A HPLHS Double Feature – The Call of Cthulu and The Whisperer in Darkness

 

The good folks over at Raven Banner, and GAT PR were kind enough to invite Sue and I over to chat with them the other day, and I was lucky enough to go home with two films from the HP Lovecraft Historical Society, which Raven Banner had a hand in distributing here in Canada. Both of them are fascinating, and well made films, one of which I’d seen before, but was eager to watch the pair back to back and dive right into some Lovecraft creepiness and see if his stories could ever find a faithful screen adaptation.

The short, and joyful answer is yes.

First up is The Call of Cthulu . Written by Lovecraft in 1926, the era of the silent film, the story is disturbing, and introduces something that a lot of horror novels still don’t have… a mythos that spans a series of works. Lovecraft’s Old Ones show up time and time again, just hinted at in some stories,  while taking center stage in others. It helps to connect all of his works into one, very unwelcoming universe. (King has done some tying in pf his characters and universes together, especially in his Gunslinger tales, but those are nowhere near as unnerving as the dark shadows that haunt the recesses of our realities that Lovecraft’s do).

Taking their cue from the time period in which it was written, the Society decided to make The Call of Cthulu a silent, black and white film. Running a sleek 47 minutes, the filmmakers marry old school filmmaking, and new technology to create what might be the most accurate representation of Lovecraft’s writing on the screen to date. It works incredibly well, and shows the love and passion that these people put into their work.

The story finds a man investigating something known as the Cthulu Cult, and finds himself on a terrifying journey where nightmare and reality seem to blend with horrific results, as one of the Old Ones (terrifying creatures, like unto gods, living out in the outer reaches of time and space, Cthulu, reaches out to those on the surface of the planet, and brings madness and terror to those that seek him out.

The story moves from the halls of academie to the bayous of New Orleans, weaving unnerving moments into the lives of those pulled into the hunt, before finally arriving on a remote, unmarked island where some Thing waits for the stars to be right…

I love the ingenuity with which the filmmakers solved problems and created an unparalleled cinematic reality for Lovecraft that won them countless awards in film festivals. This one is a bit of a must for literary horror fans, especially those who like their Lovecraft, as well as aspiring filmmakers to see what a little creativity, planning, and improvisation can accomplish.

whisperer-in-darkness

The Society followed The Call of Cthulu up with The Whisperer in Darkness, based on a 1931 short story by Lovecraft, and one I haven’t read yet, so I went into this one completely blind. Once again, taking its cue from the time period in which it was written, and using that as the basis of the cinematic adaptation, Whisperer is made in the vein of the early Universal monster movies, and once again marries the creative styles of yesteryear with those of today.

And while Cthulu was a fantastic adaptation, Whisperer is leaps and bounds ahead of it in terms of filmmaking style, editing, pacing and performances. It’s evident that the Society has learned a lot between films, and are fine tuning their storytelling abilities, The result is a taut, well-paced film that works as both a thriller, and a science fiction horror story.

At the story’s center is professor Albert Wilmarth (Matt Foyer), a folklorist, who is driven by science in all things, but finds himself confronted with things beyond his understanding as he gets pulled into a terrifying ordeal in the mountains of Vermont.

When strange things show up in the waters after a flood, the people of Vermont start retelling tales and legends of a strange tribe of beasts who live up in the mountains, and Wilmarth begins receiving letters from some of them, one claiming that these strange beings are on all sides of his farm, and that he and his son live in terror for their very lives.

Wilmarth is dubious at first, but at the urging of some of his colleagues, and a strange, smattering of evidence which ties in one a manuscript he’s recovered on the Old Ones, he sets out to visit the remote Aekely farm to investigate. There are warnings, cults, and some frightening discoveries as Wilmart descends deeper into mystery, terror, and perhaps even madness as he uncovers the truth of what is going on in the mountains…

If Cthulu brought Lovecraft to life in an ‘old’ and inspired way, Whisperer is a solid, engaging, and fantastic adaptation that is a fine example of classic movie making… and that ending!!

Both films are currently available on DVD, and you should totally have a look at them!

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