H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival: Best of 2019

When I attended the NecronomiCon in Providence last summer, I had the opportunity to view a number of the Film Festival candidates and to offer my opinions on some of them, if not an actual vote on which ones I thought were the best.

So I’m not surprised to see some of the films on this latest DVD from the Film Festival, although I am a little disappointed that other short films I did like were not included.

The Colour

Ammi Pierce and the meteorite

This German adaptation of The Colour Out of Space is a wonderfully done 10-minute stop animation film with some interesting live effects: Steam rises from the tea kettle, smoke or mists curl around within the rooms of an old house and, best of all, blue goop drips upward from between the slats of the wooden floor.

Ammi Pierce is writing in his journal as if he’s addressing his long deceased friend–presumably Nahum Gardner, although that name is never used.

In this version of the story, there was no Gardner family to be afflicted by whatever came in with the meteorite from outer space, and what happened 50 years ago occurred on a remote farm that Ammi and his friend worked together. It also appears as if Ammi has been living in the old house alone ever since the disaster, with the glowing meteorite sitting in a back room.

Meteorite Drawn to the well

The meteorite’s glow projects silent images upon the wall; Ammi watches and remembers that day when it came shooting down from the sky and crashed into the well. Ammi looked away from the light, but his friend was drawn toward it, even fighting Ammi when he tried to stop him from going to the well to meet his doom.

At last, Ammi takes a sledgehammer and goes out to deal with the meteorite once and for all. Hitting it isn’t really a good idea, but I suppose at this point he’s past caring.

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The Whisperer in Darkness

Sketch of a Mi-Go on Round HillOne of my earliest reviews on this blog was of the HP Lovecraft Historical Society’s film version of Lovecraft’s story.  HPLHS has returned to The Whisperer in Darkness a second time for the latest episode of Dark Adventure Radio Theatre.

This audio play is especially noteworthy in that it’s been produced, rehearsed, and recorded during these months that much the world has been shut down by the COVID-19 virus; since in-person meetings were impossible, the work was done by a number of individuals in separate locations.

While the film version of The Whisperer in Darkness expanded on Lovecraft’s original short story, adding new characters and a third act after Albert Wilmarth’s panicked exit from the Akeley farmhouse, this audio adaptation is trimmed down, even for a DART drama.

Akeley and WilmarthWilmarth’s correspondence with a man who claims to have proof that old legends of flying creatures from other worlds living in the remote hills of Vermont are not only true, but that these beings still exist, as well as his subsequent trip to Vermont are told via “found footage.” Most of the recordings are in the form of wax Dictaphone cylinders dated from the winter of 1927 through September 1928.

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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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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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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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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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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 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 among the family photos.
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