Archive for H.P. Lovecraft

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.

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City of Monsters


The Strange Adventures of H.P. Lovecraft #3

H.P. Lovecraft is on the run — after saving Chesser from demonic squamous horrors from beyond our dimension, he’s actually been identified as the attacker. His aunts manage to hide him from the police, but he goes out anyway, intent on convincing his ex-girlfriend Sylvia to leave Providence to escape whatever disaster may be approaching the city. He also goes to a psychiatrist he trusts, hoping he’ll help him stay awake so the monsters won’t re-emerge. But he’s betrayed by the doctor, shot full of morphine, and locked in a cell in the asylum where his mother’s been imprisoned for years. Of course, the doc gets paid back for his treachery by eldritch forces, but that doesn’t improve things for Lovecraft — or for Providence — one bit.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Great suspense and a fun grasp of Lovecraft’s style of cosmic horror. I was expecting Tony Salmons’ impressionistic art style to wear on me by now, but it really does suit the story very well.

The Unwritten #3

Tom Taylor has returned to the castle where he grew up — coincidentally, the same castle where Mary Shelley wrote “Frankenstein.” As it turns out, there’s a small professionals-only horror symposium taking place there, featuring a half-dozen bad-horror-writer archetypes (Personally, I’m hoping the torture-porn writer gets killed good and hard). The mysterious Elizabeth Hexam is there, too, trying to get Tom to remember what happened to his father the night he disappeared. And as it turns out, Tom realizes that his father hid a safe in the house, figures out the passcode, and finds a couple of strange and seemingly useless items that his dad left for him. Will they be any use against the mystic assassin who’s closing in on Tom?

Verdict: Thumbs up. This really is an excellent series. Lots of fun, lots of mystery, lots of spooky stuff, all tied up in a “Harry Potter” wrapping that makes it all feel familiar and strange at the same time.

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The Horror of it All


The Strange Adventures of H.P. Lovecraft #2

Two ruffians have ended up dead, horribly mutilated by… something, and the only evidence points to wallflower weird-tales writer H.P. Lovecraft, who, luckily, has an alibi — he was at home asleep, and the dead guys had his watch because they stole it from them the previous day. But Lovecraft knows something is wrong — he hears ominous voices and sees evil visions when he looks at an ancient book in the university library, and he knows that his resentment of the muggers is what caused them to be killed. And right on schedule, his romantic rival for the heart of his ex-girlfriend shows up, bullies him, gloats at him, and kicks him out of the library. And just like before, Lovecraft goes to sleep, has horrific dreams, and wakes up knowing that his nightmares are literally coming true. So Lovecraft — who really is in no way a man of action — heads over to his rival’s house to try to save him from the otherdimensional horrors trying to eat him. Can Lovecraft save his rival? And even if he can, will he be able to stop the cthulhoid monstrosities from eating the rest of the city?

Verdict: Thumbs up. The impressionistic art style is working very well for the story, and the monster designs have been unexpectedly good. I do hope they can keep this going for the rest of the miniseries, because it’s been a great deal of fun so far.


B.P.R.D.: War on Frogs #3

In a story set before the current storyarc, Liz Sherman, the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense’s pyrokinetic badass, has been struck by a strange malaise after leading a series of successful but very, very destructive raids against the frogs, the amphibious toad-like monsters who have been the most prominent baddies through nearly all of Mike Mignola’s “Hellboy” comics. Is her sickness a matter of burnout? A disease caused by the frogs? Or something worse?

Verdict: Thumbs up. We don’t get to see Liz setting fires and kicking ass nearly enough, so this is plenty of fun, while also serving as a prequel to more current “B.P.R.D.” storylines.

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Mystic Masters and Malign Monstrosities

The Strange Adventures of H.P. Lovecraft #1

I didn’t hear about this one before it came out, but I just can’t resist a comic about Providence, Rhode Island’s favorite son.

This one isn’t about horror/fantasy author H.P. Lovecraft’s stories, but on the author himself, struck with a bad case of writer’s block, suffering through editors who don’t value his stories, and with his relationship with his semi-sorta-kinda girlfriend Sylvia at a standstill. He gets mugged by a couple of sailors, visits his mother in the madhouse, learns that Sylvia is cheating on him, and then an ancient cursed book in the library goes and makes things even worse by talking to him and declaring him “The Key and Guardian of the Gate.” And he finally breaks his writer’s block when he comes up with a story about the sailors who robbed him being attacked by a tentacled horror on their boat. But Howard, his elderly aunts tell him, didn’t you read this morning’s paper — that all happened just last night…

