The second part of this anthology of the best short films from the annual Festival. There are more adaptations of Lovecraft stories on this DVD than on Part 1.
The Shunned House (2012)
This is a modern-day and pretty good retelling of Lovecraft’s story. Water drips from the leaf-clogged end of a gutter spout as Uncle Eli Whipple and his nephew Robert drive up to the house and park in the street out front.
“Jesus!” exclaims Robert as he looks it over. “Did they build this place knowing it was going to be a haunted house?”
I’ve been to the Shunned House. It doesn’t look like this.
Later dialog will establish that Eli often goes on this sort of ghost-hunting adventure, and his nephew enjoys going along. The pair has brought along electronic equipment and a camcorder. Robert records his uncle as they enter the house; Eli makes an introductory statement about the Shunned House’s long history of “pain, suffering, misery, death.”
The dripping from the gutter stops abruptly as they go inside.
As they go down into the basement, Uncle Eli continues to tell us pretty much the same story of the people who died in the house or suffered strange illnesses as related in Lovecraft’s original story, but with the date of events moved up from the Colonial era to the 19th and 20th century. Robert makes note of a vaguely man-shaped dark patch on one wall, but his uncle says it’s probably water damage.
They settle down to set up their equipment. When Robert turns on the EMF detector, it fairly shrills with whatever energy it’s picking up. After checking the batteries, he decides that it’s malfunctioning and turns it off again while Eli carries on with his story.
Unnoticed by either man, that dark patch spreads across the ceiling.
As Eli continues to talk, we get a couple of brief flashbacks, first of Rhoby Harris being terrorized by a “vicious, biting thing that comes to her at night,” and then of a later tenant of the house going mad and biting her doctor. There’s never any specific mention of the French vampire who was buried here long before the current house was built, but the pale, bald creature we see does have fangs.
This is where things being to get creepy. Through the camera’s viewer we can see that the same pale, bald, fanged creature who menaced Rhoby is now stalking Eli. Robert doesn’t see it, but as it moves up closer behind Eli the older man senses it and turns suddenly. Its presence seems to affect him.
After he finishes his narrative, Eli crouches down quietly in the corner.
Some time later, he tells his nephew, “I’m so glad you came tonight. It’s been so long since we had visitors.”
But when he raises his head, he is no longer Eli. The creature has possessed him.
Robert runs terrified out of the house into the night. He returns the next day… but he neglects to bring those carboys of acid he had in the original story.
The Professor (2013)
An amusing black and white, silent, 2-minute short with a live actor and animated effects.
The professor is sitting home alone one rainy evening, reading a forbidden tome of occult lore, as one does. He reads aloud:
A door to another dimension opens up in his wall.
“A d°°r|” exclaims the professor. (My favorite thing about this short is the font on the title cards; the Os look like degree symbols and the exclamation points like vertical bars.) Naturally, he can’t resist venturing in to have a look around.
Beyond the dimensional doorway lies a vast temple with tall columns and the huge stone face of an idol above the altar. The images are sort of grainy, but the perspective down through the temple is nicely done.
There’s also some spiky-backed thing slithering around behind the columns, but the professor doesn’t notice it as he gazes up at the columns and the starry sky above in wonderment. It’s when he approaches the idol that the trap springs.
The film ends with a Public Service Announcement and lesson for us all: Never read fr°m the B°°k|
Another silent film, this one a nicely done period piece with narration. I haven’t compared it line-for-line, but the text is taken for the most part directly from Lovecraft’s very short story.
In Arkham in 1920, a man stands on a beach fully clothed but knee-deep in the water. In voice-over, he tells us:
“Nyarlathotep… the crawling chaos… I am the last… I will tell the audient void. . . .
“I do not recall distinctly when it began, but it was months ago…
The rest of the story is in flashback, accompanied by a strange, electronic twanging music.
Nyarlathotep, we are informed, came out of Egypt. This is accompanied by a scene set in the Valley of the Kings.
I’ve been to the Valley of the Kings. It doesn’t look like that.
