Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Call of Cthulhu

I didn't start this blog to review movies, and I don't intend to make a habit of it. However, as this is my only active blog I fear readers will occasionally be subjected to random curve-balls. I know my blog centers on beards, but there is also a certain amount of "etc". This is one of those occasions where the "etc" applies.

I just finished watching the 2005 silent film adaptation of 'The Call of Cthulhu'. I must confess to some rather mixed emotions. On the one hand, I am a fan of both H. P. Lovecraft stories and of silent movies. Given when the story was written (1926) it seems like a good fit, and the storyline of the film is significantly more faithful to the source than I would typically expect from a new movie. On the other hand, this silent film wasn't made until the 21st century, so capturing that authenticity is a tricky proposition.

The filmmakers went out of their way to try capturing the silent movie feel, as opposed to just shooting in black and white. That was wonderful to see, and there were aspects of the artificial aging which worked beautifully. The graininess, lighting, make-up, and spotlight-style treatment of viewing documents were all quite good. The special effects were fairly appropriate, the title cards were perfect, and the music was both authentic feeling and well suited to the activity on-screen. The problem I had was that, while other aspects of the film were spot on, the camera work served quite frequently to break the illusion that I was watching an old silent movie. Several times I would find myself falling under the time-defying spell when suddenly a random pan or zoom or unconventional angle would snap me back to the reality that I was watching a low-budget independent film made only a few short years ago. That's not to say that I have any problem with independent films, or with unconventional camera work. What it is to say, though, is that when you are clearly attempting to recreate a particular style of filmmaking and are going to such lengths to maintain accuracy in so many areas, it seems a shame to allow one aspect of the production to so flagrantly violate the conventions of that style and compromise what you are trying to accomplish. In 1926 it would have been creative filmmaking, but in 2005, while attempting to recapture 1926, it is instead inaccurate and distracting. A complete illusion is, after all, rather a complex thing to create while being quite easy to destroy.

In the end, though, there was far more good than bad about this film, and I loved seeing a modern attempt to recreate the silent era with such thoroughness. I am quite fond of the material chosen and the faithfulness with which it was carried out. Were it not for the camera work I could easily have found myself totally engrossed, and as it was I'm still happy I watched it.

Recommended To: Fans of H.P. Lovecraft or weird horror in general, people who enjoy and pursue unconventional films, or movie buffs who would like to see an interesting modern attempt at authentic period-styled silent filmmaking.

Final Grade: B+

p.s. Still a little beard-related, since Cthulhu has the original awesome squid-beard.


  1. I have seen this and found it interesting, but not terribly great. I just do not think that Lovecraft's work translates terribly well to visual art. It's just so hard to get a really good picture. The idea is to imagine something as nightmarishly terrifying as possible and putting it on screen for others to say sometimes comes off as campy and other times, just disappointing.

  2. I would have to say that I generally agree with you about Lovecraft. So far, this is the only vaguely worthwhile adaptation I've encountered, and I think it was because the decision to go silent was a wise one, since you don't really expect nightmarish horror in a silent film. It gave it a different feel, which I thought kind of worked in a slightly cheesy King Kong type way, but admittedly this endeavor had its share of shortcomings.