H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival: Best of 2016

There are a lot of subtitles on this batch of best short films from the H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival–nearly half of the selected films were foreign languages. This gives me a chance to keep up with the French I learned in highschool eons ago.

It’s hard to pick out a favorite from this batch. There are three I like very much, and others are pretty good.

Something unseen calls me...Before we get to the films, there’s a bonus music video of a song titled “The Calling,” from a band named Infinite Spectrum; it’s part of a thematically connected series of songs that musically retell Lovecraft’s The Haunter of the Dark.

“The Calling” is about Blake’s search for the church on Federal Hill. A sample of the lyrics:

The distant view I spied for months.
No landmarks can I find.
Like in a dream, but stranger still.
Were they figments of my mind?

I ask a merchant about the church
Of Gothic stone and tall dark spire.
He makes the cross and turns away.
My query draws his ire.

Through a maze of alleyways,
And streets of cobblestone,
A test of my endurance,
To find the church of stone.

Since I’ve watched this DVD several times recently, this song has gotten into my head and I go around the house singing the chorus.

The last verse ends when Blake finds the church. “God heard my prayer.” Um, not quite.

Speaking in Tongues

Archie Prescott, Head Translator and Curator of Dangerous Manuscripts of an unnamed university (but it’s probably Miskatonic) is having the worst day of his life. His wife has phoned to tell him she’s divorcing him and wants him out of the house. His boss has phoned to tell him that, in spite of saving the world with his arcane knowledge in 2012, he’s no longer relevant and he’s fired. A finance company is after him for several overdue payments. All of these phone calls end weirdly with the same phrase in an unknown language.

After leaving the campus, Prescott comes upon a group of students in a wooded area. Cultists meet the professorThey are playing at being cultists with hooded robes, masks, and what he calls the “Walmart version of the Necronomicon.”

Since the kids can’t even pronounce Azathoth correctly, Prescott  shows them how to do an incantation. He uses that phrase he’s been hearing all day, and puts his heart into it.  The would-be cultists are impressed… until the sky darkens.

Vardøger

This French film seems to be based on Guy de Maupassant’s The Horla. It begins with a quote from the text, and involves an unseen menace.

Hooded killer seen through a camera's lensA photographer for a sleazy crime newspaper has been taking gory photos of victims of a killer who’s been stalking the streets of Paris. As the film starts, he shows them to his editor. Most of the victims were stabbed, but there’s one body of an unidentified man who was burnt to a crisp.

He’s taking photos on the city streets, when he discovers a person in a hoodie whom he can see only through the camera lens. Certain that this is the killer, the photographer chases after the hooded man, shouts after him, follows him down alleys. He tries to catch up with the man… and eventually he does when the man turns back on him. The face beneath the hood is extremely familiar.

At the end, we loop back to that opening scene, and only then realize that this conversation happened after the rest of the story. And we now know who that burnt body was.

La Poesie et les Dieux

Another film in French, based on Lovecraft’s collaboration with Anna Helen Crofts, Poetry & The Gods, which I don’t think I’ve ever read before.  Marcia's fatherDr. Herbert West, who does not appear in the original story, has been added for no reason I can perceive.

This film sets the story around the turn of the last century. There’s plague in the town and beggars in rags on the streets. Even though they are wealthy and privileged, the Bennet family are not safe from the illness that’s taken so many people. The son, Carl, is dying. Dr. West, the family physician, has come to attend him. (Although M. Bennet doesn’t want the doctor to have anything to do with Carl’s body once he dies.)

We meet our heroine Marcia Bennet as she lies languidly on her lounge. Given the heavy smoke that fills the room and a subsequent scene, I think it’s not unreasonable to assume that she’s been smoking opium. She murmurs fragments of a poem–“The air is full of odors and languorous warm sounds… Weary moon on the river of the sky”–when she has a strange dream or vision. This scene is a fairly faithful adaptation, although Marcia’s dream has been cut down both in terms of dialog and special effects. Fewer gods and just one poet.

