This past Friday and Saturday I had the distinct pleasure to attend both days of the 2011 Los Angeles H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival, held for the second straight year at San Pedro's beautiful and historic Warner-Grand studio.
Friday's agenda began at 7:00 PM. My wife, some friends and I wandered in a little early, scoped out the vendors – of which there were quite a few, all selling wonderful Lovecraft-related items and I've posted a linked list below* – and then headed into the gorgeous balcony section of the theatre proper for the brief introduction/thank you's/raffle by Festival organizer Aaron Vanek. After this it was right into the first film of the fest, the 1968 BBC Christmas special** Whistle and I'll Come to You, which was easily one of my favorites of the event.
Whistle and I'll Come to You is ~45 minutes long, B&W and a very slow burn. However, despite it not being based on an actual Lovecraft story, Whistle feels very much like one of the Lovecraft's own quiet, dementia-endowed works of madness beset upon an unsuspecting victim. The film is based on a story written by M.R. James and stars the divine Michael Hordern as a man staying in a seaside Inn on holiday who unknowingly summons something otherworldly when he finds a whistle in an ancient graveyard. Again, very slow burn, but much like Lovecraft's stories, it's a disturbed, neurotic burn because you can feel how the film is setting you up for something - and when it arrives, despite the obvious lack of special effects a BBC Christmas special in 1968 would endure, the final moments literally sent chills running through my spine.
Next was The Haunted Palace, a 1963 film-adaptation of the Lovecraft story The Case of Charles Dexter Ward penned by the mighty Richard "I Am Legend" Matheson (with some dialogue help from Francis Ford Coppola no less) and directed by Roger Corman and stars Vincent Price, Lon Cheney and Debra Paget to boot. This was a fine example of what I believe a lot of folks refer to as Hammer-horror – you know, that period in the early 60's where horror movies always had a lot of A) fog, thunder and lightning (not a bad thing at all), B) trap doors and hidden passageways, C) cleavage and D) Satan.
How can you go wrong?
Seriously, aside from suffering from some of the less-than-sophisticated thespian trappings of the day and some special effects in the climax that, while possibly horns-in-the-air startling at the time were snicker-worthy now, Haunted Palace was a great little movie and the first Hollywood film to actually, directly play off of and mention Lovecraft's creations by name. After the film the fest presented a video of Vanek presenting Corman with a Howie (the Lovecraft award) for the film and Corman explained that although the film is based on Lovecraft's story, at the last minute the studio decided Lovecraft was too obscure and changed the title to Edgar Allan Poe's The Haunted Palace. Typical, eh?
Last up on Night #1 was a film from 1933 entitled Berkeley Sqaure and I'll be honest – despite the fact that this was apparently a HUGE influence on Lovecraft and a direct influence on his writing The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, I'd been up for work since 5:30 AM so the slow, antique crawl of this one was not conducive to my staying awake and I went out instead to chat with some of the vendors and find a stiff drink. If anyone out there was at the fest and can summate this, please feel free to post it in the comments here, for clearly I failed in my festival diligence on this one.
Night #2 of the fest actually began during the afternoon with more opening remarks and raffling. We arrived just as these ended and HBO films' 1991 film To Cast A Deadly Spell began. In a two-second pitch I'd say Cast was, to really overly simplify, kind of a cross between Angel Heart and a Raymond Chandler novel, with a little Silk Stalkings and Blue Velvet-esque David Lynch thrown in for good measure.
Regardless of the fact that To Cast A Deadly Spell was perhaps a little stiff at points it was a delightfully fun film to watch. The cast alone was a hoot, with Fred Ward, David Warner, Julianne Moore, muthaf#$kin' Clancy Brown, Charles Hallahan ("Damnit Hunter!") and Ritch "DA Daryl Lodwig" Brinkley and the story, with Ward playing Private Eye Harry Philip Lovecraft in 1948 LA, where to quote the intro, "Everybody used magic" was the textbook definition of entertaining and 'cult'.
