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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Madhouse

This 1974 film is on the flip slide of the Theatre of Blood DVD. If not for that, I don’t suppose I would’ve known about it or been able to watch it repeatedly. I’m certain I never saw it when I watched these kinds of movies on late-night TV in the 1970s and ‘80s. It’s an AIP/Amicus collaboration, featuring one major horror-film icon from each studio: Vincent Price and Peter Cushing.

Dr. DeathWe start with a scene set 12 years ago at a New Year’s Eve party in Hollywood, although it doesn’t look much like the early ‘60s. Horror-film star Paul Toombes (Price) is showing the latest film from his wildly successful series of Dr. Death movies.

AIP’s contribution to this film wasn’t just Vincent Price for the current project, but Price’s earlier work. The clips from the Dr. Death movies that we’ll see throughout Madhouse are actually from Roger Corman’s mostly Poe-based AIP films. These were the movies I did watch on late-night TV in my youth, so part of the fun in watching this is being able to identify them.

The film shown here is the ending of that Poe’d-up adaptation of Lovecraft’s “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward,” Haunted Palace (which I really am going to review one of these days; I’ve been saying so for years). It’s been edited to dub in a line or two about Dr. Death and to insert shots of Price in his distinctive Dr. Death makeup.

After the film is over, Paul announces his engagement to Ellen, an actress much younger than himself. Among the people there to congratulate the couple is an old acquaintance of the prospective bride, Oliver Quayle (Robert Quarry); he’s is a slimy producer who makes adult films, and he immediately spoils things by cheerfully informing Paul that Ellen began her career by working for him in nudie movies. Paul is horrified and takes this to mean that she’s “on the make” and only marrying him for his money. The engagement is off, which puts a damper on the party.

Paul goes off to sulk and Ellen goes upstairs to cry and powder her nose at a fancy and well-lit vanity table—and then get murdered by someone dressed in the Dr. Death cloak, fedora, and black gloves, wearing a skull-mask.

Dead Ellen

After the opening credits, Paul realizes that his fiancée’s early career has nothing to do with her feelings for him and goes to apologize to her for being an ass. He finds her sitting at the vanity table just at the stroke of midnight, but when he touches her, her head falls off.

This beheading has left surprisingly little blood on the fluffy white carpet or furniture.

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The Witches

Also known as The Devil’s Own, which was the title of the book this film was based on.

The Witches is a fairly obscure and peculiar little mid-60s film from the British Hammer Studio. The screenplay was written by Nigel Kneale, but it’s not his original material. It stars an actress one doesn’t normally associate with horror films: Joan Fontaine. Yes, that Joan Fontaine, of Rebecca, Suspicion, and Jane Eyre. The great actresses of her generation did dabble in horror during this period, late in their careers, and this is her turn. IMDB has a story that she bought the rights to the book so she could star in the movie version, then retired when it flopped. I’ve no idea how much of that’s true.

African knifeThere’s one other very peculiar peculiarity about this film, but I’ll get to that later.

Joan plays Gwen Mayfield, a missionary / teacher. We meet her in the opening scenes in an unnamed African country; the local witch-doctor has turned  his tribe against the missionaries, and the school where Gwen teaches is under attack. Gwen is packing up the school to make her escape, but she doesn’t get out in time. A group of men in enormous decorated masks come into the school, and the witch-doctor does something undefined but horrible to her. That he’d “eat your soul” is what the native men who worked for Gwen were afraid of, and she pooh-poohed that idea as nonsense only minutes before.

A year or so later, after recovering from a nervous breakdown following this incident, Gwen is back in England. She takes up a job teaching at the small and remote village of Heddaby, and finds that she hasn’t gotten away from witchcraft after all.

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The Fog

Midnight til one belongs to the dead.Not John Carpenter’s best film (that would probably be The Thing), or my favorite of his (which is Prince of Darkness), but it’s the one that’s got a ghost story in it, so I’m including this one in my blogs for the Halloween season.

We start right off with the story, as told to us and a group of children gathered on a beach by an elderly man (John Houseman, who won’t be seen again after this introduction). As the hour of midnight approaches, he says that they have time for just one more tale.