She enters a realm where the colors are toned down and muted. The ancient Greek gods appear to her in the ruins of an amphitheater. Zeus (I presume) addresses her:

“Daughter, feareth not. We have diminished our radiance and adopted the language of Men because the time approaches when our voices shall not be silent.

“The seas, once warm and fragrant, have become red with the blood of mortals. Wars and sickness darken their spirit and ravage their land. In the midst of the chaos we shall not turn our eyes away.

“Without delay, our messengers will announce peace and solace on Earth. For Homer, son of Orpheus, the most ancient of bards, will blend into one glorious whole all the beauty that the world hath known.”

Greek gods

The blind poet Homer is brought out to play a lyre and sing a song in ancient Greek (Or so I assume. I, like Marcia, “No word of Greek did… know,” and Homer’s song has no subtitles.

When Homer has finished, Zeus tells Marcia:

“Before the end of your life, one of our latest born messengers will proclaim our return. Thusly, we will heal the Earth of all its ugliness and remove all disease in the system of Nature.”

When she wakes, Marcia tries to recall Homer’s poem. Her friend Dr. West insists she remember how her dream ended and the words she was murmuring when she had her vision. He thinks it’s vitally important. He gives her a good shaking, which of course doesn’t help. She smokes some opium and recovers the phrase about the moon, but not enough to quiet her restless need to remember.

After her brother Carl’s funeral, she also loses both her father and sister. It’s just herself and her mother left of the Bennets now, and Marcia had grown sick of the illness, suffering, and poverty she sees around her. She holds a contest inviting poets to come and recite their work for her, in hopes that one will be that messenger the gods promised and that all the ugliness and disease will be removed from the world.

The poets come, and Marcia listens to them. She dismisses one after another, until a young man with intense eyes and a lyre sits down before her. He begins to play the same tune that Homer did, but he does not sing.

Homer The Poet

The original story’s ending is inspiring and hopeful. Marcia finds her poet whose work is fit for the gods. But in this film, the outcome of the poet’s music is not what Marcia hoped for; she has misunderstood what the gods told her–as a quote from Lovecraft spells out for us just before the end credits:

“Our human race is only a trivial incident in the history of Creation. Mankind is merely a mistake, an abnormal growth, a disease in the system of Nature.”

Zerch

A Mexican film, in Spanish. Zerch takes his lover Cano to a lake out in the wilderness; he says he’s dying and, if Cano really loves him, he’ll help him to drown himself. Cano balks at the idea at first, but Zerch eventually convinces him to do it.

They go out into the lake, share a final farewell kiss, and then Zerch goes under. Cano holds him down until he stops moving. Then he gets a surprise.

Zerch

It’s a pity that during the crucial scene, the camera is so far away from the point of action. While the setting’s beautiful, we can’t get a close look at the tentacly thing that Zerch transforms into.

But this is, after all, a love story. Like so many people in these films, Cano finds the lure of the aquatic ultimately irresistible.

The Call of Charlie

An extremely amusing domestic comedy. Think of it as Cthulhu on a blind date.

Nick and Diane, a somewhat pretentious suburban couple, are preparing for a dinner party; they’ve fixed up a “datey thing” between Maureen and their friend Charlie. Diane’s old college friend Virginia and her husband Jay drop unexpectedly that same evening. Nick and Diane are a bit put out, but Jay and Virginia are in for a shock when they meet Charlie: tentacle-faced, multiple eyes, wearing a nice dress shirt and khaki slacks. Charlie brings cakeHe’s thoughtfully brought along a cake from Pastiche for his hosts.

Jay’s first response is “Run!” but his wife pretends there’s nothing strange about Charlie. They end up staying for dinner.

Maureen, on the other hand, hits it off with Charlie right away. He takes her head between his claws; she fondles his tentacles. Before the evening is out, she’s performing ritual dances for him and preparing for sacrifice at midnight.