After Cast was the flick I had been most anticipating. A little over a year ago my wife sent me the trailer for a film from Spain made by Universal Pictures entitled La Sombra Prohibida (The Forbidden Shadow). If you haven't heard of it watch the trailer below and you will no doubt understand my anticipation (don't worry about the lack of subtitles on the trailer - they're in the film and trust me, by the end of this you'll get it):
So yeah, it's a CG fest, but it's done incredibly well. We've always known someone would have to use CG to bring something like Cthulhu onto the screen (this side of actually summoning him in front of a DVR) so to me it was just a matter of who would do it well. Writer/director Jose Luis Aleman did it well. REALLY, REALLY WELL. Prohibida is a sequel to La Herencia Valdemar and despite a pretty thorough section at the beginning of Prohibida to bring newcomers up to speed, if you can, hunt these down and watch them back to back. That seems as though it would be the optimum way to do it. However, even though I'd not seen the first, I LOVED the second, especially the experience of seeing that enormous Cthulhu on the Warner-Grand's screen.
Next was the short film section, judged by Guillermo Del Toro himself. Despite Del Toro's unable to be at the fest as he'd apparently hoped, and despite the fact that I missed a large portion of these due to some, let's just call 'em scheduling problems on my own end, what I did see was mostly great. I'll link a list below and just say that I really liked the ones I saw, especially The Black Goat, which is apparently an ongoing web-show thingy here (rest of the films by name and links below***).
And last but most certainly not least the festival culminated with the sacrificing of forty virgins and He How Is Not To Be Named appearing and reading some of His odd, florally-arranged beat poetry.
The final film was by far the cherry on the Yoggoth Sunday - the H.P.Lovecraft Historical Society's A-Mazingly perfect adaptation of Whisperer in the Darkness. I don't even know what to say here, other than if you're a Lovecraft fan, please do yourself the ultimate favor and see this, as it is a spot-on, perfect translation of one of his best short stories onto the big screen in glorious B&W and filled with grand performances. Make no mistake, in a few years time the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society is going to be turning out some even more amazing stuff, with a much bigger budget and fanbase, and this and their silent production of The Call of Cthulhu are only the beginning of the wonder they will bring to us Lovecraft fans!!!
My advice, If you are a Lovecraft fan, watch the Internet for 2012 fest and GO!!!
* I figured it'd be nice to link to the vendors below, as I know there are a lot of people out there who are in the market for cool Lovecraftiana:
Badalijewelry - My favorite of the vendors. Some amazing jewelry pieces, and really cool, nice folk as well (we spent quite a bit of time discussing everything from the disingenuous proliferation of Steampunk to The Walking Dead).
Fez-O-Rama - cool Cthulhu-themed Fezzes.
Famous Monsters of Filmland - great magazine
The H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society - 'Nuff said!
Sighco - had some of the coolest Lovecraft tees, hoodies and even an Arkham Asylum orderly jacket and patient shirt
Arkham Bazaar - soooo much cool Lovecraft stuff
David Milano - fantastic art, much of it Lovecraft themed.
Joyner Studio - INCREDIBLE Cthulhu bust. Incredible.
Strange Aeons Magazine - looks like a great Lovecraft-related mag, I'm ordering some back issues as I write this
Perilous Press - Serious literary furtherings of Lovecraft's themes
Mike Dubisch - more fantastic art
** The film that kicked off the apparently long-running BBC A Ghost Story For Christmas annual special
*** The Shorts (if anyone else was there and saw any of these please post a review in the comments to this here blog!):
The Call of Nature by Rick Tillman
The Ritual by Will Wright (my wife and our friend Tori's favorite)
Pickman's Model by Michael Shlain
The Black Goat - Joseph Nanni
Static Aeons - Gib Patterson
Idle Worship - Theo P. Stefanski
Edgar Allan Poe's The Raven by Christopher Saphire and Don Thiel - a very cool, slightly modernized rendition of a classic
Shadow of The Unnammable - Sasha Renninger
The Curse of Yig - Paul Von Stoetzel