Best of H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival: Vol. 1

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.

Derailed (2010)

This spooky and atmospheric 18-minute French film is one of my favorites on this first DVD.

EricEric, 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.

Dead end

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…
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The Ballad of Tam Lin

I had never heard of this obscure 1970 film until I read someone else’s review of it last fall. I was so intrigued by the description that I sought my own DVD copy to watch. As the narrator explains early on:

“There is a story in verse that belongs to this part of the country, the border of England and Scotland. It is hundreds of years old. It tells the adventures of a young man held in thrall by the Queen of the Faeries… A dangerous lady. It is called the Ballad of Tam Lin.”

Tam Lin panel

The film retells this old folk ballad in a modern setting. It is Roddy McDowall’s only film as a director (It was his work on this that kept him from playing Cornelius in Beneath the Planet of the Apes).

The film begins with a young black man in cool-cat 1960s clothes playing a sultry sax while sitting in the front hall of a grand London townhouse on a staircase beneath a crystal chandelier. He’s seen through a glass panel with frosted images painted on it which depict people wearing medieval clothes and enacting key scenes from the old ballad–and also showing us the plot of the story we’re about to see.

The camera then takes us upstairs past the chandelier and into a vast white bedroom containing a vast white bed. Two naked people recline beneath the sheets, Tom Lynn (Ian McShane) and Michaela “Mickey” Cazaret (Ava Gardner). They have the following post-coital conversation:

Tom: “I love you.”
Mickey: “I’m immensely old.”
Tom: “It doesn’t matter.”
Mickey: “It doesn’t matter to you. You grow older every year. I grow older every sordid second.”

He insists again that it doesn’t matter. She grows more beautiful with age.
She responds, “I love you…. I will love you and leave you for dead.”

Tom and Mickey

He should be paying more attention to her side of the conversation, but he’s too young and besotted. Instead, he kisses her, and they go at it again.

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Die Farbe

Or, in English: The Color (out of Space)

The Color out of SpaceThis 2010 German film is at its center a faithful retelling of HP Lovecraft’s novella, moved to a new setting: Germany just before World War II and just afterwards, with a more modern framing story.

I only know a handful of German words–the useful phrases that a tourist learns while traveling, and the useless ones picked up from WWII movies–but most of this story is told so clearly in visual images or adheres closely enough to Lovecraft’s familiar tale that I can follow most of it without turning on the subtitles.

Anyway, the first part is in English.

Old Dr. Davis has flown from the US to Frankfurt, then disappeared. His son Jonathan (who is supposed to be American, but I find his accent extremely suspect) goes to Germany to try and find him.

Dr. DavisBefore Jonathan leaves on his journey, he speaks to an old friend of his father’s at Miskatonic U, who recalls that Dad was stationed as an army medic at end of the War around Bavaria and Baden-Wurttemberg. Dr. Davis hadn’t visited Germany since then and has no other connection to that country, so this is the only clue Jonathan has as to where his father might’ve gone.

Arriving in Germany, he rents a car and drives around the Wurttemberg Forest area until he encounters a detour; an empty valley is being flooded to create a reservoir. The road that used to lead through it is already impassable under water. A narrow dirt road winds around the edge of the new lake. Jonathan takes this through the forest, stopping at one point to get out and look around. The water is visible through the trees.

PassportThere’s a feeling that something strange and unsettling is going on in this place: The wings on a  dragonfly audibly snap shut when it lands on a leaf. A toad appears to be watching Jonathan from its hole.

What Jonathan doesn’t see before he gets back in his car is an American passport lying on ground not far from the road.

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K9 & Company

Sarah Jane, K9, and Brendan

The Sarah Jane Adventures were not Elisabeth Sladen’s and John Leeson’s first mutual spinoff from Doctor Who. In 1981, a single episode of K9 & Company aired on the BBC at Christmastime, featuring two of the Doctor’s most popular companions.

The show received respectably high ratings, drawing an audience of over 8 million. John Nathan Turner, the producer for Doctor Who at that time, had hopes that this would lead to a whole new series–but, sadly, nothing further came of it.

The single episode is given its own disc on the recently released BluRay set for Tom Baker’s final series as the Doctor, along with a set of related features.

