Scores of films have been projected throughout the 21-year run of the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival and CthulhuCon. Here are 10 noteworthy selections—portals, if you will, into the cinematic universe inspired by the works of the event’s namesake. Should you find yourself infected by the Lovecraft virus, a number of films can be found for purchase at the Arkham Bizarre.
Director: Shawn Linden
This neo noir thriller involves a killer in black grease paint who is accused of botching the job by the mafia boss who hired him. Soon after, the unnamed killer is stalked and shot by another shadowy figure. Things really get strange when the killer encounters an old hag with a penchant for chanting verse and a locked gateway for which he doesn’t have the key. Every time he wakes up after passing out, he finds himself following in his own footsteps just minutes before his previous actions. Something of a Memento in reverse, Nobody will either infuriate you with its inscrutability or intrigue you with its puzzles regarding the nature of identity.
Director: Dan Gildark
This delirious contemporary take on Lovecraft’s novella “The Shadow over Innsmouth” reimagines the main character as a gay history professor, Russell, who reluctantly returns to his hometown of Astoria, Ore. for his mother’s funeral. Russell’s estranged cult leader father enlists his sister and various cult members to persuade him to come back to the fold, renounce his sexuality and ultimately claim his destiny in a sinister aquatic family legacy. Scenes of apocalyptic and environmental ravaging, surreal images and a surprising appearance by Tori Spelling as a horny cult member hell-bent on bearing Russell’s love child make this a provocative and highly enjoyable experience.
Director: Ricardo Harrington
Gilberto Villarroel, a Chilean correspondent for the BBC, won a screenwriting contest, and with it, reels of 16mm film. From these modest beginnings, Villarroel and his friend, director Ricardo Harrington, created a masterful retelling of one of Lovecraft’s lesser short stories, “Pickman’s Model.” A reporter on the verge of insanity investigates the vicious murder of one of his colleagues. His only lead is that his friend was working on a profile of the transgressive American artist Richard Upton Pickman, referred to as a “nauseous wizard.” Rich in atmosphere and sticking to the dictum “suggest, don’t show” as its M.O., Chilean Gothic revels in the power of art, illustrating that there are consequences to gazing into the abyss for too long.
Director: Bryan Moore
Winner of Best Film for 1999 at the festival, Cool Air is a true labor of love. Director Brian Moore found the perfect building for the film, an old brownstone in Los Angeles. The owner ultimately refused to let him near the property. In determined-filmmaker fashion, he broke into the space every weekend for a month, hauled in all his equipment, and let in his cast and crew. Actor Jack Donner (Star Trek, Buffy the Vampire Slayer) brings an air of dignified elegance to his performance as Dr. Muñoz, a specialist in unconventional methods used to prolong life. The refined doctor has a strange medical condition that necessitates he keep his room at icy temperatures. When the doctor’s strange air conditioning contraption breaks down, young neighbor Randolph Carter (Moore himself) discovers the disturbing reason why the good doctor has to keep his flat so cold.
Director: Stuart Gordon
Director Stuart Gordon has been a longtime friend to the festival, appearing as a special guest, even premiering a few treasures seen nowhere else, such as a video of the table reading by the cast of Re-Animator: The Musical. In 2005, Gordon world premiered his surprisingly literal interpretation of Dreams in the Witch House, an episode from the Showtime series Masters of Horror. Physics student Walter Gilman (Ezra Godden) rents a cheap room in a boarding house only to discover that the unusual angles and planes of the walls create a mathematical configuration that allows 17th-century witch Keziah Mason (Susanna Uchatius) and her demonic service animal, the rat Brown Jenkin (Yevgen Voronin), to bend the laws of space and time so they can wreak havoc in the contemporary world of Arkham.
Director: John Strysik
The film that launched the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival, director John Strysik’s loving homage to the classic story is a moody tone poem about the power of art to literally open doors—or in this case, windows—to other worlds. The most striking sequence is a low-budget special effects extravaganza at the film’s conclusion that gives more than a passing nod to astronaut David Bowman’s cosmic journey at the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Director: Huan Vu
The German-born son of Vietnamese émigrés, director Huan Vu crafted a moody reinterpretation of “The Colour Out of Space,” winning awards at several international film festivals after the fact. A young American follows the trail of his missing father to a small town in Germany. While there, a local tells him an unsettling piece of history about a crashed meteor whose radioactive emanations devastated the countryside and drove a family of farmers insane. Filmed entirely in black and white, except for “the Colour,” Die Farbe is a gripping piece of work that calls to mind German Expressionist cinema. Noted Lovecraft scholar S.T. Joshi touted this entry as “the best Lovecraft film adaptation ever made.”
Directors: Andrew Leman and Sean Branney
Year: 2005 / 2011
The H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society, an organization based out of Glendale, Calif., produces films, radio dramas, music, prop replicas and a live-action role-playing game called Cthulhu Lives. They imagine a world where Lovecraft was wildly famous during his lifetime and release works created in the style of the 1920s and ’30s era. Case in point, their production of The Call of Cthulhu uses a mix of modern technology and vintage film techniques to authentically bring the story to the screen as a lost 1920s silent movie. The Whisperer in Darkness harkens back to the classic monster movies of the ’30s. Both are masterful independent productions, remaining faithful to the source material while providing quirky and entertaining interpretations that seem like genuine relics from a past that could have been.
Director: Raymond Saint-Jean
Originally developed for Canadian television, this short film—part documentary, part modernized retelling of several short stories—is among the best introductions to the fictional universe of H.P. Lovecraft. Always impressive, Christopher Heyerdahl (True Blood, Hell on Wheels) is quite stunning as the old gent from Providence. His performance is so spot-on that some viewers initially wondered where the old newsreel footage of Lovecraft discussing his work had been unearthed.
Director: David Prior
One of the most impressive debuts at the festival, David Prior’s AM 1200 is a genuinely unsettling tale of the dangers of taking the wrong road in life. On the run after successfully pulling off an embezzling scheme, former executive Sam Larson (Eric Lange) loses his way on the California back roads. He hears a plea for help from a broadcaster on a religious radio station, which he chooses to ignore. When his car eventually breaks down in front of the same station, Larson uncovers bloody doings wherein the mystery of what god the broadcasters truly serve is revealed. It’s a shame Prior hasn’t been given the opportunity to follow up this stylish, at times downright unnerving, and masterful film, despite high praise from fellow director David Fincher. An amazing tracking shot that follows a road on a map, dissolves into a high overhead shot of the actual road with a car driving on it, and zooms down into the sunroof of the car to end up with a shot of Larson driving will blow your mind.
Joe Pettit Jr. is a writer based out of Eugene, Ore. He’s contributed reviews to the All Music Guide to Soul: The Definitive Guide to R&B and Soul. He has also written for print and online publications including VideoScope, Ugly Things, Images and the All Music Guide Online.