(Warning: Possible Spoilers Ahead. I Don’t Really Care Enough About Spoilers to Mark ‘Em Out, So, Y’Know, Eat Me Brad.)
So a friend of mine has been making an effort to build up his tolerance for horror. Being the absolute fanatic that I am for the genre, I’ve sort of become a surrogate compass for this visceral sea that he’s beginning to tread.
Even though I can pretty much recite the dialogue of any horror movie he’s brought up to me, one he asked me about recently caught me off-guard, shamefully so: a little ditty called “The Last Lovecraft: Relic of Cthulhu.”
Now, the number of movies based directly on Lovecraft’s work has swollen considerably since his fiction entered public domain about a decade ago. Until then, the rights to his stuff had been held almost fanatically by Arkham House, the publishing company started by Lovecraft admirer / this-close-to-stalker August Derleth. Admittedly, it was Derleth who got Lovecraft’s name recognized in mainstream fiction, but damn the man all the same for chaining his audience down while he did it.
You have to understand (you have to): Lovecraft completely started the modern era of horror fiction. Not Poe, as some would assume; Poe dallied in the macabre, sure, but his work did not actually start the period the way Lovecraft’s did. And Lovecraft’s touches are everywhere in movies and literature. Hellboy, Evil Dead, comics in general, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the entire works of Stephen King, John Dies at the End, anything mentioning the Necronomicon or the “Outer Gods”…everything. And yet only now is his name even beginning to pop up with any kind of regularity. After years of me silently fuming when folks scoffed at this man’s literary significance, it’s finally becoming clear:
No matter how original you think your scary story is, Lovecraft probably did it first.
His entire catalogue can be contained in a single volume, and his literary influence was limited to a magazine and a small number of friends, acquaintances, and colleagues in his lifetime, but he’s everywhere. His friend Robert E. Howard created Conan the Barbarian, whose adventures occasionally featured battles with Lovecraftian entities. Lovecraft is likely the first writer to have ever blended aspects of horror with aspects of science fiction, and invented the sub-genre of cosmic horror. His works also popularized the notion of networking one’s fiction to create a sustained continuity, in Lovecraft’s case his popular “Cthulhu Mythos” (or “Yog-Sothothery” as he facetiously liked to put it). Such literary continuity heavily influenced modern prose and comics, particularly the latter medium’s reliance on fictional intercompany “universes” for the setting of their narratives. Stephen King’s magnum opus The Dark Tower strongly utilizes this framework, paying homage not only to Lovecraft’s literary style, but also the phonology of his naming schemes. (Side note: the Men in Yellow, the Hoi-Poi, of King’s work are references to Hastur, Lovecraft’s fictional “King in Yellow”.)
So, yeah, he’s way bigger than you imagined. Even if you’re obsessed with him, he’s even bigger than what you already knew. Feelin’ stupid? Well ya shouldn’t, ‘cause it’s always fun to learn new things.
Just like it was for me when I learned about “The Last Lovecraft.” This relatively recent little gem tells about H.P. Lovecraft’s last living descendent, a man named Jeff (whose lineage isn’t explained, though is commented on appropriately, since Lovecraft never had any children). Jeff is completely disillusioned with the world. A bully as a kid, Jeff has grown into a miserable bastard who squanders his life in a cubicle, panics when approached by women, and sees absolutely no room in the world for either magic or adventure. His friend Charlie does his best to keep Jeff’s sense of wonder and optimism alive, but Jeff, the asshole, won’t have any of it.
Enter into his life a mysterious old man, the last surviving member of a council formed by H.P. Lovecraft himself to combat the demented forces of evil he documented in his writings. The man hands off a talisman, a mysterious component to a key that will awaken the ancient alien god Cthulhu from his slumber in the sunken continent of R’lyeh. Calling bullshit, Jeff is astonished when Cthulhu’s monstrous minion Starspawn attacks, killing the old man and sending Jeff and Charlie on the run.
Enlisting the aid of Paul, a Lovecraft nerd whom Jeff bullied mercilessly as a kid, the trio head into the desert to find the salty seaman (hehe) Captain Olaf, who possesses knowledge on how to defeat Cthulhu’s efforts for good. But the ancient god’s reach is vast, and the three young men soon realize they may very well be in WAY over their heads.
RIGHT: The Main Characters (Actually, All the Characters)
Starting on Jeff: the typical “Average Guy” character, Jeff breaks the mold in a few ways. First, he’s kind of a dick. A bully as a kid, Jeff is quick to deride anybody he doesn’t agree with, and frequently ridicules the people around him. He’s not without his virtues, of course; he’s determined to keep the magical relic from falling into the wrong hands, and is more than willing to fight for what’s right. But it’s actually refreshing to have a main average dude break the “Rocko” archetype by being a little bit of the jerk we’re all capable of being.
