if I lived anywhere else besides Los Angeles. Stupid city. Most of all, I love that for thirty-one days, people embrace their inner dark side and turn their front yards into cemeteries, drape skeletons and cobwebs all over their porch and proudly display hollowed-out gourds carved with hideous facial expressions. Screw Christmas. This is the most wonderful time of the year.

I've devoted more than a couple Bottom Shelf columns to the scary stuff but it's always been pretty random. I've never timed a horror column to the holiday it's associated with. This year, that changes. Every day for the month of October, expect a new Bottom Shelf column reviewing something from the genre. There will be movies old and new, popular and obscure, worth your time and deserving to be bricked up behind a wall, possibly along with the people responsible.

Before we start, a special tip o' the severed head goes out to Mr. Todd Doogan for coming up with the title for this series, a play on everybody's favorite Electric Theatre feature. And I'm not sure if I should thank or resent Mr. Bill Hunt for encouraging me with this insane project. But he's the one who's gonna have to format 23 columns over the next month, so I'm sure he regrets it too.

Anyway, sit back, relax and enjoy the next month's worth of scary monsters and super creeps here at the Hell Plaza Oktoberfest.

The Call of Cthulhu

The Call of Cthulhu
2005 - HPLHS Motion Pictures

H.P. Lovecraft is one of the most famous names in horror literature. He's a fascinating, often maddeningly difficult writer whose work, at its best, instills a feeling of dread and discomfort unlike any other. His writing relies heavily on the reader's imagination, describing men driven insane by exposure to forces, beings and creatures they're unable to comprehend or describe. Not surprisingly, Lovecraft's stories have proven resistant to adaptation. Even the films of Stuart Gordon, Lovecraft's most famous cinematic interpreter, veer significantly away from their source material. As much as I love Re-Animator and From Beyond, they don't have a whole lot to do with Lovecraft's original stories.

Amazingly, it took Andrew Leman and Sean Branney, two die-hard Lovecraft fans working with the lowest of low budgets and shooting in borrowed locations around L.A., to create arguably the first and only faithful Lovecraft adaptation to date. Based on the 1926 story, The Call of Cthulhu is told by a man driven mad by his quest to uncover the secrets of the Cult of Cthulhu, as was his grandfather before him. The story unfolds in flashbacks and flashbacks-within-flashbacks, as does Lovecraft's story, laying out disturbing fragments of a larger story that is only hinted at but never quite revealed, as there are some things man wasn't meant to know.

The Call of Cthulhu would be a daunting challenge for any filmmaker but with limited resources, it would seem impossible. Not only is it a period piece, it's an epic story that spans the globe with primitive cult rituals, raging storms at sea and, of course, Cthulhu itself, maybe the greatest of Lovecraft's Great Old Ones. But Branney and Leman pull it off thanks to an idea that would seem to make things even more challenging but turns out to be a stroke of genius. The Call of Cthulhu is a silent film, designed and shot to look and feel like a long-lost artifact from the 1920s. It's a bold decision and one that could have easily gone horribly wrong. Instead, it works beautifully. Lovecraft's own writing is often baroque and highly stylized, reading unlike anything else written by his contemporaries. By making Cthulhu silent and mixing old film techniques with modern technology, the movie feels totally out of time and place. The cast commits to the project entirely without hamming it up and the terrific musical score completes the illusion. The stop-motion animation that brings Cthulhu to life is hardly flawless but is effective and, all things considered, pretty ingenious.

The disc itself looks pretty darn good and sounds even better, with the score presented in either "Hi-Fi" or "Mythophonic" sound (basically, it sounds like it's coming through an antique gramophone). The intertitles are presented in no less than 24 different languages, everything from Catalan to Welsh. I'm a little surprised there isn't an Esperanto option. Extras include the trailer, a very good 28-minute making-of documentary, behind-the-scenes and production photos, deleted footage and a PDF file of the prop newspaper from the film. All pretty nifty.

The Call of Cthulhu is a surprisingly good movie. It's imaginative, entertaining and one of the most creative pieces of do-it-yourself filmmaking I've seen in a long, long time. Pop by the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society's website at and order yourself a copy. You'll be glad you did.

Film Rating: A-
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B/B+/B-

Adam Jahnke

Adam Jahnke - Main Page
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