Sad to say that, before 2014, the HPL Film Festival didn’t release annual DVD compilations of the best films presented each year, but they did release a 2-volumn collection of the very best from the 1990s up to 2012.
This spooky and atmospheric 18-minute French film is one of my favorites on this first DVD.
Eric, who seems like a nice young man, arrives in Paris one evening to see his girlfriend. She’s not at home, so he phones her while standing outside the front door of her apartment. As he leaves a voice- message for her, he sees that she’s in the cafe across the street, on a date with another guy. She receives and rejects the message he just sent. There’s nothing for him to do but go home. Unfortunately, he misses the last train out that night.
While waiting on the empty station platform for the first train in the morning, he hears a voice from somewhere down the open dark tracks: “Aidez!” (Help me).
He first tries to tell the station guard about it, but the guard is seated in a booth behind thick glass with a faulty microphone, and thinks Eric wants a time table. No help there.
After hearing the voice a few more times, Eric investigates for himself. He leaves the platform and walks down the rail line.
When he calls out to the person to try and locate them, the voice responds–but it changes from the bleating plea for help we’ve been hearing to an inhuman wail so loud that Eric covers his ears and runs in terror.
At this point, we see who’s screaming (I don’t know if Eric does): A woman with some kind of glue-like gunk on her face that partially covers her mouth.
Eric takes refuge in a parked train engine, where he finds a homeless man who’s also hiding and seems to know what kind of creature he’s dealing with. “Shut your eyes and you’ll get away from her,” this man advises.
When Eric hears the shriek again, he leaves the engine and continues running. But instead of returning to the platform, he’s going the wrong way, away from the station. He ends up crossing a pedestrian footbridge and going through a tunnel; he’s trapped when he finds the other end of the passage is shut off by a locked chain-link gate.
It’s his turn to shout “Help me!” as she catches up with him.
As she comes closer to kiss him with her mucky mouth, Eric remembers what the other man said about shutting his eyes…
Well, that does work for a minute or two, but she tricks him and gets her kiss in the end.
A short time later, the hysterical young woman comes up toward the station platform from the rail lines. She’s a mess and sobbing for help, but no longer gluey-faced.
The guard, who is out on patrol, finds her. As he wraps his coat around her and escorts her to safety, we hear a new voice somewhere down the tracks, calling for help. Eric’s voice. I suppose the poor boy will now be stuck with the gunk until someone else goes out in answer to the call, and helps him.
Static Eons (2011)
This animated film takes us around an abandoned city in ruins; we glide through streets and narrow alleyways that look like a good RPG, picking up details as voiceover narration from the one person left alive tells us a plague that swept the planet. This plague put an end to human life as it was known. The infected population swarmed toward the oceans, but not everybody chose this fate.
We see a copy of the final edition of the Washington Times newspaper with a revolver lying upon it. Nearby is the slightly deformed skeleton of a person who committed suicide rather than succumb to the effects of the disease. The skeleton’s eye-socket are remarkably large and the rest of the facial features strangely flat.
While the architecture of the city is too old fashioned and the streets too narrow for it to be Washington DC, it seems to be in the vicinity. East Coast, at least. (I’d suggest Innsmouth, given the ending, except that this transformation is due to a disease and not heredity.)
At last, we meet our narrator. He is alive, but no longer in anything like a human state. Apparently, though, he can still type.
From Beyond (1997)
This black and white short film is only one of two that adapts a Lovecraft story, and very faithfully in this case. It was directed by and stars Andrew Migliore, who also happens to be the Film Festival’s founder.
The story is shown in flashback as police investigate the death of Crawford Tillinghast.
Tillinghast was outraged when the funding was cut for his work into the stimulation of the pineal gland, due to ethical issues on research involving human subjects. He refused to listen to any apologies nor excuses his friend, the university’s director of scientific research, and refused to consider other lines of research. (There’s a nice little in-joke in this scene: “What about that research into Essential Salts you told me about? That had such promise.”) His response is the traditional mad scientist’s cry of “Fools! I’ll show you all!”
To show them, Tillinghast invited his former friend over to his house and turned on his machine to demonstrate what stimulating the pineal gland will do to one’s perceptions.
The high point of the story is when we see what’s Beyond the normal range of human senses. The film becomes pink tinted with little blobby things floating around. A clue as to how this effect was accomplished and what those little blobs really are lies in a disclaimer in the end credits: “No sea monkeys were harmed during the making of this film.”
Frank Dancoolio: Paranormal Drug Dealer (2009)
Another of my favorites on this DVD. It’s a sharp, loud, garishly tinted and strangely overexposed, but very funny comedy. It’s not a parody of From Beyond, but it does reference it.
The place: Neo-Mega-Ultra Tokyo. Time: The Future. People have been taking a new street drug that gives them visions so terrifying that they drop dead. It’s up to Holly Malone to track down the dealer.
