Chances are that if you enjoy science fiction, role-playing games, or are familiar with internet culture, you've heard of Cthulhu somewhere along the way. The H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society (which is actually a real thing) distributed an interesting silent film adaptation of the Lovecraft classic, The Call of Cthulhu (2005).
Set sometime in during the 1920's, a dying professor (Professor Angell) leaves his great-nephew (Matt Foyer) a collection of documents pertaining to the Cthulhu Cult. The cult followers believe in an ancient deity which lies under the ocean waters, and they await the day that he will return to rule over the Earth; the Cthulhu cult are convinced that the day of reckoning is at hand. The Nephew begins to learn why the study of the cult so fascinated his great-uncle. Bit-by-bit he begins piecing together the dread implications of his great-uncle's inquiries, and soon he takes on investigating the Cthulhu cult as a crusade of his own. As he pieces together the dreadful and disturbing reality of the situation, his own sanity begins to crumble.
I have read Lovecraft's short story The Call of Cthulhu. Lovecraft's stories all took place in a similar setting, but The Call of Cthulhu is the only one where the legendary deity actually appears and frankly, it's not all that exciting a story. In fact, it's a pretty dull, slow read up until the end. I truly do not understand why it has become such a cultural icon. It has inspired and been referenced in art, music, video games, and even Saturday morning cartoons. I suppose it's just fun to toy with the idea of a fictional, all powerful deity destined to awaken and consume the world as we know it, much like we enjoy entertaining the idea of a zombie apocalypse.
The option to make this film adaptation into a silent black and white film was genius. This made the movie seem like it was contemporary to the 1920's, when the short story was first published, almost as if this were a long forgotten film from a bygone era and was only recently uncovered. It also allowed the film makers some liberty to use less expensive materials for sets and models; everything looked black and white in the final product so there was no need to spend extra money on making the color palette look exceptionally pretty.
The camera work and special effects were very much inspired by films in the 1920's. The camera angles were fairly basic and were only lopsided once in awhile to help depict character's psychological breakdown. The movie had several dream sequences that were much more surreal than movies were in the period of film style it was emulating. The visual effects were charming; lots of miniatures, blue screen, and stop-motion animation was used. There are model boats used instead of actual boats. Impressive miniature models were created and had actors in front of blue screens to show these model sets being explored. Best of all was probably the stop-motion Cthulhu which brings to mind the iconic stop-motion monsters in the 1933 King Kong movie. The whole thing feels like an old classic movie in terms of its art direction, camera work, and special effects.
But how is it as a movie? I've stated earlier that the short story which The Call of Cthulhu is based on is rather boring. The movie adheres very closely to the Lovecraft classic. Even though it is a mere forty-seven minutes in length, it is pretty slow moving. Since there is only background music and no dialogue to listen to, it's not unlikely that this movie would bore you to sleep. Reading the intertitles of dialogue might keep you engaged if you can read fast enough; they aren't on screen very long. The story still captures Lovecraft's style; the movie perfectly embodies his nihilistic world view, his cosmic perspective, and his sense that mankind is doomed by its own insignificance. It is, therefore, kind of a downer to watch.
On the one hand, I'm glad I got to see The Call of Cthulhu for its excellent work in mimicking a basically dead filming style. But I probably would have been just fine had I not seen the film as it was boring and slow moving up until the end. I would only recommend The Call of Cthulhu to anyone who appreciates old silent films. Such fanatics will enjoy the nostalgic quality The Call of Cthulhu has to offer. I'd also recommend it anyone who is a fan of the Cthulhu Mythos (the fictional universe of H.P. Lovecraft's works). This was made by Cthulhu fans for Cthulhu fans; it was without a doubt a labor of love. If every "fan-made" movie was this well filmed and held this closely to its source material, it would put a lot of Hollywood suits out of a job. If you're not a Lovecraft fan or don't enjoy silent films, I'd pass on this one. But if you are interested, it is on instant play on NetFlix and on Hulu.com for free (as of writing this, of course).
Check out the trailer to see if this is something you might want to watch:
Do you have a story about discovering Cthulhu? On a novelty bumper sticker? Through a Dungeons and Dragons game? On a South Park episode? Share you Cthulhu story here, I'd love to hear about it!