A Girl’s Best Friend

The opening credits show us Sarah Jane and K9. She sits atop a stone wall in the countryside, reading a newspaper. She sips champagne at an open-air table outside a restaurant. She jogs. She drives around the country roads. He scoots along in his usual fashion. All accompanied by the theme song, an electronic, upbeat melody with the following simple lyrics (sung by John Leeson in his K9 voice–something he apparently still enjoys doing):

K9! K9! [music: blip, blip, bloop, bloop]
K9! K9! [music: blip, blip, bloop, bloop]
K9! K9! [music: blip, blip, bloop, bloop]
K9! K9! 

Good luck with getting that out of your head after you’ve heard it a couple of times.

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DART Review: A Solstice Carol

At midwinter of 1921, Howard Phillips Lovecraft was something of a curmudgeonly and semi-reclusive young man, living in Providence with his two doting aunts Annie and Lillian and having no desire ever to live or even visit anyplace else. Unhappily employed as an editor and reviser of other people’s writing, while his own macabre stories in the style of Poe, Dunsany, or Machen were repeatedly rejected by the pulp magazines, he was afflicted with a frustrating case of writer’s block. As Christmas drew near, he rejected the friendly holiday overtures of his aunts, neighbor, and local acquaintances with a surly “Bah!” or even a “Humbug!”

But on Christmas Eve, he was visited by three spirits of the Past, Present, and Future…

Such is the conceit of the framing story for The Solstice Carol.

Dark Adventure Radio Theatre’s Yuletide audioplay is an anthology of three of Lovecraft’s shorter stories, all connected by a parody of Charles Dickens’ oft-retold tale that places Lovecraft in the Ebenezer Scrooge role.

What the spirits show Lovecraft isn’t the True Meaning of Christmas, but it does help him to find the inspiration to write in his own style and teaches him how to be a better and more generous person.

Props: Mason Farley's obituary, and the cover of Astonishing Tales featuring one of his stories

The story, narrated by DART guest announcer Barnaby Dickens (relation to the great Victorian novelist unknown) begins with:

“Old Mason Farley was dead as doornail, as the saying goes…”

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H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival: Best of 2015

Several of the films in this set leave me with a distinct “What the hell was that about?” feeling even after multiple viewings. Some of them, however, even the WTH ones,  are excellent. There’s definitely an aquatic theme running through this batch of winning films.

The Night Ocean

This beautiful short film was the Winner for Judges’ Choice in 2015. It’s Spanish, but the voiceover is in English over animation in a style that looks like watercolor paintings or drawings in a sketchbook, just the sort of thing an artist would do, and accompanied by a melancholy piano composition.

Night Ocean

The narration is taken from the short story of the same name, Robert Hayward Barlow’s collaboration with Lovecraft when the former was a boy of 18. It’s been edited to remove some of the more purple-prose phrases to become a series of elliptical and poetic statements, and there’s a least one addition that I can’t find in the original text.

An artist has rented a secluded house on the beach for a month’s vacation, beginning at the end of summer. At first, he enjoys swimming during the warm and sunny days, and there are late-summer parties dancing to jazz music on the pier.

Then the sunny days come to an end and the summer tourists are gone. Autumn swiftly sets in. The narrator is alone, walking on the empty beach now, and strange things begin to happen.

Small creature on the beach

“I found a small creature on the beach. I’d never seen anything like it.”

One rainy day, he sees what looks like a group of people in black swimsuits out in the turbulent water and shouts to them and waves his arms. They ignore him. Another is standing closer to the shore, but does not appear to be human–then a wave crashes up on the rocks and all of them disappear.

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Dr. Who: The 10th Planet, Part 4

William Hartnell’s final episode of Doctor Who is regrettably among the lost. Even into the 1970s, the BBC was more concerned with conserving storage space and reusing videotape than preserving its archive, and the survival of those episodes that still exist is a matter of chance. When the BBC began to care about the historical importance of its old programs, restoration work often depended on still photographs or audio recordings made by early, devoted fans (See, for example, Marco Polo). In some cases, such as this, they were recreated by animation.

Part 4 picks up where Part 3 left off, with the countdown for the Z-bomb missile launch–but this time it’s in striking black-and-white toon form. The audio is a fan recording from the original episode, and the artwork is based on photos and a few video fragments. It looks very good, like a graphic novel in motion.

Animated Cybermen

The big question is: was Ben successful at sabotaging the missile’s launch before General Cutler caught him, or will both the Earth and Mondas suffer from planet-destroying level of radiation when the Z-bomb goes off?

