Best of H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival: Vol. 2

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?”

The Shunned 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.

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Haunted Palace

This film has been on my mind for a long time. A quick search of my own blog reviews shows me that I’ve mentioned it 4 times over the past 6 years:

“The same sort of thing happened to Vincent Price and Debra Paget in The Haunted Palace, and Debra stuck around too. Portrait of Joseph CurwinI don’t know why. It never ends well. When your husband’s been possessed by an evil ancestor he strongly resembles, it’s much more reasonable to leave your stately haunted home for a little while and wait to see if he has the willpower to reassert his own personality from a safe distance.”

-2014, Night of Dark Shadows

“…the Poe’d-up Haunted Palace, starring Vincent Price and Debra Paget in a Victorian gothic version with putty-faced mutants roaming the misty streets of Arkham.”

2016, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward

“…AIP’s Lovecraft-dressed-up-as-Poe Haunted Palace starring Vincent Price (which I really am going to review one of these days)…”

-2018, The Resurrected

“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). “

-2019, Madhouse

That day has arrived finally!

The misty streets of Arkham

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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 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 the 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 lake 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 into his car is an American passport lying on ground not far from the road.

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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 narration 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 the selected films were in foreign languages. This gives me a chance to keep up with the French I learned in high-school 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, we start with a bonus music video of a song titled “The Calling,” from the band 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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