The film here is scratched, as if it’s very old. A bearded archeologist and his Egyptian assistants are digging in the sand. They find a small sculpture of a seated Pharaoh. So entranced by his find is the archeologist that he doesn’t notice that something else has emerged also from the sand and is coming toward them, until his assistants flee. We don’t see what happens to him after he does see the sand-covered man dressed in the ancient Egyptian style with a pharaoh’s headdress, but the assistants bow and made their terrified obeisance to Nyarlathotep.
Nyarlathotep soon loses his ancient clothes, but he continues to wear heavy Egyptian-style eyeliner and a long beard when he goes around giving lectures in the modern world.
“He said he had risen up out of the blackness of twenty-seven centuries, and that he had heard messages from places not on this planet. Into the lands of civilisation came Nyarlathotep, swarthy, slender, and sinister, always buying strange instruments of glass and metal and combining them into instruments yet stranger. He spoke much of the sciences—of electricity and psychology—and gave exhibitions of power which sent his spectators away speechless, yet which swelled his fame to exceeding magnitude. Men advised one another to see Nyarlathotep, and shuddered. And where Nyarlathotep went, rest vanished; for the small hours were rent with the screams of nightmare.”
When Nyarlathotep comes to Arkham, the narrator receives a letter from his friend Harley Warren recommending that he go see the show. So he does.
It’s at the end of Nyarlathotep’s exhibition that we just glimpse him in another more bestial form–the most memorable shot in this short film. The narrator loses his eyeglasses during the panic that leads the rest of the audience to run out of the auditorium; as he gropes blindly for the glasses, a huge claw reaches down to pick them up.
Out on the street, he and the others who have seen the show reassure each other that they “aren’t afraid, could never be afraid.” But they soon form into groups and march in different directions of out of the city.
The night scenes of the moon are tinted green as they walk away and disappear one by one until the narrator alone remains.
Another animated feature, using early homemade computer graphics, with a live actor who also acts as narrator–this time, it’s the director and animator, Richard Corben.
In a close-up, Corben as narrator insists that he’s not crazy before he tells his us his story.
As in Lovecraft’s original story, he was lost at sea and made a raft for himself on which he drifted for days until he eventually washed up on an island that appeared to have recently emerged from the ocean’s floor. There, he found a cyclopean monolith covered with strange hieroglyphics. We see all of this in flashback, with the narrator often the only live element in the image (although there are also a few seagulls).
As he stands staring up at the monolith, he hears steady drumbeats and a voice chanting “Eeee-yah oh, eeee-yah oh!” and turns to see a group of amphibian people dancing. A “batrachian bacchanalia from Hell” is how he describes them, but they look more to me like they’d doing group exercises.
Corben is probably best known for his comic “Den,” which appeared in Heavy Metal magazine back in the ’70s. There as here, I note that he has exaggerated ideas of anatomy, but this is Corben’s one significant addition to the story and the amphibian-man’s delicate, ballet-like dance is my favorite part of this 7-minute film.
A tentacled creature rises up out of the sea behind the monolith, and the narrator tells us that he doesn’t remember what happened after that. He went home and kept his memories of his experience dulled by drugs, “Until that one rainswept night they came for me.” His body now animated, he’s joined the amphibian exercise class.
Doctor Glamour (2011)
This is my favorite on this DVD, and perhaps of all the short features I’ve reviewed for these Filmfest collections. I was charmed by it from the moment when nerdy Walter arrived at Miskatonic University in his flying machine to begin his studies.
Walter is an excellent student. During the dialog-less first 4 minutes of this 14-minute film, we see him in his classes, always first with his hand up to answer questions and receiving straight A’s in every subject–Geometry, Physics, History–until he gets to Witchcraft. There, the young woman sitting behind him in class is quicker on the draw and answers every question before he can. Walter is irritated until he turns to speak to her, and then he falls in love.
A montage shows Walter and Eve Walpurgas (played by Priscilla McEvers, who was also foul-mouthed reporter Holly Malone in Frank Dancoolio: Paranormal Drug Dealer, although I didn’t recognize her until she smiled) enjoying a romantic relationship during the months that follow, studying together and spell-casting together.