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In My Mind

In My Mind

It was like a dream, a dream that had become fabulous reality.

Here I am in America for the very first time in 1983 on a mission to get an interview with Patrick McGoohan about his groundbreaking television series, The Prisoner.

A dream because the series had changed my life back in 1969 when it was first shown in Britain.

A dream that you almost never get to meet your heroes.

A dream because an infant Channel 4 Chris and Patrick Television in London had commissioned a documentary about its making. A dream because I knew nothing about making television programs. As a director, this would be my first…

In 1983, Chris Rodley sought to interview Patrick McGoohan for a documentary commissioned by Britain’s then new Channel 4 about The Prisoner. McGoohan, who was living in Los Angeles at that time, agreed to talk; Rodley came out from the UK with a film crew.

There were two filmed interviews, one that eventually played a part in the 1984 documentary titled Six Into One, and one not used and not seen until this, Rodley’s second documentary about Patrick McGoohan, The Prisoner, and the making of Six Into One 35 years later. Supplemented by a recent interview with McGoohan’s daughter Catherine and clips from other interviews and sources, In My Mind is a love letter to two of its subjects, but not the third.

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Dr. Who: The 10th Planet, Part 3

You’ve probably noticed in my descriptions of Part 1 and Part 2 that the Doctor doesn’t do much in this story. He recognized Mondas before he even saw it and knew to expect the Cybermen, and once they’ve arrived, he doesn’t seem too concerned about them; he tells the bewildered General Cutler to wait it out. But Ben and the Doctorit’s his companions Ben and Polly and the Antarctic base personnel who take the bulk of the exposition and action.

In this episode, more so than the previous two. William Hartnell was taken ill with bronchitis and went away for a week’s rest and recuperation. He isn’t even in this one.

Early on in Part 3, while the base is preparing its defense against the hundreds of Cyberships headed from Mondas toward Earth intent on siphoning off the planet’s energy and cyberizing the population, the Doctor (a stand-in with his back carefully toward the camera) collapses and is taken out of the control room. We’ll see him lying on a bunk under a blanket a little later in the episode.

Dr. Barclay takes over for the DoctorWhile this was unfortunate for poor Mr. Hartnell, it provides some foreshadowing in character, suggesting that the Doctor’s health is deteriorating as well.

Everything that was scripted for the Doctor to have done in this episode, including most of his lines, is given to Dr. Barclay.

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Dr. Who: The 10th Planet, Part 2

At the end of Part 1, the Cybermen have landed on Antarctica in the not-too-distant future year of 1986, right on top of the underground UN research and space-control base, and killed the handful of luckless soldiers who happened to be up on the snowy and windswept surface at the time.

Down inside the base, General Cutler is scoffing at the Doctor’s statement that there will be visitors from that other planet that’s approaching Earth and looks just like it, except upside-down to our traditional north/south perspective. Both the Doctor and General are unaware that the visitors have already arrived.

Up on surface, the Cybermen throw the winter cloaks they’ve taken from the dead men over their shoulders and distinctive headgear as a sort of makeshift disguise, and head down through the hatch into the base. It’s not a very good disguise, but it does the trick; no one notices them coming down the stairs into the control room until they throw off the coverings. Polly screams.

Cybermen invasion

I’ve never cared much for the Cybermen later on, either in the Doctor Whos I watched growing up, or in the New Whos. They seemed like clunkier Borg without the Cenobite S&M panache.

But I like these very first Cybermen as they introduce themselves after zapping another soldier or two. They are believably what they say they are–people who were once very like the Earth’s humans, but they’ve had to modify themselves and replace some body parts to survive as the environment on their own world, Mondas, grew more hostile to life. Their hands are bare and still obviously human. The extra features on the DVD tell me this was a mistake and the costume department forgot to order silver gloves, but I think it’s a very good touch, intentional or not.

The voices of the Cybermen are done by other actors offscreen, which creates another nice touch: the Cyberman “speaking” only drops his stocking-covered mouth open and doesn’t move or close his jaw until his speech is completed. What we hear is a creepy, high-pitched, sing-song voice that sounds electronically modulated, emphasizing syllables at random and breaking words or sentences up in weird places. It’s my favorite thing about these first Cybermen, and I think it’s a pity that this style of speech was dropped when they returned in later episodes. It’s as distinctive in its way as the hysterical Dalek shrieks.

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