DART Review: The Masks of Nyarlathotep: Part 3

Me and the Sphinx

This part was my overall favorite because of the setting. I went to Egypt last year after listening to another Dark Adventure Radio Theatre, Imprisoned with the Pharoahs, and because I couldn’t resist the opportunity to stand between the paws of the Sphinx. I was delighted to hear the adventurers of this story play out in some of the same places I’d been to.

Egypt

Insurance agent Cecil Watson is amazed to see camels in Cairo.

After the events at the end of Part 2, Cecil, Hazel, et al are traveling incognito. They’re staying under the name of Rockefeller at Shepheard’s Hotel, since they’re in the Rockefellers’ suite (the family has kindly lent it to Victoria while wintering elsewhere).

The group’s primary goal at this point is to find out what really happened to the missing Carlyle Expedition and how it relates to whatever all these cults around the world are planning. Before they follow their separate lines of investigation around the city, Zeke proposes a rule to his companions, to help them guard themselves against the vengeful Brotherhood of the Black Pharaoh:

Postcard from Cairo

“Never go anywhere alone.”

It seems like I’ve heard that somewhere before.

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DART Review: The Masks of Nyarlathotep: Part 2

At the end of Part 1 of The Masks of Nyarlathotep, Victoria Woodhull stayed behind in New York to take care of some unfinished business in the city and to keep a promise she made. Her companions Hazel Claflin, Zeke Ford, and Cecil Watson went on ahead to England to continue their investigation.

Props: Letters, translations, and a cocktail napkin

England

When the trio arrives, they make themselves at home in Victoria’s spacious London flat under the care of her loyal Indian manservant, Gupta.

Hazel’s been reading a book about occult sects in Africa during her ocean voyage. She’s learned a thing or two about Nyarlathotep since her encounter with the Cult of the Bloody Tongue:

“That name’s Egyptian, but the god itself is older than the Egyptians. It has countless forms and manifestations for worshipers throughout the world, organized into different cults.”

Which gives our heroes some idea of what they’re up against.

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DART Review: The Masks of Nyarlathotep: Part 1

This latest episode of Dark Adventure Radio Theatre represents an ambitious undertaking from the HP Lovecraft Historical Society: A 6-disk, 7-hour audio play that spans five continents and includes an international cast of characters based, not on an original Lovecraft story, but on a Chaosium role-playing game.

Each disk in the boxed set breaks the story up into chapters, as the setting moves from one country to the next. I’m going to divide my review into the same sections, and try not to give too much away as the story progresses.

Props

America

It begins in New York City in the 1920s, at an engagement party for Hazel Claflin (Sarah van der Pol) and Marcus Buchannan in the grand ballroom of the Waldorf Astoria.

The Claflin family is quite prominent both socially and politically, and includes a state governor and a Speaker of the House.

Oh, and Hazel’s cousin is Victoria Woodhull (Kacey Camp), the pioneer American feminist who ran for President in 1872. Still an active old lady in her 80s, she’s come all the way from England to attend her young cousin’s party and upcoming wedding.

While at the party, Hazel receives a phone call from an old boyfriend, Jackson Elias, a writer and world traveler who researches cults and other arcane mysteries. His most recent investigation has placed him in grave danger and he desperately needs her help. Hazel goes to him–she feels she owes it to him since their relationship ended badly. Marcus insists on coming along with her.

“We’ll be back before you know it,” Marcus says as the young couple exits.

Given this set-up, the listener might anticipate that Jackson will drag both Hazel and Marcus along on a series of exciting and terrifying adventures, and it will be quite some time before they return to their guests at the party.

But that’s not what happens.

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The Unnamable

H.P. Lovecraft’s 1925 short story The Unnamable, about something too horrible to be named that dwells in an ancient and abandoned house,   provides a basis for this 1988 low-budget horror film.

The original story is very short. You can read it in about 5 minutes online at: http://www.hplovecraft.com/writings/texts/fiction/u.aspx.

The Face in the Window So brief a story naturally needs some filling out to become a feature-length movie. In this case, I’m sorry to say they took the unimaginative route of making another standard-template slasher movie–which came thick and fast throughout the ’80s following the success of  Halloween and Friday the 13th; I watched more of them in those days than I can remember now. But it does have one really good feature that shows some creativity.