Verdict: Thumbs up. On one hand, it’s a nice little meditation on Lovecraft’s (highly fictionalized) life, but it’s also a decent little dose of proper cosmic horror, too. So far, they ain’t showing the monsters, which is exactly the right thing to do — Lovecraftian fiction is hard enough to do without showing the tentacled horrors too early…

Madame Xanadu #10

Nimue has seemingly captured the Phantom Stranger, angering her lover Zatara in the process, since the Stranger was Zatara’s guest. Unfortunately, the capture was merely a ruse on the Stranger’s part as he magicks Madame Xanadu away to propose that she join his association of mystics to help usher in the new heroic age. She angrily rejects him, insisting that he keeps manipulating others even as he points out that she plans to let tough cop Jim Corrigan die to raise a new magical ally. In the end, the Stranger leaves her alone, but Nimue learns that Corrigan’s death has turned him into the Spectre, the Spirit of Vengeance, a terrible mystic juggernaut of death and destruction. Upset that her benign neglect of Corrigan could lead to such a tragic error, she decides to stop using her fortunetelling to benefit only herself and become a freelance seer, helping anyone who needs her talents.

Verdict: Thumbs up. A nice ending for this first storyarc — the final confrontation between Madame Xanadu and the Phantom Stranger on the astral plane is nicely realized and the debut of the Spectre is shrouded in unexpected menace. As always, Matt Wagner‘s writing is outstanding, and Amy Reeder Hadley‘s artwork is even better. I’ll miss Hadley’s art in the next storyline (which will be illustrated by Michael William Kaluta), but I understand she will be back for future stories.

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Robots and Monsters and Vampires, Oh My!

Atomic Robo and the Shadow from Beyond Time #1

Atomic Robo, the wiseacre, action-packed atomic-powered robot created by Nikola Tesla, is back for another pulp-flavored adventure, this time set in 1926. Robo is studying for his physics doctorate when he gets some unwelcome visitors — fantasy/sci-fi/horror author H.P. Lovecraft and weird-phenomena researcher Charles Fort. Many years ago, Lovecraft, Fort, and Lovecraft’s father worked with Tesla to banish a cosmic horror from Earth, but it’s coming back — or it’s been here all along… With Tesla unavailable, can Robo help Fort and Lovecraft before it’s too late?

Verdict: Thumbs up. First, anything that teams a snarky robot with Charles Fort and H.P. Lovecraft is guaranteed to appeal to me. And though this issue is extremely talky, it’s also a great deal of fun. The first few pages, with Lovecraft gibbering along with his over-the-top pseudo-racism about Robo’s pygmy ancestry, is extraordinarily funny. If the rest of the story is as good as the first issue, I’ll be glad to come along for the ride.

Fin Fang 4 Return! #1

This has its genesis in a story a few years ago where a bunch of giant monsters from Marvel’s ’50s era, Fin Fang Foom, Googam, Elektro, and Gorgilla, decide to reform, are reduced to human size, and take up jobs in the human world. So here we’ve got this short anthology of stories — first, the Hulk’s pal Doc Samson tries to psychoanalyze the quartet of monsters. Next, Fin Fang Foom’s job as a chef at a Chinese restaurant leads to an unexpected cure for baldness and an equally unexpected loss of the cure for baldness. After that, Gorgilla goes time-traveling and save Abraham Lincoln from assassination; Googam tries to get adopted by a Hollywood starlet to fund his quest for world domination; and the robotic Elektro gets mistaken for a completely different Electro. Finally, there’s a reprint of a Christmas story as Fin reluctantly teams up with Dr. Strange’s assistant Wong to stop Hydra’s giant evil Santa Claus robot.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Yes, it’s silly and inconsequential. I like stuff that’s silly and inconsequential.

Captain Britain and MI-13 #12

Dracula and his army of vampires are continuing their war on England and MI-13. Spitfire, because of her vampiric heritage, is helpless to resist Dracula’s orders and is forced to kill a civilian in Dracula’s castle on the moon. The rest of the team, meanwhile, is trying to track down a magical artifact — the skull of Blade’s old friend Quincy Harker, enchanted to prevent vampires from entering Britain unless they’re specifically and individually invited. Unfortunately, Dracula’s centuries of unlife have made him one of the greatest military minds ever, and he’s thinking several steps ahead of MI-13.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Good bloodsucking fun. My only regret about this one is that Dracula isn’t nearly as pompous or long-winded as he was in the classic ’70s series “Tomb of Dracula.”

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Cthulhu Fhtagn!

Attention, fans of H.P. Lovecraft’s brand of cosmic horror:

According to my calendar, today marks the day in 1925 when the ancient sunken city of R’lyeh rose from the bottom of the sea, temporarily freeing the mighty eldritch god/monster Cthulhu to terrorize some fish and some sailors.

