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Laramie Movie Scope:
The Call of Cthulhu

Retro silent, B&W film faithfully adapts Lovecraft tale

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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June 7, 2006 -- “The Call of Cthulhu” is a clever, retro adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft's classic horror story. Rather than trying to make a modern update of this story, the makers of this film decided to make a silent, black and white film adaptation that looks as though it were made in 1926, the same year it was written by the horror master. Lovecraft's style has spawned many imitators, including the entertaining “Evil Dead” series of films, and one of the best imitations, the ultra-creepy, “In the Mouth of Madness.” Lovecraft's works have also been adapted, including “Reanimator” and “From Beyond.” Some adaptations, however, have been poor, like “The Dunwich Horror,” and some have not been faithful. “The Call of Cthulhu” was made by The H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society, so the faithfulness of the adaptation need not be questioned. Despite the ultra-low budget of the film ($50,000), it turned out well. It was hampered only by it's short running time (47 minutes) and actors with limited range.

The story concerns the discovery of a box of research materials related to the Cult of Cthulhu. The research includes strange prophetic dreams and round-the-world travels by a man pursuing the legend of Cthulhu. The legend speaks of ancient gods, older than the stars, who lie asleep. They will awaken when the stars are properly aligned and they will once again rule the world. The researcher uncovers an account of a ship that explores an uncharted island where a giant monument to Cthulhu is found. This is where the story's climax arrives as an ancient horror is accidentally re-awakened.

The inspired decision to shoot the film as a retro silent, black and white movie enabled filmmakers to cover up most of the film's low-budget problems, except for the obvious use of a miniature boat substituting for a full-sized one, and some actors who were obviously a lot younger than they were supposed to look. The other advantage of a silent film is that it is available in 24 languages. Instead of subtitles, you have intertitles, essentially a black screen between scenes on which dialogue is written. Evidently, intertitles use little disc space, because the DVD is available in a lot of languages, English, French, German, Italian, Portugese, Spanish, Catalan, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Euskera, Finnish, Galician, Hungarian, Irish, Lithuanian, Luxembourgish, Norwegian, Polish, Romanian, Swedish, Turkish and Welch.

The DVD (region 0) has a good supply of extras, including a “making of” documentary (in color) which seemed as long as the film itself. The documentary is a good illustration of how to make a good movie with almost no production money. The DVD also includes a PDF copy of a newspaper prop used in the film (The Sydney Bulletin). A couple of soundtracks are included in the film, one is high fidelity PCM and the other is called “Mythophonic sound.” It is the same music, but in a more compressed frequency range, making it sound like an antique radio. The artificially distressed image of the film, complete with strands of hair, dust and scratches, along with old-fashioned cinema techniques, is called “Mythoscope.” It makes the DVD look as though the image was transferred from an old silent film. Instead, the film apparently was shot with a video camera, reportedly a Cannon DV camera.

The DVD also has deleted scenes of Cthulhu's stop-motion animation sequences, which required frequent retakes by model animator Terry Sandin (“Van Helsing”), one of several professionals involved in the film, along with visual effects coordinator Dan Novy (“Glory Road”). Visual effects included traditional devices such as forced perspective, and digital effects such as combining numerous green screen shots to make a few actors look like a big gathering of Cthulhu cultists. Most impressive are the scenes on the island where modest cardboard sets are made to look like giant, ominous, otherworldly, cubist-surrealistic sets similar to those seen in the classic 1919 German expressionistic film “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.” Seeing these sets in the documentary and in the film itself are two very different things. You have to marvel at how skillfully those sets were made and used in the movie. This film rates a B.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in video and/or DVD format, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. If the DVD is not available at Amazon.com, you can get it from the official H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society's web store. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2006 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)