The Call of Cthulhu

Year 2006

Matt Foyer as  The Narrator
David Mersault   as Inspector Legrasse  
Patrick O'Day as Johansen
Director - Andrew H. Leman
Screenwriter - Sean Branney


First of all, it's pronounced Ka-tool'-hoo. It's a real word that means the spirit or esssence of primal man. One night, a friend of mine and I actually found it in a dictionary.

Second, this is a pretty good retelling of the H.P. Lovecraft short story.

If you're not familiar with H.P. Lovecraft, then you're missing out on one of America's two great horror writers. (Poe is the other).

When Lovecraft first started writing around 1920, his stories were good but did not stand out from the crowd. Then, he stumbled upon the concept of Cthulhu and Elder Gods and his abilities to craft a dark tale took on a unique quality. He penned a series based on the concept of ancient beings trapped outside of our dimension just waiting for a portal to get back. These stories have come to be known as the "Cthulhu Mythos".

The first in this mythos was "The Call of Cthulhu". The movie, really it's a forty-seven minute short, does a good job of staying true to Lovecraft.

There are three parts to story. Part one is where the Narrator goes through his deceased uncle's things and reads over his dream and newspaper clipping collection. Part two is the revelation of Inspector Legrasse. Part three is the description of the encounter with Cthulhu.

The intent of telling the tale from different points of view is to build suspense by revealing more details with each part. It should get scarier and scarier. This device works better in the short story. But maybe that's because the screenplay took its first diversion from the story early on and it took me out of the immersion of the movie for a while.

In the story, a healthy uncle dies under mysterious circumstances. In the movie, he dies in bed of old age. It was probably a budget thing, but it distracted me for a while.

This movie was made on a meager budget. Considering that, the sets were remarkably good.

In an attempt to replicate what might have been made by Hollywood during Lovecraft's lifetime (or because of that old meager budget), the movie is a silent black and white film. It's easier to hide flaws in black and white, so it was a good choice.

The music was the major weak point. The score was serviceable enough through most of the film, but the sound volume fluctuated so often that it took over all the other senses. Watching a scene and paying attention to the detail only to suddenly be bombarded by an escalating musical score put the attention on the sounds rather than the sights.

One of the problems with Lovecraft is converting the images he creates in your mind to things that can be displayed visually. Lovecraft describes things clearly and cleanly, but things like "odd angles" are a personal intepretation.

The sights, especially the interpretation of Lovecraft's descriptions, matched those from my mind's eye. I definitely was appreciative of the care taken by the people behind the camera. Their attention to detail was demonstrated time and time again.

For example, there were sigils in the portico frames in the dream sequences. This could have been skipped. The fact that it wasn't added to atmosphere.

Cthulhu himself is filmed in stop motion and the model used in the film includes everything from the story from the vestigal wings to the tentacles around the mouth. It doesn't look real, but with the way the lighting and shadows are used, it's an effective portrayal.

The boat scenes where the climax of the movie occurs did look to be filled with miniatures. It's always hard to make toy boats in the bathtub look like ocean going vessels churning through the big blue. It's a shame, too.

As long as bad things are being discussed, the make-up is attrocious. I haven't seen this kind of eye liner and lipstick overuse since my junior high school play. It's supposed to be representative of how silent movies were made way back when, I guess. The problem is that the film used today is technologically superior to that used a hundred years ago. Things that the old film and those old cameras did not catch are exaggerated using today's technology.

It's not a mainstream movie. But, if you're an H.P. Lovecraft fan, the movie does not hurt the stature of the short story. This is obviously a labor of affection for the original work. It's worth watching not just for the story, which does manage to be a touch unnerving in places, but also to appreciate what can be done on a limited budget. The special effects are on par with what Industrial Light & Magic churned out about ten years ago.

Yeah, I hate computer generated imagery. Give me a gravity affected, stop-motion Cthulhu over a physics defying, hokey looking Mummy any day.

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