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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Trilogy of Terror

In the mid-1970s, Karen Black was at the height of her career. She had worked with those directors and actors–Francis Ford Coppola, Waiting for MomJack Nicholson, Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper–who were changing American film during that era, as well as established film-makers like Alfred Hitchcock. She’d won two Golden Globe awards, and would be nominated for another. She had also received one Oscar nomination and was even up for a shared Grammy for her song work in Robert Altman’s Nashville.

But when her name comes up among people of my generation, the words that we automatically associate with it are “Zuni fetish doll.”

No one who saw this 1975 made-for-TV movie, directed by Dark Shadows creator Dan Curtis, when they were a child has ever forgotten the final segment.

While I can’t call the first two segments of this trilogy terrifying, I do think they’ve been unjustly disregarded. Along with the third segment, they provide Black with a rare opportunity for a young actress to showcase her talent by playing 4-to-6 different characters (depending on how you want to count them), from meek to menacing. One might assume that she chose this TV movie as a vanity project, but she always said that, when it was first offered to her, she didn’t want to do it.

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Film Review: The Shuttered Room

August Derleth is a somewhat ambiguous figure in the personal history of HP Lovecraft and his work. On the one hand, Derleth is the reason most people today are at all familiar with Lovecraft. If it weren’t for his Arkham House press keeping Lovecraft’s stories in print, they might otherwise have been lost to pulp horror obscurity. On the other hand, Derleth not only kept Lovecraft’s finished work alive, but contributed posthumous “collaborations” to what he called the Cthulhu Mythos, built on notes or fragments of story ideas Lovecraft left behind… and Derleth wasn’t the writer that Lovecraft was.

He’s not actually a bad writer–he could do some nicely creepy things with the lonely woods and lakes of Wisconsin–but he also had the nerdish need to categorize and rank his monsters. Even in his best stories, someone will pull out a checklist to try and identify the particular Elder God that’s causing all the trouble so it can be dealt with correctly. If nothing else, Derleth’s scope of vision is more narrowly focused than Lovecraft’s and his cosmic horrors aren’t indescribable beings barely comprehensible to the humans who encounter them, but tend to be a tad more localized.

The Shuttered RoomThe Shuttered Room is one of these collaborative works, based on a few sentences in Lovecraft’s notes. I hadn’t read the short story since I was a teenager, nor seen this 1967 film version in nearly as many years. The original story isn’t available online, but as I recall it, a young man, one of the Whateley clan, inherits property in Dunwich, including an old mill that contains the eponymous shuttered room. He is directed to tear down the mill and kill anything living he finds inside. Of course, he doesn’t do this, and the inhabitant of that room manages to slip out and wreak havoc. In spite of the location and Whateley name, the story has more to do with Innsmouth than Dunwich.

The film version gets rid of most of the original story apart from the Whately name (as it’s spelled here) and the central plot idea of a young person inheriting an old mill with a mysterious shuttered room. The Innsmouth connection is lost, but the story still bears some relationship to The Dunwich Horror in a non-supernatural way.

It begins with a little girl saying her prayers before her mother tucks her into bed. After Mom and Dad have gone to their own room and gone to sleep, something unseen opens the door of the room at the top of the stairs and makes its way down.

Red DoorThis door is the most ominous-looking thing in this movie; it’s painted bright red when the rest of the house is in muted browns and greys, and it features a peep-hole ringed with little sharp spikes so that whatever’s normally kept locked in can’t even stick a finger through.

A camera-point-of-view creeps down the stairs to enter the parents’ room and stands briefly beside their bed as they sleep, then goes to the nursery where the little girl wakes and screams.

Mom and Dad awake at the commotion. “You forgot to lock the door!” says Dad as the couple heads downstairs to rescue their child from whatever is menacing her. The mother is attacked and falls to the floor, but the father takes hold of the intruder and, dodging the swipes it makes at his face, firmly guides it back upstairs to its room. The red door shuts.

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