So, ya know, it’s a great day for performing blasphemous and squiddy acts against anyone you want.

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A New Year of Horror

Well, it’s 2009. Not really feeling thrilled about it. One thing I learned long ago — every year is always worse than the last. There’s no reason to celebrate the new year — it’s just a reminder that time keeps passing, and that all our hopeful dreams for the future will inevitably end up as ashes and dust.

I came up with some predictions last year at this time, and they were generally wildly off-base, as most predictions are. The problem was that I tried to mix some optimism in with the pessimism, which isn’t a mistake I’ll make again.

Short-and-simple predictions:

Dan DiDio will stay on at DC, and Joe Quesada will stay on at Marvel. They’ll continue to make rotten comics, because their movies will make money, and their stockholders only care about how much money the movies make, not whether the comics are any good or not. Movies are big business — comics are small business.

More comics cancellations on the way, all for comics that don’t suck. Readers seem to hate comics that are good, and with the worsening economy, the publishers won’t be willing to stick with comics that don’t sell.

More giant crossovers on the way. Because the last thing you need in a rotten economy is a giant crossover that forces readers to spend their dwindling leisure dollars on badly-written crossovers that will be ignored next year anyway.

Bankruptcies ahoy. DC may be safe, because they’re part of Time-Warner. Marvel is a smaller fish, so they may be on shakier ground — on the other hand, the movies make lots of money, so that may help a lot. Lots of smaller publishers are probably on the verge already. I have no idea which ones, ’cause for some reason, they won’t let me look at their budgets and account info. But I think we’ll see some of them go belly-up.

Is that enough predictions? Probably so. Let’s hit a couple quick reviews. And just to stick with the bleak, depressing, pessimistic, staring-doom-in-the-face mood I’ve been working with, let’s look at a couple horror comics.


Crossed #2

We follow our small pack of survivors as they continue to try to avoid the attention of the Crossed — people who have become infected with a condition that turns them into psychotic, sadistic serial killers. The only way to tell one of the Crossed from a normal person is the bloody cross-shaped rash that develops on their faces. Anyway, our survivors make a narrow escape from a group of gun-slinging Crossed in which one of their number are injured by gunfire. They also discover two things about their adversaries: first, that the Crossed sometimes turn on each other when they can’t find anyone else to kill, and second, that the Crossed aren’t just giggling zombies — they can think, they can plan, and their strategies are, while twisted, dangerously effective.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Have I warned y’all before that this is not a comic for kids? I’ll do it again. Parents, feel free to enjoy this comic for all its horrifying, depressing beauty, but don’t go thinking all comics are for kids and leave it with your child’s Archie books. There’s nudity here, there’s a great deal of violence, there’s adult content galore. I’m not saying it’s a bad comic — this is an absolutely excellent comic. It has everything you want in horror, and one of these days, it’s going to get made into an outstanding horror movie. I highly recommend it for adults. I just don’t think you should give it to the kiddies.


Necronomicon #4

Well, I missed several issues of this one, but it looks like innocent collegian Henry Said is in over his head. The people he thinks of as his friends have captured an eldritch elder horror and plan to torture it to learn of its masters’ plans for the Earth. Henry’s compassionate nature leads him to wait ’til no one’s looking, then he frees the creature. This sets the Miskatonic University crew against him, and the creatures may still try to destroy them, despite Henry’s kindness. And more trouble is on the way — Henry’s football-loving friend Maxey may have been co-opted, the horrendous Mi-Go are still active, and the girl Henry loves, Rachel, is slated to have her brain removed and transported to another planet. Can Henry survive when a war between the Mi-Go and the shoggoths erupts around him?

Verdict: Thumbs up. It really is a tribute to the writing on this that I was still able to catch on to what was going on and enjoy the heck out of it, even though I’d missed the entire middle of the story. You’ll get the most out of this story if you’re already pretty familiar with the pulp horror of H.P. Lovecraft, but if you aren’t, the story and plotline are still pretty clear. (And if you’re not familiar with Lovecraft’s cosmic horror yet — get ye to your local library or bookstore and start reading his stuff!)

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Houses of the Unholy


House of Mystery #5

This one’s a bit all over the map. We get a bio of Fig’s life, from childhood literary hero to mystical Teen Detective to failed architect. We get the House’s permanent residents trying to survive as the House begins to collapse on itself. We get a spotlight story where boring old Jordan tells a boring story about his boring life fighting giant spiders, vampire cats, fire-breathing dragons, and elder gods. We also get what seems to be a resolution to the first storyarc, though I can’t really tell if it’s completed or just carrying over to another new arc.

