H.P. Lovecraft has always had an uneven relationship with the genre of film. While his stories and novels have influence in movies ranging from The Evil Dead to Alien, there have been few full-length adaptions of his works; and those have been, more often than not, quite poor. (For an excellent analysis of Lovecraft's work in film, I recommend the book The Lurker in the Lobby by John Strysik and Andrew Migliore.) Worse, Lovecraft's seminal story "The Call of Cthulhu" was never adapted; and the horror movie Cthulhu Mansion only has the title in common with the story (and Lovecraft fans like to pretend doesn't exist). The good folks at the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society http://www.cthulhulives.org/ have not only done a film of Lovecraft's story, but their interpretation also did it in the style of a black-and-white silent film. The result is spectacular.

The Call of Cthulhu is under fifty minutes long, yet it manages to cover all the material of Lovecraft's tale, roughly divided into three parts. In the late 1920s, the protagonist is going through the papers of his late great-uncle -- and what he discovers shatters his world. First there are his great-uncle's 1925 meetings with Wilcox, a tormented artist who has nightmares of ancient evils and an unnatural city -- and who creates a clay image of a horrific creature.

Next is an account from 1907 of Inspector Legrasse and his research into, and raid against, an evil cult in the backwoods of Louisiana. This led to the discovery of a "Cthulhu cult" -- and a statue much like that created by Wilcox.

The final part of The Call of Cthulhu has the protagonist discovering, through chance, the final piece of the puzzle: A mysterious incident in the South Pacific ocean that left all but one man on a ship dead -- and the most startling proof of the eldritch entity Cthulhu.

The Call of Cthulhu is an ideal cinematic example of form and function meeting perfectly. Lovecraft's tales are almost all set in the early 20th century, and the silent-film format used here creates a perfect period atmosphere. It's amusing to see all the actors with pale faces and dark lips, but that ultimately adds a feeling of nostalgic style to the film. Further, by relying on the actors' gestures and the moody musical score, the full horror of the story is conveyed with a minimal of dialogue cards.

Given how many big-budget Hollywood horror flicks are just awful, The Call of Cthulhu is more impressive for creating action and horror with a minimal budget. Everything is done simply, yet despite not being realistic (such as the fake ocean waves and stop-motion creature) you'll be drawn into this world of horror and madness. The dvd extras reveal more tricks of the film, from creating a cultist mob with only a few actors to the "ninjas" present in most scenes of the film.

I love the stories of H.P. Lovecraft, I mourn when I think of the treatment his tales have received in movies, and I rejoice that The Call of Cthulhu is a movie that does Lovecraft right. I absolutely recommend this movie!

Overall grade: A

Reviewed by James Lynch

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