THE CALL OF CTHULHU (2005) – The H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society produced this terrific – but decidedly niche – horror film based on Lovecraft’s tale The Call of Cthulhu from 1928. The clever approach employed by the producers was to present this black and white film as if it was a Silent Movie made in the 1920s.
Regular readers of Balladeer’s Blog may remember that I’m a silent film geek so I fell in love with this movie immediately. The Lovecraft Historical Society players threw themselves into this labor of love, terrifically adapting the broad over-acting, dialogue boards and cinematic grammar of the Silent Age.
The running time of The Call of Cthulhu is just 47 minutes, so we get the actual story with no pointless filler or additions. You can count me among those who consider this unlikely project to be the purest film adaptation of an H.P. Lovecraft story.
For those unfamiliar with this tale, the papers of a late scholar trigger a search for the secrets and relics of a cult which worships ancient, incomprehensible entities far older than humanity. One of the central figures in this blood-soaked, murderous religion is Cthulhu, a monstrous amphibious creature.
Cthulhu is depicted in the eldritch writings and sculptures of the cultists, with a squid-like face on a bipedal reptilian body that sports scaly wings and sharp claws. The depredations of Cthulhu and his fellow Old Ones as they preyed upon humanity in the prehistoric past left their mark on the human subconscious.
Fear of the Old Ones is as ingrained in the human psyche as fear of the dark and that awe has lived on in the form of the religion centered on their worship – a religion which practices frequent human sacrifices even in the modern day.
One day the Old Ones will return from the dead to once again dominate the Earth and terrorize all other life forms. Cthulhu himself lies in his dark city of R’lyeh at the bottom of the ocean. The return of the Old Ones will be heralded by the rising of R’lyeh to the ocean’s surface amid powerful subaquatic earthquakes. Cthulhu will emerge from his crypt within the city’s walls and prepare the way for the rest of his kind.
The time of that return is nigh, with Cthulhu’s worshipers growing unusually active and atavistic dread of the vile entity filling the dreams and creative efforts of artists from all disciplines.
Fans of Lovecraft AND silent cinema will likely be impressed with the climactic scenes set in risen R’lyeh. The enormous form of Cthulhu is presented moving about via the same stop-motion effects that were used for the dinosaurs in the 1925 movie The Lost World. The “impossible” architecture of R’lyeh is depicted through techniques borrowed from silent films like Metropolis and The Cabinet of Dr Caligari.
There’s even a nod to a scene or two from Nosferatu.
I would love to see this type of silent movie treatment given to Lovecraft’s 1922 work Herbert West – Reanimator. It’s long past the time for a solid, faithful, black & white rendition of that pioneering work about a mad scientist who reanimates the dead, only to see them feed on the living.
Even if you’re not yet into Silent Movies, why not give The Call of Cthulhu a try? It might even whet your appetite for more films from that early era. In 2011 the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society released an overlong version of The Whisperer in Darkness done in the style of early sound horror films like Dracula and Frankenstein, but I found that one disappointing.
How about a King Kong vs Cthulhu flick?
And remember – “Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn“ (“In his house at R’lyeh, dead Cthulhu waits dreaming.”)
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