Holly (Priscilla McEvers) is the sort of brash, wise-cracking woman reporter you used to see in movies in the 1930s, but she swears a whole lot more. She also has a tendency toward acts of cartoon violence. Literally, cartoony–throwing people around effortlessly, stepping on the secretary’s head as she strides into her boss’s office.
She knows that Dancoolio is the man she’s looking for; she wants to see him “caught, exposed, executed! But first–interviewed!”
“Frank Dancoolio is a myth,” her boss tells her.
“That’s what you said about the Yeti,” Holly retorts. “But you can bet your sweet patootie that I got him making love to Nessie on live TV.”
She’s determined to hunt Dancoolio down. One brief investigative montage later, she does so, locating him in the basement of an empty dive nightclub and obtaining her interview.
What Frank’s been selling isn’t actually a drug. It’s his own spinal fluid. He has psychic powers that enable him to see… Beyond.
“An infinite supply of a totally unique substance flowing out of my skull. It was awesome.”
The people who take this substance have a brief glimpse of what he can see, and that terrifying vision from Beyond kills them. Frank didn’t mean to hurt anybody, but stupidly put inadequate warnings on the bottles. (Not that many people in Neo-Mega-Ultra Tokyo can read English.)
Oh, and some of those beings from Beyond have followed him back and have been looking for him too. They’re in the room right now.
He faces and fights the octopoidy creatures kung-fu style. Frank can see them. Holly can’t.
She watches him flip and jump around the empty room by himself until his enemies are defeated. “Frank, that was incredible… I think.”
But those from Beyond have encroached more on this world than either had realized. The psycho-pharmacological dealer and intrepid journalist join forces to defeat those tricky Beyonding bastards. Frank learns to use his powers for good and Holly gets the story of the millennium. So what’s next for those crazy kids?
The Necronomicon (2008)
This very short film is a parody of those religious promo-spots one used to see on late-night TV. Two friends are seated in a restaurant, when one asks, “Read any good books lately?”
His friend smiles meaningfully and produces a large book, which he puts down on the table between them.
“Is this the Bible?”
“It’s like the Bible… but different.”
“Yeah–with forbidden knowledge!”
Like all good promos, it includes information for contacting your local chapter of Cultists at the end.
A Short Nap… Ever Elongating (2012)
An insomniac takes a drug that causes him to sleep–only for short periods of time at first, an hour or two–but he has vivid dreams or visions of incredible vistas, of other worlds being created or destroyed. He believes that he is living other lives in these dreams, and begins to sleep for much longer periods. He sleeps for days. Eons pass, and he’s lived more life in that other state.
Eventually, he disappears for for a month and his friend, the narrator, looks in on him and sees what that drug really is, and what it does. I think there is just a bit of animation at the very end, but much of this film is very muted and murky; it’s hard to tell what you’re looking at.
Black Goat (2011)
A 6-minute film with no dialog about a man hiking alone through a snowy wilderness. He’s attacked by some kind of tree root/tentacle thing that reaches for him from underneath the snow and tries to drag him off. Fortunately, he has an axe handy and chops it to pieces
At nightfall, he builds a fire and makes camp.
Once the fire dies low, he’s set upon by a sort of three-legged, walking tree-thing–whether it’s the same creature as the root/tentacle, I’m not sure, but he’s just as ready to deal with it. He’s put a circle of tinder ready around himself and, as the creature comes toward him, retreats and sets fire to the circle, trapping and burning the creature.
But it’s not the only one. As the first goes up in flames, others lumber (ha!) toward him out of the darkness.
Is this the end of our hero? I can’t say, but the end credits tell me that it’s only the prologue to a longer story, so he may survive this encounter with the tree-creatures. I suppose from the title that they are just a few of the Thousand Young of that infamous Black Goat of the Wood.
Bedtime for Timmy (2010)
A charming 3-minute, stop-animation film about a little boy who has a monster in his closet.
Whenever he turns off the light on his nightstand, Timmy hears something in the darkened room. When he turns the light on again, there’s nothing to be seen except the closet door now open wider or the rocking-chair rocking.
Until the last time he turns on the light.
It’s not the poor little monster from the closet that Timmy needs to worry about.
To Oblivion (1990)
It’s the story of a young man who has volunteered to go on a pioneering trip into space. He’s wanted to be an astronaut since he was a child, and there are Star Trek images taped on the walls and a little Enterprise model dangling above the control console. He’s gone off on this mission for a year before college, choosing his own destiny instead of letting his parents decide what to do with his life.
Except that space isn’t the boldly going adventure he imagined. It’s deadly dull. There are no windows on the spaceship. All systems are automated and he shouldn’t touch the control panels, so there’s nothing for him to do every day but sit there and stare at the blinking indicator on his computer monitor.