That’s just when Jay, who’s been sick, frightened, and bewildered all evening, has finally had enough. Unfortunately for him, so has Charlie.

Charlie doesn’t talk, although he occasionally emits an earth-shaking bellow. But it turns out that he can write a lovely thank-you note, like the one he sends to his friends the next morning along with a  generous check:

Diane and Mark,

Thank you for a fabulous evening. Maureen was most worthy and managed to upstage that amazing salmon. The world owes you an enormous debt of gratitude, as do I.

XO, Charlie

Being friends with Charlie is apparently a good deal, even if you have to find him dates every once in awhile, and scrub to get the blood off your good tableware after an evening party.

Maureen dances for Charlie Sacrifice

The Bone Garden

I was surprised to see this stop-animation short show up on the 2016 DVD set, since it was one of the films I saw at the NecronomiCon in 2017. It has no direct connection to any Lovecraft story, although at one point one of the characters in it reads aloud a passage from The Hound and pronounces it “self-indulgent, don’t you think?”

The Bone GardenIt’s the story of an old woman and a young man–not her son or grandson, she tells us in her narration. They met in hospital when they were both being ineffectively treated for osteosarcoma, a cancer of the bones.

But that condition is exactly what enabled them to live now that the world has changed into a strange and unfamiliar place. All other living things on Earth have undergone a cellular transformation. “Our bones stopped growing; theirs did.” All that’s left of everyone else, people and animals, are bone trees and marrow plants growing up out of their unrecognizable remains on the ground. The two cut down and eat from these plants to survive and the old lady “tries not to think about” what they once were.

One night while the pair is out gathering food, they encounter what looks like another living creature; it’s got three legs with pointy claws on the ends, and it also eats the marrow and ejects jade-green orbs.

Meeting the Harvester“Against my better judgement,” the old lady and her young companion follow the creature.

When they trace it back to the Harvester (which is kind of Lovecraftian), they realize how much the world really has changed. They are “the aphids in this garden of bones.”

While the story is vividly gruesome, the animation is less vivid. The images are slightly out of focus and sometimes murky, which made it hard to get a decent screenshot.

Hypnos

I also saw this in 2017, and remembered it well. It successfully adapts Lovecraft’s story of the same name to a same-sex couple in Finland.

Hypnos

Henry is an artist, painter and sculptor. I don’t know what Samuel (pronounced “Sam-well” if you’re Finnish) does, apart from provide  inspiration for Henry’s work, meditate in the park, have out-of-body experiences and draw the attention of a lonely celestial body, which looms very close over the Earth. It seems to be following the couple around. At the  beginning, we saw something strike the Moon, but I don’t think the explanation for this can be found in normal physics. The imagery here is striking.

Henry is more disturbed by the lonely planetoid that fills the sky, casts its pulsing, glowy green light in through the windows of their studio apartment, and gives him dreams about flying through some sort of transdimensional spacy, timey void. Samuel, on the other hand, has a sympathetic connection to it and seems to understand what it wants: Someone.

It looks as if the two men are about to face it, hand in hand, when Samuel alone steps forward. The ending of the film is the same as the short story, and helps one understand what just happened when Henry wakes up alone on the floor:

Samuel's statue

“For they deny that I sold the last of my statuary, and point with ecstasy at the thing which the shining shaft of light left cold, petrified, and unvocal. It is all that remains of my friend; the friend who led me on to madness and wreckage; a godlike head of such marble as only old Hellas could yield, young with the youth that is outside time…. but upon the marble base is carven a single name in the letters of Attica—ΥΠΝΟΣ.”

The Package

Charles Braithwaite is sitting comfortably in his study before a cozy fire with a good book and a snifter of brandy, when the doorman brings in a package that he says was delivered by a disheveled man. Charles opens the package to find that it contains his father’s diary, along with a note:

Dearest Charles, my only son,

It would appear that I’ve made a grave miscalculation. Yes I understand how silly that sounds, me being the preeminent mathological scholar of our time. I had planned on sharing this journal with you in person, Charles. You have always been the staunchest and most logical of the Braithwaites, and your opinion us one I hold in high esteem.