We start off well enough, with an historical flashback. Going by the costumes and later dialog (as well as the dates given in the original story), it’s the 17th century. An old man has locked some unseen creature that breathes with a loud, purring noise like a lion into a room in his attic. The heavy door features a huge padlock and chains, and a small perforated peephole (recalling the red door from The Shuttered Room).

While he’s downstairs in his study–or perhaps a laboratory given the jars of colored liquid and powders–attempting to read from his collection of quaint and curious volumes of forgotten lore, the thing in that room continues to thump on the door and make howling noises.

Wizard WinthropFinally, he goes upstairs to speak to it, addressing it as a “denizen of Hell” and promising that someday he will find the means to enable it to walk in the daylight. Then he unwisely unlocks and opens the door, and gets his heart torn out of his chest.

The next day, a group of men including a clergyman of unspecified denomination gather the mutilated body up into a sheet. They call the old man a wizard, and the clergyman places some kind of religious invocation on the house, declaring that the evil within it will never be able to pass its walls. The men carry the wrapped-up body out to the adjacent cemetery, quickly lower it down inside an above-ground tomb that’s ready and waiting, and place the stone slab over the top. After the others scurry away, the clergyman remains to complete a short funeral service; he glances repeatedly and nervously up at the attic window of the house behind him, then hastens away as well.

From there, we jump to the same churchyard about 300 years later–that is, modern times. This is the part of the film that sticks most closely to Lovecraft’s story, except there are three young men sitting against the tombstones instead of two.

In addition to our Lovecraft stand-in, Randolph Carter, and his friend Joel Manton, the third boy is named Howard. They’re all students at good old Miskatonic U, the campus of which is just a short walk away.

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The Resurrected

Some time ago, when I was reviewing the Dark Adventure Radio Theatre’s audioplay  The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, I cited the two rather loose film adaptations of this same HP Lovecraft story that I was familiar with: AIP’s Lovecraft-dressed-up-as-Poe Haunted Palace starring Vincent Price (which I really am going to review one of these days), and this film, which is Lovecraft noir placed in a modern setting.

The Resurrected was released in 1991, and everything about it has the looks of that late ’80s-early ’90s period.

Curwen and Ward

In my above review of the audioplay, I mentioned that both films have one significant change. In Lovecraft’s story, Charles Dexter Ward is a boy in his teens and early twenties. The films make him much older, and a married man as well. Chris Sarandon, who plays Ward here, was just short of 50.

After an introductory scene at the asylum, in which we learn that mental patient Charles Ward has escaped out the window of his padded cell, leaving behind the beheaded body of the orderly and a large, strange burnmark on the floor, our protagonist and narrator, private detective John March (John Terry) sits in his office and reports that this is the end of the case of Charles Dexter Ward. Like Carl Kolchak–or more like Walter Neff, since he’s bleeding from a wound in his shoulder–he speaks into a tape recorder.

“Three weeks ago,” he tells us, “Providence was a sane enough place.”

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DART Review: The Call of Cthulhu

Mystery Derelict Found at SeaThis isn’t the wonderful 2005 HP Lovecraft Historical Society silent film,  which was one of my very first blog reviews. It is the Dark Adventure Radio Theatre version of The Call of Cthulhu made a few years later.

It’s another take on the same story of peculiar events during the spring of 1925, involving bizarre dreams, strange but similar sculptures related to a secret but worldwide cult, the terrifying discovery of an ancient city on a long-submerged island in the South Pacific, and a great, big, tentacled-faced guy who’s more than a little grumpy at being awakened from his nap.

You can read Lovecraft’s story online at http://www.hplovecraft.com/writings/texts/fiction/cc.aspx

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Bad Medicine: The Picture in the House

The 12th plate from Regnum Congo

“The book fell open, almost of its own accord and as if from frequent consultation at this place, to the repellent twelfth plate shewing a butcher’s shop amongst the Anzique cannibals. My sense of restlessness returned, though I did not exhibit it. The especially bizarre thing was that the artist had made his Africans look like white men—the limbs and quarters hanging about the walls of the shop were ghastly, while the butcher with his axe was hideously incongruous.”