It’s April 20, 1980; the 21st–which is about 5 minutes off–will be the 100th anniversary of the wreck of the Elizabeth Dane. The clipper ship lost its way in a sudden and unnaturally thick fog off nearby Spivey Point, when the crew spotted a light shining through the fog. The ship sailed toward it, perhaps mistaking it for the Point’s lighthouse, but the light was actually that of a bonfire–much like the one they’re all seated around. The Elizabeth Dane foundered on the sharp coastal rocks and sank. The old man makes much of the crew’s drowning, how their lungs filled with salt water and their eyes remained open as they sunk into the depths of the bay. After the ship had gone down with all aboard, the remarkably thick fog disappeared as quickly as it had come.

He concludes:

“But it is told by the fishermen, and their fathers and grandfathers, that when the fog returns to Antonio Bay, the men at the bottom of the sea, out in the water by Spivey Point, will rise up and search for the campfire that led them to their dark and icy death.”

Telling ghost stories around the campfire

Goodnight, kids! Sleep well.

Nothing horrible happens to the group on the beach, but all over the town of Antonio Bay, strange things begin to happen after midnight.
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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.

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The Quatermass Experiment (2005)

“I have brought upon the Earth what is possibly the most terrible thing ever known. What came out of that rocket was not a man. It had been men — a human amalgam possessed by the thing that entered into that rocket over 4 million miles away and transformed them. It had their brains, their faculties. But over the last three days, it has developed the means to existence on this planet — the means to ensure that it only shall exist.

“The Army have plans to destroy it. But should they fail, it is almost certain that every living thing on Earth will give way to this, and life as we know it will cease to exist…

Quatermass

“If the worst should happen, I beg for your forgiveness.”

I’ve reviewed this story twice before: the first two episodes of the otherwise lost original 1953 BBC live television version and the Hammer movie version made a couple of years later.

In April 2005, the “experiment” was repeated on BBC 4. Nigel Kneale’s original script was adapted, with his assistance, and updated to allow for changes in social mores and geopolitics as well as our increased knowledge about space and space travel that simply wasn’t available 50 years earlier. Instead of six 30-minute episodes, the story was compressed into one show approximately an hour and 40 minutes long.

But one thing remained unchanged: Quatermass was enacted and aired live. The BBC (nor anyone else, really) has not regularly presented live television dramas since the ’60s. It’s a style that was common in TV’s earliest days, when performances were a sort of combination of theatrical plays and radio drama, but it has long been abandoned in favor of videotape or film. Live TV is like working without a net.

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Burnt Offerings

After Trilogy of Terror, Karen Black would work with Dark Shadows‘ producer / director Dan Curtis on one more horror film–this time for the big screen. She wasn’t the only star to feature; Curtis also snagged the major talents of Oliver Reed and Bette Davis (not to mention great character actors Eileen Heckart and Burgess Meredith) for this unusual haunted-house drama. The screenplay, adapted from a novel, was done by William F. Nolan, who also adapted the first two segments of Trilogy.

Black and Reed are Marian and Ben Rolf, a couple tired of the urban malaise of decaying mid-1970s New York and looking for a place to get away with their son David and Ben’s Aunt Elizabeth (Davis). They’ve driven out into the country (I think Long Island, but that’s not clear) to look at a house they’ve seen advertised for a summer rental.

The House

As they drive up, their first response is “This can’t be the place!” Not this huge and beautiful, but sadly dilapidated, house; there must be a cottage or smaller guest-house on the grounds.

But, no, this is it. Once inside, the Rolfs meet the Allardyces, the kind of nutty elderly brother and sister (Meredith and Heckart) who own the place. The rent for three months is amazingly cheap, $900 for the whole summer, but there are a couple of conditions.

First, the Rolfs will have to look after the place for themselves–the Allardyces’ handyman won’t be present for cleaning and repairs. But Roz Allardyce assures them that “The house takes care of itself.” She also asks if Marian will “love the house as Brother and I do?”

Second, while the brother and sister will be away on vacation, their 85-year-old The Allardycesmother will remain here. She won’t be a bother, will keep to her rooms up at the top of the house, listening to her music and working on her collection of photographs. “The memories of a lifetime.” All the Rolfs will have to do is bring her meals up to her on a tray three times a day.

One odd thing occurs that the Rolfs don’t notice. Davy is out playing in the garden while the grown-ups are discussing terms. He skins his knee climbing on the gazebo. After the Rolfs depart, one of the dead geraniums from the greenhouse that the handyman was about to throw out suddenly grows a new, green shoot.

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Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark

Welcome to my childhood nightmare.

