Hello and Hallo-welcome to another Silent Saturday, where we take in a film that is part watching, part reading, and all quiet! You join your bloggers, Andy and Lilly, as they delve into multiple manuscripts of interviews and confusing, scrawled drawings of ancient beings, labelled with illegible words of a language unknown.
Today’s Film Offering: The Call of Cthulhu
Andy: It’s rare that you come across a movie that’s as obvious a labour of love as this one. Produced by the H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society, this not only aimed to bring his most infamous story and creation to the big screen, but to do it in the style of the time the story was written – all the way back in 1926!
Lilly: So what we have here is actually a cheat day for our silent films–more a homage than a history lesson, if you will!
Andy: For those unfamiliar with HPL’s stories, or the mythos that was created by other writers after his death, here’s a quick primer. Between about 1917 and 1938 (when he died), Lovecraft wrote a number of extremely influential horror stories, creating a genre known as “cosmic horror”. The horror, in most of these stories, comes from revelations that not only are we not alone in the universe, we are utterly insignificant, and there are huge, terrifying things out there that could wipe us out if they so much as looked in our direction. His most famous creation, Cthulhu, embodies this as a huge, ancient sea monster, able to invade our thoughts and drive us mad, and who will inherit the earth whenever it decides to wake up. Gulp.
To those with a passing familiarity, but who haven’t delved into Lovecraft’s sometimes impenetrable and often kinda racist prose (lots of ‘degeneracy through miscegenation’ bullshit), Cthulhu will be familiar. However, it may surprise you to learn that this is the only story in which he appears in, uh, person.
Lilly: It surprised me. And by surprised, I mean angered, because I’ve been hearing about this guy for literal decades of my life and then he only shows up in one story? A SHORT story, at that! Come on. It would be like instead of Sherlock Holmes being prolific, it was Henry Baker from The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle you saw everywhere. Or Moriarity, maybe. If I’m being a bit more forgiving.
Andy: The movie, like the short story, follows a three act structure, with the arc story being a young man reading through his Great Uncle’s notes. A first-hand account with a sensitive and disturbed artist kicks off the story, as he gradually loses and regains his mind over the course of March 1925, and dreams of a nightmare city with a deadly inhabitant – producing awful, fascinating artwork of almost inhuman origin. The second is an account from a detective from New Orleans, who comes across a similar sculpture while breaking up a dangerous cult in 1908.
The third is the account of a Norwegian sailor, who’s crew comes across an island after a deadly storm in March 1925, and begin to explore the city at the summit. A city that a certain artist would find very familiar, and with an ancient and terrible tomb that slowly opens…
Lilly: Tension! Mystery! Shock! Horror! Eye blood!
While Andy clearly comes to this film from the angle of a Lovecraft fan, I come from the angle of a movie fan, and I have to say, I wasn’t disappointed. It was excellently paced, artfully shot, and one of the most important things with silent films, I’m finding, was it was able to tell the story in short bursts of text, not wasting all the time to title everything said, depending on the actors and the atmosphere to give us context. They clearly get that silent films aren’t just subtitled talkies. Not everything needs to be told to us as an audience, and that actually really suits Lovecraft’s style of writing. He was all about the massive build up with little given away.
This was one of those films you can tell was a labour of love, and I approve of that, especially when it comes out as good as The Call of Cthulhu. We both enjoyed it, and you know that is a sign of a good adaptation, when a devoted fan of the text and a relative novice to the Lovecraftian world can sit down together and find some enjoyment. It’s a thumbs up and recommendation from us! Go, watch, enjoy!