From HP Lovecraft’s The Picture in the House

This third and final segment of the Dark Adventure Radio Theatre audio drama has been  stretched to fit into the “Bad Medicine” category. There is no doctor in the original story, and the physician added to this version seems more helpful than prone to horrific experimentation. But it is a spirited adaptation of an early Lovecraft story that’s never been one of my favorites.

A hapless bicyclist is forced to take shelter in what he takes to be an abandoned house during a violent rainstorm. But the house isn’t empty; its inhabitant is a loathsome old man who has become obsessed by an illustration of cannibals in Filippo Pigafetta’s Regnum Congo (which is a real book, by the way, as is the illustration described in this story) and hints that he’s been giving in to his “craving” for “victuals I couldn’t raise nor buy”.

You can read it online at http://www.hplovecraft.com/writings/texts/fiction/ph.aspx.
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Bad Medicine: Cool Air

Sonia's notesThis special anthology episode of Dark Adventure Radio Theatre features three separate stories of “horrific healing” and medical science gone mad, two from H.P. Lovecraft and one from Edgar Allan Poe. I’m going to take them one by one.

The first is Cool Air, a Lovecraft story set in New York City during the 1920s. It’s about a Spanish doctor with an odd medical condition that requires him to keep his room very cold. You can read it online at http://www.hplovecraft.com/writings/texts/fiction/ca.aspx

The principal change in this audio adaptation is  the sex of the first-person narrator. In Lovecraft’s story, he is unnamed and refers to himself as a “well-bred man”; here, she is a writer of pulp fiction named Sonia (after Lovecraft’s own wife, with whom he lived in Brooklyn for a couple of years in the 1920s).

When we meet Sonia Rudd (Sarah van der Pol), she and her husband Edwin (Andrew Leman) have fallen on hard times. She is nursing her feverish and desperately ill son; dialog indicates that the couple has already lost at least one other child and it doesn’t look like there’s much hope for this little boy. Sonia insists on keeping the room stiflingly warm. The radiator is turned up, blankets are piled on the child, and Sonia won’t let her husband open the window even a crack to let in a little cool air.

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The Testimony of Randolph Carter

Carter and Warren on the Gainesville pike“I will not deny, though my memory is uncertain and indistinct, that this witness of yours may have seen us together as he says, on the Gainesville pike, walking toward Big Cypress Swamp, at half past eleven on that awful night. That we bore electric lanterns, spades, and a curious coil of wire with attached instruments, I will even affirm; for these things all played a part in the single hideous scene which remains burned into my shaken recollection. But of what followed, and of the reason I was found alone and dazed on the edge of the swamp next morning, I must insist that I know nothing save what I have told you over and over again.”

From The Statement of Randolph Carter

This is one of H. P. Lovecraft’s early macabre works, written in 1919. It’s a simple, very short story about two men who visit an abandoned cemetery to open up a crypt in the middle of the night. One goes down inside the crypt for reasons he has not made entirely clear to his companion, who remains above ground. The two continue to communicate via telephone equipment they’ve brought with them, and the man on the surface hears some things that shake his sanity… and leave him with a bizarre explanation about what exactly became of his missing friend.

You can read it online at http://www.hplovecraft.com/writings/texts/fiction/src.aspx.

The Statement of Randolph Carter was used as the basis for a 50-minute long student film by Sean Branney, Andrew Leman, and their Lovecraft-inclined friends in Denver during the late 1980s. (The same time I was at the University of Colorado in Denver. Small world, huh?)

For this film version, the story’s title has been changed to The Testimony of Randolph Carter–a slight but significant difference. A statement in this context is something a witness or other person with important  information might provide to the police during an investigation. Testimony is given at a trial, which is where we find Randolph Carter (Darrell Tyler) as the film begins.

Seated under a reddish spotlight in a minimalist courtroom set with the also red-lit figures of a judge, stenographer, witnesses, and lawyers around him, Carter is on trial for the murder of his friend.

“Did you kill Harley Warren?” the prosecution asks him bluntly.

The lawyer for Carter’s defense is quick to point out that there’s no proof that Warren is dead; he encourages Carter to tell his story, which provide a frame of narration for the flashback scenes that follow.

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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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