Goblins behind books

I first saw this 1973 made-for-TV movie when I was 9, and it haunted me for years. I had nightmares related to it as late as 17, even after I’d seen the movie again and was old enough to realize that its special effects were on the cheap side.

Even now, as a grown-up who’s seen it multiple times, something of that childhood fear still lingers in the back of my mind, impossible to shake. Just last year, when I pulled open an access panel in the wall for one my house utilities and gazed down into the black space between the walls, I couldn’t help thinking, “I hope there aren’t any little goblins living down in there.”

I’ve been considering on and off for years acquiring this movie on DVD and reviewing it; when I was purchasing Trilogy of Terror recently and Amazon thought I might like this too, I finally took the plunge. And here we are.

The movie starts with a hissing black cat, who has nothing to do with the story and will never be seen again. Over a shot of a large and handsome old Victorian house looking spooky in the night-time, we hear a number of creepy whispered voices having a conversation. The one who answers the others’ questions appears to be in charge:

“Will she come?”

“Do you think she’ll come?”

“She will. You know she will.”

“But when? When?”

“Very soon. It’s just a matter of time, of waiting for awhile. All we have to do is bide our time. Bide our time.”

“But it’s been so long. So many years. We wish she’d come and set us free. Set us free.”

“Patience, please. Patience. We’ve all the time in the world. All the time in the world.”

“In the world! All the time, to set us free in the world!”

Then they all laugh in a diabolical kind of way.

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H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival: Best of 2017

The second batch of best short films presented by the Lovecraft Film Festival. I saw most of these at the NecronomiCon in 2017, but didn’t know which ones would be selected as “best.”

I’m surprised that a couple of those I found most memorable didn’t show up on this DVD–in particular, a modern adaptation of The Picture in the House where a woman living in an apartment building meets her neighbor during a city-wide blackout. For me, the most important criteria for judging horror films (even very short ones), is how they affect me afterwards. Do they stick in my mind long after I’ve seen them? Do they make me reluctant to turn out the lights or leave the closet door ajar?

Anyway, here are the Film Festival’s choices:

There Is No Door

This isn’t one I’ve seen before, but it’s my favorite of this DVD because it features one of my favorite horror themes–the history of the bad place repeats itself over and over again with variations. I can’t connect it to any particular Lovecraft story, but it is unsettling because what happens in the house is never fully explained.

There is no door

This is the story of a girl named Sam, played by four different actors in different stages of her life as she witnesses inexplicable events in her family home.

In the first scene, Sam is about 9 or 10. Crouched on the stairs, she listens to her Uncle Rob talking to her mother; Mom pleads with him, “You don’t have to do this,” but he insists, “It’s time.”

Uncle Rob, teary-eyed but not answering her questions, speaks briefly to little Sam when he sees her, then disappears when she turns away from him (we just see him duck down as she turns to go upstairs). When Sam asks her mother where Uncle Rob went, Mom doesn’t answer either, but she’s burning a photo of her brother that had been on the living-room mantelpiece; she drops the ashes into a little urn that sits there among the family photos.
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H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival: Best of 2018

The H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival is an annual event that’s held in alternate years in Portland, Oregon, and in Providence, Rhode Island. I haven’t been to the Festival, but the couple who organize it come to the NecronomiCon to show  what they consider the best short films for that year. These films are based on Lovecraft’s stories or those of other macabre writers, or may just be Lovecraftian in subject or tone.

On my  recent trip to Providence, not only watched the latest batch, but  bought DVDs of the best short films from earlier years. I’d seen some of them during my previous visit in 2017 and hadn’t forgotten them.

I’m going to look at the most recent set first, and go back from there.

Echoes in the Ice

The plot of this first short Canadian film recalls The Thing. A group of scientists in the Arctic arrives at an abandoned research station (the name of which appears to be Pickman-Derby) to find out what happened. The researchers who were working there have all disappeared. The power is off and the rooms are freezing.

Exploring the station for clues, the group discovers a door that’s been chained shut on the lowest level. StatueWhen they break the lock to get inside they find a monstrous statue that looks vaguely Cthulhu-esque but without the face-tentacles. It’s sitting in the middle of what they call a “well” but looks more like a fountain pool to me. The statue and well appear to have been here for a very long time, and are perhaps the reason this base was built up around them.

The water in the well has glistening fragments floating on the surface that respond by forming into new patterns when one of the men reaches out toward them. The water is strangely, almost hypnotically, attractive, and he almost touches the surface before one of others stops him.

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