This 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.
Before 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.
There’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.
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.
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…”
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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. Continue reading “H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival: Best of 2017”
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. When 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.
Last Saturday evening at the NecronomiCon in Providence, I enjoyed a live performance of this brand new Dark Adventure Radio Theatre episode–so new that I hadn’t yet received the CD I pre-ordered. I was hoping that it would be waiting for me when I came home, but it only arrived in the mail the night before last. I’ve listened to it once.
It was exciting to see the live version first, and especially entertaining because this was a scaled-down production. Instead of bringing the entire cast, Sean Branney, Andrew Leman, and Kevin Stidham did all the characters — which sometimes meant there was one man talking to himself in two different voices.
Apart from the pre-recorded Dark Adventure intro theme, they also did their own “music,” humming a few notes of a traditional ominous tune to indicate scene transitions. Special effect noises were produced by two guys brought up from the audience, and the rest of us in the audience provided crowd sounds and jungle noises when prompted. As live theater, it was a great experience and a lot of fun.
This episode of Dark Adventure Radio Theatre is an original story, a sort of sequel to Lovecraft’s Call of Cthulhu that continues the adventures of Inspector Legrasse as he investigates a report of a strange murder deep in Louisiana’s bayou. The inspector faces another cult and encounters not only a Lovecraftian horror, but an insidious evil that was quite real in the 1920s and unfortunately remains with us now.
The White Tree begins with the now-retired New Orleans police inspector, John Legrasse (Sean Branney this time) in conversation with his grandson; the young man is keen on following in his grandfather’s footsteps and joining the police force. Grandpa wants him to go to college and take up a profession like architecture. He thinks the boy has an idealized image of the kind of work he used to do and of police officers in general.
“There’s good ones, there’s brave ones,” Legrasse tells the boy, “and there’s ones that aren’t so good and aren’t so brave…. It’s true, on the good days you get excitement. You work with good, brave men. You deliver justice. But Claude, they ain’t all good days.”
As an example, he tells the story of something that occurred in the summer of 1922, shortly before his retirement.
This is a 1999 short film by Bryan Moore (who also stars in it), about the tragic Dr. Muñoz, who suffers from a peculiar medical condition that requires him to exist in an extremely cold room to survive.
First, a somewhat amusing story. I hadn’t seen the movie before I bought it. When the DVD arrived a few weeks ago, I popped it into the player and selected the “Duo-Chrome” option over the black-and-white version and started watching. There was no spoken dialog. Was this a silent film, like the excellent Call of Cthulhu? If so, then it was strange that there were no title cards or musical score; if you’re going to reproduce the feeling of a 1920s period film, you definitely need these elements, not just have no sound.
Then I had a look at the extra features. No sound on them either.
After some troubleshooting, I worked out that one of the ports for the audio connection on my TV was faulty and I plugged it into another one. Sound at last! At least I didn’t need to go out and get a new DVD player or television.
Now that I’ve viewed both versions, I do prefer the Duo-Chrome one. Colored tints on film is a special effect from the silent era. The sepia on the daylight scenes give this story an old-timey feel, but the dark blue tint on the scenes in the doctor’s cold, cold room may be my favorite thing about this film.
Zeke and Hazel, and Cecil and Victoria are at last reunited, along with any surviving friends they’ve picked up during their respective adventures in Parts 4 and 5.
Pieces of the incredibly ancient technology recovered from the equally ancient ruins in Australia were copied and shipped to the Penhew Foundation via Shanghai, a city which happens to be the home of a cult named the Order of the Bloated Woman. Given some of the things that have happened in the last two parts, this name is particularly disturbing.
Shanghai is also where Jack Brady was seen alive after his supposed death 5 years ago. Since he was the one member of the Carlyle Expedition who didn’t enter the Bent Pyramid, there’s a chance that he might not only have crucial information about how to thwart the cultists’ fiendish plans, but may be willing to help them.