The Casting Call of Cthulhu

‘Tis the season to review a Lovecraftian movie that’s a few years old…

The Call of Cthulhu

People have been telling me I should see this movie forever, and I finally broke down and gave it a watch.

If you’re any sort of fan of H.P. Lovecraft, you know “The Call of Cthulhu” as his best known story, written back in 1926 and consisting primarily of a series of notes and accounts of various strange phenomena, blasphemous cults worshiping a monstrous squid-headed deity called Cthulhu, and panicked speculation about what it could all mean. It reads better than it sounds, because Lovecraft was a master of taking bizarre ideas and making them sound, if not plausible, at least fun to imagine. It’s also one of the few Lovecraft stories that no one has ever made a serious attempt to film — because how do you turn a bunch of scribbled and typewritten notes into a film?

Back around the early- to mid-2000s, the folks who run the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society, already very well experienced with creating realistic props for “Call of Cthulhu” RPG campaigns, decided to do what was thought to be impossible — make a film adaptation of Lovecraft’s most referenced story. And they went with a suprisingly low-tech, low-cost strategy — a silent movie.

What’s cool is the fact that, if anyone had made a movie of Lovecraft’s stories while he was still alive, this is what you would’ve gotten — a black-and-white silent movie. They actually use a combination of vintage filmmaking techniques and modern digital effects — they use digital compositing to turn a small number of actors into a horde of cultists, while they go with old-school stop-motion animation to create Cthulhu himself.

How’s it turn out? It turns out pretty darn awesome. You’ve got excellent editing, cinematography, lighting, and low-tech but very cool special effects. You’ve got sets, acting, and makeup that call to mind German Expressionism. You have an amazingly effective musical score. (True story: First time I watched this, I accidentally watched it without the sound, thinking, hey, silent movie, right? The second time, I realized my mistake and turned the speakers on — Wow, what a difference. Turned a cool movie into a seriously awesome one.)

I doubt it ever had a shot at any serious hoity-toity film awards, but it’s very, very popular with Lovecraft fans. Heck, even film connoisseurs may get a kick out of a recent-vintage old-school silent movie. And yes, it does look like they did the impossible — this is the most faithful adaptation of any of Lovecraft’s works, and it’s also pretty spooky and suspenseful, too. Lovecraft fans, this should be on your Must-See list, if you haven’t seen it already.

Not sure this is going to be available at local retailers of any sort, but you can find it for sale online.

Go pick it up. It makes great Halloween viewing for Cthulhu worshipers of all sorts.

No Comments

  1. Maxo Said,

    October 21, 2009 @ 10:32 am

    I’ve seen references to this movie but I think this is the first real review of it that I’ve seen — and now I HAVE TO SEE THIS MOVIE. A good silent movie can be very effective, and I can see it being an excellent vehicle for this story.

  2. Scott Slemmons Said,

    October 21, 2009 @ 11:13 am

    You really should try to see it. It’s very faithful to the story, the effects are, if not Michael-Bay-Blockbuster quality, at least pretty good and fun besides, and it really is pretty easy to imagine this as something that could’ve been made in the 1920s.

  3. Sado Said,

    October 23, 2009 @ 8:02 am

    I found my copy at the local Best Buy ages ago, so you actually might have a shot if you look around there.

  4. Geoff Said,

    October 23, 2009 @ 3:19 pm

    Best Buy? I’ll give it a shot, thanks! Really Scott, thanks for this post. I had no idea about this flick, and now I gots to see it.

  5. Geoff Said,

    October 26, 2009 @ 5:59 am

    Best Buy worked! They have it ordered from their warehouse for me, and should be here by the 29th. Thanks for the tip, Sado!

  6. Scott Slemmons Said,

    October 26, 2009 @ 6:33 am

    W00TS to Sado! 🙂

  7. Geoff Said,

    October 30, 2009 @ 8:08 pm

    My GF and I just watched the film, and the whole way the film was made as if it was a “period piece” indeed added a special element of eerie-ness to it. I was gonna save it for tomorrow night, All-Hallows Eve, but I gotta fill in for a buddy at our local “haunt” as a bar-back then.

    Hmmm. In a bar…, on Halloween…, hope none of Scott’s “Bill’s Bar” stuff comes into play…,!!!