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.
In the mid-1970s, Karen Black was at the height of her career. She had worked with those directors and actors–Francis Ford Coppola, Jack 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.
The 1964 story about the Doctor meeting Marco Polo is one that’s completely lost. The BBC, more concerned in those days with economy than with archiving the shows they broadcast, taped something else over it. All that survives are a soundtrack recorded and a few still photos taken by a dedicated fan; these are used to re-create a half-hour long synopsis of the 7 missing episodes as an extra feature on the The Edge of Destruction DVD.
The footprints Susan and Barbara found at the end of the previous episode have nothing to do with this story, except that they’re in a snowy mountain pass in the Himalayas.
The Doctor’s group is briefly menaced by some Mongols who think that the strangers are evil spirits, but they are almost immediately rescued by that well-traveled and famous Venetian gentleman whose name has become a popular children’s swimming game. He invites them to the safety of his caravan. Since the Tardis is still experiencing some malfunctions from the last story, they agree.
It’s a curious little story to come so early in the show’s development, featuring no actors except for the show’s four stars and no scenes set off the Tardis. A bottle show, primarily of interest for some character development and for our first look around Tardis beyond the control room. If you’re wondering how they eat and sleep and other science facts, this is the opportunity to find out.
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.
The final episode of this story that introduced us to the Doctor’s longest standing (or rolling) baddies.
Eventually, Ian, Barbara, and the surviving Thals who accompanied them through the mountain do make their way into the Dalek city via the city’s water supply. Around the same time, Thal leader Alydon realizes that the Doctor and Susan have been captured by the Daleks (again) and gets another group of Thals to go into the city from the other side to try and rescue them.
Ordeal? Well, this is the point where the story does become something of a slog.
It’s been lively up until now, but the end of the last episode saw Barbara, Ian, and their new Thal friends off camping out in the swamp by the radioactive, glowing lake as they made their way toward the mountains to sneak in the back way to the Dalek city. The swamp and the mountain caves take up this entire episode, and go on into the next. Did they really need to spend so much time on all that hiking and spelunking?
The high points of this section occur when this group lose one or two unimportant Thals along the way.
The first extra Thal disappears when he’s sent to fetch water from the lake.
I can’t believe that they intend to drink that nasty, glowing stuff that mutant monsters swim around in, but perhaps they trust their anti-radiation medication to protect them from the bad effects.
A whirlpool forms in the water. The others off in the swamplands hear him scream. When they get to the lake’s edge, he’s gone, leaving scattered water bags all over the place. Presumably, he was dragged down to his death by the giant, flattish, tentacled swamp mutant that Ian saw rising out of the water earlier.
Deep Space Nine was my favorite Star Trek–and my favorite TV show for most of the 1990s, edging out Babylon 5 and The X-Files, although I did buy all three on DVD and do binge-watch them occasionally. It was my first online fandon. When the internet was in its infancy, I discussed episodes on usenet groups, wrote fanfic, and made friends, some of whom I still keep in touch with. There’s a little model of the DS9 space station on the shelf above this computer, and somewhere around here in a box is a collection of DS9 and B5 action figures; they started out as chess pieces (with Dana Scully as a referee), and wound up performing scenes from Shakespeare’s plays and standing in for the figures in the nativity during the holiday season.
What We Left Behind, the recent documentary about DS9 which I only just received on BluRay, has been a huge nostalgia trip for me. While watching it, I’ve been looking back as well on something I once loved and remain fond of.
The conceit of What We Left Behind is that the DS9 writers are brought back together by a literally blue-bearded Ira Steven Behr to discuss an imagined 8th season of the show if they were given the opportunity to do one today.
Where are the characters 20ish years later?
And most important of all: Does Captain Benjamin Sisko come back from that overly bright, white place where he went to hang out with the Prophets in non-linear-time?
Back in their underground city, the Daleks have duplicated the sample of Thal anti-radiation medicine they took from Susan a couple of episodes ago, and are testing it on a small number of their own. Monitoring the escaped prisoners in the radioactive forest, they have also observed that the Doctor and his companions have met up with the Thals. After their ambush on the Thals who came to the city for peace negotiations, they expect a retaliatory attack.
Not that the Daleks are wrong about the anticipated attack, but it’s not the Thals who are making battle plans.
The Doctor’s group need the help of the Thals to retrieve the fluid link, a little piece of machinery that makes the Tardis run, and which Ian had taken away from him when the Daleks captured him. They must go back into the Dalek city for it, but they need reinforcements. The Doctor is certain that the Thals “will triumph, with me to lead us,” and doesn’t see why he shouldn’t use them for his own ends. Barbara agrees that they need the Thals to fight to aid them in leaving this planet. Ian, on the other hand, is against asking these people to sacrifice their lives for a little gizmo that means nothing to them. There’s much debate on the subject.
The Thals have become firm pacifists since they wiped out nearly all life on Skaro with their neutron-bomb war 500 years ago, so they’re going to be tough to convince to go back to their old warrior ways.
At the end of Part 3, Ian became the first Doctor’s companion to hide inside a Dalek’s armor so that he, the Doctor, Susan, and Barbara can escape from their cell far underground in the Dalek city and make their way back to the surface without being stopped by the Daleks rolling around all over the place.
The foursome have a few close calls along the way, including an encounter with one Dalek who offers to help Dalek Ian escort the prisoners. It’s due to this conscientious Dalek making a report that the others catch on, and the Daleks attempt to keep the escapees from getting to the lift and going up to the surface–over 100 levels. Now, finally, they’re all “Exterminate! Exterminate!” like proper Daleks. No more pretending to be nice and bringing people lunch on a tray.