Verdict: Thumbs up, with some pretty strong reservations. I loved Jordan’s story, which shoehorns tons of weird, bizarre, fantastical stuff into a seemingly mundane story. I love Fig’s autobiography, which twists and turns all over the place, from happiness to ongoing tragedy. I was really not at all interested in the overarching story about the House trying to destroy itself. And I didn’t like the ending at all — I expect a little vagueness in good dark fantasy, but this was simply too vague for me to really figure out what happened.


Necronomicon #1

This one’s pretty fun. We follow the story of a Arabic student named Henry Said who’s attending the infamous Miskatonic University in the 1920s. He’s good with languages, so a mysterious group of university patrons hire him to translate the dreaded Necronomicon into English. But something sinister is going on? Why is Henry being followed? Why does the university librarian act so strange? Who are the monstrous figures who try to steal the Necronomicon?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Excellent Lovecraftian fun. Henry is a fun character, naively learning about the Western world and the occult horrors around him. His small circle of friends are entertaining, too. And the eldritch horror elements are nicely handled, too. No mind-bending gods rising from the sea, at least not yet — things start out slow and creepy before building up to what seems to be a horrific climax — but this is just the first issue, and there are certainly worse things than decomposing zombies and bug-faced kidnappers on the way soon…

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Monkey Horror!


H.P. Lovecraft’s Haunt of Horror #3

The final issue of this miniseries sticks to the same high standards as the previous two. Once again, it’s the stories and poems of horror master H.P. Lovecraft, illustrated by brilliant horror artist Richard Corben. In this issue, we get the tale of Arthur Jermyn, who discovers that there’s a nasty case of root rot in his family tree; we get the story of “The Well,” in which something unpleasant and dangerous is lurking underground; and we get “The Window,” which considers just how empty the space on the other side of a wall can be.

Verdict: Thumbs up. “Arthur Jermyn” is one of my least favorite of Lovecraft’s stories, but Corben still makes it work. The other stories, based on very short poems, work out wonderfully as full-length comic stories. Pick all of these up, if you can.


Marvel: Your Universe Saga

Basically, this is a combination of a short addendum to the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe and a brief summary of the last several years’ worth of Marvel storylines.

Verdict: Not much to it? I’m still giving it a thumbs up. It’s free, baby! And it’s pretty good anyway — Marvel has been a pretty convoluted place lately, so it’s nice to have a little scorecard to keep track of everything that’s been going on.

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The Lurking Horror


H.P. Lovecraft’s Haunt of Horror #2

More of Lovecraft’s stories and poetry re-imagined in comic format by brilliant horror illustrator Richard Corben. We open with “The Music of Erich Zann,” retold in a fairly straightforward fashion. After that, Lovecraft’s poem “The Canal” gets reinterpreted into a nightmarish saga of a horrible flood, and HPL’s poem “The Lamp” becomes a story about explorers in a defiled Egyptian tomb.

Verdict: Thumbs up. I didn’t start out liking this one as much as I liked the previous issue, but on slower re-reading, there’s more stuff I actually enjoy here. There’s the perfect decayed city architecture that Lovecraft preferred, there’s the creepy textual version of Zann’s music, the transcription of the modern nightmare of post-Katrina New Orleans, the invisible menace freed from the crypt. This is beautiful work, simultaneously subtle and gory. If you love horror, especially Lovecraftian cosmic horror, go get this comic.


Locke and Key #6

In the finale of this series, psychotic Sam Lesser has the upper hand, with Tyler Locke under the gun, his mother and cousin locked in the wine cellar, and sister Kinsey clubbed into unconsciousness. Sam is after a couple of mystical keys — the same keys the spirit in the well wants Bode Locke to find. Bode goes through the magic door that turns him into a ghost so he can find the keys — once he gives the “Anywhere Key” to the spirit, she takes it, walks out a door, and vanishes. Meanwhile, Tyler tries to get away from Sam, falls against the “ghost door” and, as far as Sam can tell, dies. Is there going to be any way to stop Sam before he kills the rest of the family, too?

Verdict: Thumbs up. A good mix of suspense, mundane chase/action sequences, and extremely creepy weirdness. I wish we’d seen a bit more about the family’s ancestral home, the Keyhouse, as it looked like it’d make for a wonderful haunted house. There’s also word that there’s a new series on the way toward the end of the year.


Pigeons from Hell #4

The Blassenville sisters and the sheriff return to the old plantation to do battle against the horror inside. After that, there’s a great deal of chaos.

Verdict: Thumbs down. I’ve been loving this series, but the final chapter just doesn’t measure up. And I gotta put the blame on the artwork. It’s just too dark, too muddy, too confusing. I read the original story, so I should have a pretty good idea about what’s going on here, but I just couldn’t keep track of what was going on.

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