He looks forward to the meal packets that the computer spits out at timed intervals during the days, and occasional transmissions from Earth. Only brief communications are possible, and since they take hours to reach him, the conversation can only go in one direction at a time. This reminds me of 2001–when Frank Poole’s parents sing to him–and the young man must be thinking of the same scene too; since the next window of opportunity is near his birthday, he suggests that his parents might come in to the mission control office and sing “Happy Birthday.” He misses that kind of stuff.
When the next transmission occurs, he waits wearing a party hat handmade from rolled up piece of paper. But his parents aren’t there. His last message was garbled and they didn’t receive it. Can he please repeat?
That night is when his dreams begin.
He dreams that he walks along beside a tall, iron fence but is unable to climb over to the other side. He knows that there are trees and a lake in which he can float on a raft of his own making. (There’s a photo of a lake that used to be taped on the wall; it was the paper he made into a party hat.)
These dream-images are vivid and tinted with bright colors, contrasting with the dreariness of the spaceship interior.
Finding his dreams more enticing than his boring space mission, the young man begins to take an over-the-counter sleep aid from his First Aid kit so that he can sleep more.
He dreams of a city or temple in ruins, and finds a yellowed old book filled with “the thoughts of dream sages who had once dwelt within this land and were too wise to be born into this waking world.” The sages wrote of a way to reach the place beyond the iron fence, a drug to be taken. He memorizes the formula to take back with him to the waking world.
Apparently, this potion can be made from a collection of common OTC medications. Don’t try this at home.
He takes it and at last climbs over the fence to reach the lake beyond… but he won’t ever be coming home.
Life is but a dream…
Elder Sign (2009)
Another amusing parody by the same people who made The Necronomicon above and featuring the same two actors. This time, it’s one of those “ask your doctor if [drug name] is right for you” pharmaceutical commercials.
“If you suffer from an overwhelming sense of dread brought on by the realization of your own insignificance in the universe,
then you could be at risk to exposure to flying polyps… from caverns within the Earth.
“There’s only one way to control flying polyps. Elder Sign.
“[It] creates an invisible barrier that polyps can’t pass through.”
Using eons-old technology, Elder Sign is available in regular and refreshing mint.
The Music of Jo Hyeja (2012)
One of the very best for last.
Erich Zann is perhaps the most popular Lovecraft story for these short film adaptations; From Beyond is the only other title that offers it stiff competition. This 20-minute Korean version with subtitles puts the story in a new setting–No longer the tangled streets of Paris of nearly a century past, but modern-day Seoul. For a change, both the protagonist and the mad musician are women.
Mija is a university student looking for a cheap apartment. She’s also just broken up with her boyfriend. He still phones her, but she doesn’t answer.
She takes a room in a dingy little building and walks to her classes to save money. At nights, she hears the squeaking, scraping sound of a musical instrument being played upstairs, a strange music. When she asks the landlord’s son about it, she learns about “that weird old lady” in the attic apartment.
Few weeks later, Mija meets Mrs. Jo outside the building. Mrs. Jo looks like a ratty bag lady, but she’s carrying a haegeum (a Korean stringed instrument), so Miju knows it’s her neighbor. She tells the older woman that she really loves her music and offers to share lunch.
There’s a weird moment when Mrs. Jo eagerly sniffs at the bag of takeout before she accepts the offer, but it turns out that she’s blind. They go up to her rather cluttered room at the top of the house.
Mrs. Jo says that she lives alone since she… lost her husband. In that hesitation, there’s just a hint that she doesn’t mean she lost him in the usual way. She’s alarmed when Miju tries to open the little window high up on one wall; the knob is lashed shut with a piece of wire. Mrs. Jo explains that she’s nervous about it because she doesn’t like when people move things around on her. Which sounds reasonable for a blind woman, but if you know the story you know that’s not it. Everthing about her is at least a little bit off.
They sit down to eat. Mrs. Jo doesn’t use chopsticks, but picks up and shoves a whole sushi roll straight from the wrapper into her mouth.
After lunch, she plays for Miju, but gets upset again when Miju requests she play some of that “other music” she hears at night. Mrs. Jo kicks the girl out.
She doesn’t get another invitation to go upstairs, but Miju continues to hear the music and even ventures up the stairs to peek in to watch when Mrs. Jo plays. The landlord’s son conveys a message to her that they can give her a larger room downstairs, for the same rent, which indicates that they know what’s going on up in the attic room, and want to get Miju farther away from it.
One night, Miju has a nightmare about her ex-boyfriend in her room; he assaults and attempts to murder her while the strange, scratchy music plays.
She wakes to a scream, not her own. The music is still going on.
Miju goes upstairs to see Mrs. Jo playing frantically and cackling madly, and she sees what’s outside that little window. We don’t get to, though.