Near the end of term, Walter is preparing to propose while the two are out picnicking one spring day–when whatever Eve’s read in the forbidden book she brought along with her summons up a giant tentacled beastie from beneath the ground, which picks her up and carries her off through a swirling portal into another dimension. All that’s left behind is a handwritten note that says “Fears, hopes, and desires” on a slip of paper that Eve was using as a bookmark.
Probably not the first, nor last, time something like this has happened to a promising Miskatonic student, but Walter is devastated. His world crashes in. His grades plummet until he’s expelled from the university and he’s evicted from his apartment. As a last, desperate act, he steals The Necronomicon from the library and creates a device that opens a transdimension portal like the one that Eve disappeared through.
Enter Dr. Glamour, and this silent film suddenly becomes a musical. The doctor–a flamboyant figure a bit like Dr. Frankenfurter in Rocky Horror, but without the fishnet stockings and strangely with an Eastern European accent (which the actor didn’t have when he played Frank Dancoolio)–sings his introduction song about his “Techno-glove of Love / You can go anywhere you’re dreaming of.”
He makes Walter sing too in reply to explain why he was summoned. Walter can’t sing.
Together, they enter the computer animated Realm of Dreams, which looks rather like the places where Dr. Strange also hangs out, and go to what Dr. Glamour calls “the Big Borscht”–where dreams, desires, and fantasies are all mixed together into one big “zoup.”
“The ritual Eve inadvertently invoked can unleash a lot of creepy crawly things. Fears, hopes, desires… They can grab you and pull you down. You dig?”
“Yes, but how do we grab hold of these concepts?”
“Fears, hopes, and desires? They tend to find you.”
And they have. Dr. Glamour fights these amorphous shapes while singing that he can’t fight without his battle music. (Sample lyrics: “I’ll kick your candy ass with my cock-a-doodle-doo.”)
By this point, the viewer may have picked up a certain vibe between Walter and Dr. Glamour, so it comes as no big surprise that, by the time Walter finally finds Eve, he’s faced his own hopes, dreams, and fears and has realized “what [his] little heart desires” for the big song (and snog) at the end.
Not that Eve doesn’t get what her heart desires too.
There just aren’t that many Lovecraft-based stories that have happy endings.
From Beyond (2006)
The second adaptation of this Lovecraft story in this DVD set, this one is a stop-animation short just under 10 minutes long. It features the saddest, most hopeless expression I’ve ever seen on a clay animated figure.
The sad-faced, unspeaking protagonist arrives at Crawford Tillinghast’s home in response to a note and enters a bare room containing only a chair, television, and a strange machine. He sits down and turns the TV on.
This also activates the machine.
Tillinghast appears on the television screen; the face is that of a live actor, and his voice is the only one we hear in this film.
Tillinghast tells his friend what the machine does. It allows you to see those creatures that are around us all the time… and to be seen by them, so keep perfectly still. He explains that he can’t be there because “powerful forces” are hunting him because of his work. Now, he’s about to demonstrate the result of that work–which his friend didn’t believe in.
Now, the sad-faced man can see the creatures around him. He also sees what Tillinghast has become in order to hide. He’s standing right behind the chair (and looks like one of those deformed monstrosities reconstituted from the Essential Salts in The Resurrected).
It’s just then that the “powerful forces” that were looking for Tillinghast find him.
The protagonist is rescued… or is he? At the end, we discover that the room he’s in may not be at Tillinghast’s home after all.
Antiques Roadshow: Arkham (2005)
A parody of the popular PBS show, set in “witch-haunted” Arkham, as the presenter describes it. Three people bring in things to be assessed.
Zadoc Allen brings in something that he found washed up on the shore. It’s in a box so we don’t see it but the already hysterical presenter describes it as a statue of an unholy pagan deity. (Eh. I’ve seen plenty of those.) He gives Zadoc 20 dollars to get it the hell away from him.