His friend Charlie also breaks a few molds. Typically, the buddy sidekick is a little dumber or more socially awkward than the hero, but not Charlie. Charlie proves to be considerably more sensible than Jeff (though he does have a few vital dumbass moments), is more sexually successful, and though an-out-and-out nerd for comics and action figures, Charlie obviously enjoys life way more than Jeff. Again, a nice break from convention.
Their additional compatriot, Paul, breaks a few conventions on the “geek” character himself, as he is quick to criticize the “cool kids” if they fuck up, and is shown to be a man of action to an extent arguably greater than the two heroes. Also, a reference to Jeff breaking Paul’s arms as a kid comes full, cruel circle in the latter half of the movie. Paul is also completely aware that the geek world he loves is mostly fiction (mostly, as parts of it become obviously true in the film), and readily acknowledges his own socially stunted growth throughout the adventure. A nice break from the “not-aware-he’s-lame” character we see so often.
And God bless Captain Olaf.
Side-RIGHT: The Fish Rapin’
You don’t actually see the deed itself, but Olaf’s hilariously haunted account of the night he was violated by the spiny “Deep Ones” is a treat, capped by his warning to Jeff and Co. that by opening this can of worms, they’re in for a heapin’ pile o’ fish-rapin’.
“They got a hankerin’ for mating with mortal folk.”
Also, the creepy, chubby motel clerk, a minion of Cthulhu who loves stuffing birds Norman Bates style, is suitably terrifying when he propositions Jeff for some good ol’ fashioned anonymous sex.
“This is my sex face.”
I dare you to hear that line and not startlaughing from the awkward horror of it. Especially when you imagine it being said to you. (As a dude; I can easily see it being legitimately terrifying to a woman, in a completely non-hilarious way.)
RIGHT: The Comic Book Recounting of Cthulhu’s Reign
Comic style intros and back stories get done a lot lately, but it makes sense for a frenetic but low-budget action flick to use this technique. This movie’s effects were pretty impressive, but it’s obvious they only had so much money to do them on. Blowing their wad on the back story could have severely hurt the rest of the film.
Plus, the visual is still balls-awesome. It opens with Cthulhu murdering a pack of dinosaurs, and waging war against rival aliens with the skull of a Triceratops. Awesome.
Though I would have liked for them to stick to the fact that Lovecraft wrote prose, the comic angle the filmmakers utilize works for the frantic energy the movie works to achieve.
RIGHT: The Monsters
The Deep Ones are the stars of the effects budget. Completely creepy and stealthy, they are spiny, fanged horrors that totally look like they’re capable of fuckin’ some shit up. And they do. A lot of it.
The hybrids – the abominable offspring of human and Deep One lovin’ – are equally great, particularly my favorite, Lamprey Man, whose sucker mouth and hands stick to Jeff’s car like perverse plungers during the first attack scene. Seeing Jeff peeling him off with a crowbar was solid gold.
Starspawn is a small point of contention for me, but not enough to be significant. In the stories, the Star-Spawn are lesser members of Cthulhu’s race, subjects who work to spread the influence of his cult throughout the cosmos. Admittedly, Starspawn in the film could just be one of many, but it’s implied he’s simply one of Cthulhu’s biggest and baddest singular generals. Nevertheless, he works really well as a villain, and like I said, it’s a stupid point to hold anyone over a barrel for. Plus, when Starspawn unleashes his true form, a massive, squid-like beast, the CGI is impressively done when it is used to render him.
RIGHT: The References
Particularly my favorite: “Whoa, guys, I don’t think I’m ready to roll the nine-sided die just yet.”
Explanation: In “Call of Cthulhu: The Role-Playing Game,” a nine-sided die is used to measure how much sanity is gained or lost by a player-character in the game. In the movie, Paul briefly wonders if he’s just let two crazy people into his grandma’s house when Jeff and Charlie clue him in that the Mythos is real.
Ahhh, it’s nerdy! Nerdy awesome.
WRONG: Ehhh…Not Much
At all, actually. This is a solid little film, and I hope enough money comes of it for a sequel. It’s tightly paced, professionally edited, and visually dynamic. A+
WRONG, BUT NOT IN THE MOVIE: “Birdemic”
The trailer at the beginning of the DVD for the film “Birdemic.” The killer birds are obvious cut and paste jobs that statically hover in the air while they flap / swing their wings. If this is a purposefully bad movie…it, it just has to be, guys…then this could be awesome. If not, then we must figure out a way to potentially smite this video pimple from the complexion of the Earth.
Look up “The Last Lovecraft: Relic of Cthulhu,” and rev your lulz motor. It’s gonna be a giggly night.