Alas, if you are reading this letter, I am surely already dead, a victim of my own damnable curiosity.

This journal holds all of the documentation of my latest experiments, those that involve the dissection of the 7th dimension and the study of dream mathematics. But I beg you, my son, if you value your sanity nay your very life and the lives of those you hold dear, you’ll destroy this cursed journal and the dark knowledge it contains.

Charles BraithwaiteCharles immediately does the sensible thing, which makes this a very short, short indeed (About 2 1/2 minutes).

It’s filmed in black and white and has opening and end credits in the grandiose style of an old movie from the ’30s. I am delighted by that phrase “preeminent mathological scholar of our time”; it reminds me of the wonderfully absurd dialog you’ll find in Larry Blamire’s films.

An Eldritch Place

The final film in this batch is another in French, this one from Belgium. Abdul Alhazred–not the “mad Arab” we know as the author of The Necronomicon, but a ordinary modern-day guy–is hired to act as night-watchman over a garage for a few days while the owner is occupied elsewhere. No one should be allowed in.

His new employer seems a little weird and distracted.  “Have you ever imagined a color that doesn’t exist?” he asks Abdul. “My wife did.”  The man also has a nasty bite on his arm that he doesn’t explain. Then he disappears for the next two days.

Abdul soon learns from a nosy neighbor-lady that his employer’s wife Sonia hasn’t been seen in a month. The couple were archeologists, but there was some trouble after “they’d been too far,” or so they told her. The neighbor predicts that Sonia’s body will eventually turn up hacked to pieces by her husband.

What does turn up in the garage is a recorded message from his employer along with a collection of photographs, papers, and other items that Abdul doesn’t understand. His employer’s cute little yellow sportscar is also back in the garage; that message included instructions that Abdul should let nothing out of the car.

So naturally, Abdul opens the trunk and the driver’s door and sees that the car is unoccupied. Then he sits down inside behind the wheel.

Abdul Alhazred in a car An Eldritch Place

The car door shuts itself, injuring his ankle and trapping him in the car. Abdul is transported out of the garage and into another place–another world or dimension? The car is on a rainy windswept beach with the decayed remnants of pier or wooden breaker-wall, but the sky is glowing with red and blue lights. A huge statue of Cthulhu is visible through the mists, rising at a distant out in the ocean.  An otherwise identical small statuette had been among the belongings his employer left behind.

The trunk of the car pops open. Although Abdul can’t see it, something climbs into the trunk and shuts it. The car shifts back into the garage. Abdul, now remembering his employer’s instructions, picks up an axe before he opens the trunk to see what he brought back with him. What he finds and destroys is certainly enough to make a man go mad… but is it enough to start writing a big book of forbidden knowledge?

Sonia in an Eldritch Place

It’s an interesting story, but even though I’ve seen it several times, there are parts of it I don’t feel I understand yet. There was a photo the thing in the trunk was clutching, of the missing Sonia pointing at the statue; we don’t get a good look at it at that point, but it features under the end credits. Obviously, the couple had “been too far” in their little car to the same eldritch place Abdul has just visited. They were jumping back and forth, which explains some of the peculiarities Abdul has witnessed. Whatever bit the husband’s arm infected and transformed him. Did his wife bite him? Or was she also bitten by something on a previous visit and has already suffered the same fate he has–and is she hacked up somewhere, as the neighbor predicted?

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Author: Kathryn L Ramage

Kathryn L. Ramage has a B.A. and M.A. in English lit and has been writing for as long as she can remember. She lives in Maryland with three calico cats named after the Brontë sisters. In addition to being the author of numerous short stories, reviews, essays, and period mystery novellas, she is also the author of a series of fantasy novels set in a dukedom called the Northlands on an alternate Earth whose history has diverged from ours somewhere during the medieval period.