Next, Johnny Whateley brings in a copy of The Necronomicon that was apparently stolen from Miskatonic University in the 1920s. The best joke in this short film is the library card still inside the book: It was checked out multiple times by Wilbur Whateley, as well as by Asenath Derby and Richard Pickman.
Last is a cultist with an (again unseen) live but severed dog’s head in a big box. This is too much for the presenter, and the show ends abruptly.
Ethereal Chrysalis (2011)
This dialog-less Canadian film is filled with fantastic images so weird that I can only describe what I’m seeing and pick up a clue or two about what’s going on from the end credits.
After a man (Syl Disjonk, the director, credited as “the schizophrenic”) removes his face like a mask so that we zoom into his brain, we see a lone figure (Syl again, credited as “the traveler”) wandering a red-tinted and desolate landscape and carrying an armful of what look like dead sea-creatures.
Ahead of him, he sees what looks like an enormous, prone body lying down–himself (credited as “the sleeping giant”). There’s a ladder going up to the body’s head; when a door opens up in the temple just at the top of the ladder, he drops the seafood and climbs up to go inside.
Inside the giant’s head, he’s assaulted by a dirt-covered and fierce-looking bald man (credited as “the psychic alchemist”) who transfixes him to the floor and seizes him by the head.
They’re suddenly in a filthy room; he’s lying on a hospital bed and the bald man, who still has hold of his head, appears to be drawing tiny red particles from him. Mental energy? Blood?
A window above them shows the red world outside. A vortex forms in the sky. As the bald man draws out the red particles, he watches the vortex form and grown larger.
Once he’s drawn up enough of the red stuff through his fingertips, the alchemist seems to taste it–he licks his lips as if in appreciation–then turns into a large red worm and flies out the window, leaving the man convulsing on the bed.
The worm flies into vortex… And a flying turtle-crab-creature comes out.
We see now that this is all seen by the traveler transfixed to the floor inside the giant’s head. Is this going on inside his head? It’s all going on in the schizophrenic’s head, so one has to wonder just how many heads are involved.
Anyway, as the turtle-crab thing flies closer to the man on the bed, the transfixed man screams and tears his head off. Still screaming, the head flies out to meet Gamera. They fly straight at each other, playing chicken.
When they crash together, they merge and form a pulsing egg which falls to the ground.
The egg hatches and a naked, genital-less lizard-man emerges (Syl, now credited as “the mutant”). As he stands upright, the sleeping giant seen in the landscape behind him bursts into flames.
During and after the credits, we see that the man in the bed is also burning until there’s nothing left of him but bones and ash.
All of this is accompanied by a chanting chorus of voices and thrilling music that becomes more intense and compelling as the story progresses. I enjoy it, but what’s going on here?
hp Apology (2012)
A very short comic short (under 2 minutes).
H.P. Lovecraft offers an apology for the rise of his “blasphemous creation.” the “ancient one” which has become real and destroyed reality as we know it.
This 13-minute film is an extended monologue by Dr. William Dyer, a scientist who works at the CERN particle physics research facility in Switzerland. He’s conducted an experiment in quantum mechanics that has apparently gone wrong and leaves him in a ruined building alone with a cat in a box.
He first says that his experiment as caused anomalies in the space-time continuum and he has two hours to try and fix it “before this whole place goes to hell.” As he does calculations, he also tries to contact someone, anyone, else in the world and speaks about his wife Anna and her dreams. The terrible visions she had foresaw that this event was coming.
Meanwhile, there’s something huge with tentacles outside and beneath the floor of the ruined building. Dyer thinks it was brought back by his experiment. When he looks at sketches his wife made of her nightmares, they resemble the creature outside.
Eventually, he realizes that what’s happened wasn’t an accident, but a natural consequence of his experiment. He’s existing in 2 states at once. He is Schrödinger’s cat, and he prays that no one “opens the box” yet.
The cat does get out of its box, but the thing under the floor reaches up and gets it. (Which is why I’m not too fond of this film).
At the end, Dr. Dyer does go outside into a changed world.
I’ve been to Switzerland. It certainly didn’t look like that the last time I was there.