Now, we conclude my conversation with Sean Branney and Andrew Leman, the men behind the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society and the upcoming silent film adapation of Call of Cthulhu. In this installment, we continue discussing the film and its release plans, how you can someday get your own Necronomicon, as well as their opinions on the state of Lovecraftian media as a whole. Be sure to read Part 1 right here!
Mr. Dark: As far as a release schedule is concerned, I know you mention a DVD on the website. Is this also going to be something homegrown? Are you seeking distribution?
Sean Branney: The HPLHS really changed over time. At first it was about a magazine and people who were into the live gaming. Then with the birth of the Internet it became about this web portal that shared what we were interested in. Then it became, like I said, about us as producers and creating products as well as just interesting stuff about the mythos. As a result, we’ve been doing a not-insignificant business through our website. We send stuff all over the world every day. We’ve been approached by several people who want to distribute this, but because we’ve become our own distributors and know that business and are connected to the marketplace, I think right now it’s likely we’ll simply self-distribute through the website. At this point, there’s no thought of a 45-minute silent film going into theaters, of course. In terms of television, if there’s a channel bold enough to show a silent film, then we’ll see.
MD: Such as The Horror Channel!
SB: Exactly! We’ll see. We’re interested in looking for television opportunities. Lovecraft is a very global community, more than just the English speaking world. So, we’ve had the movie translated into twenty-three different languages.
MD: I saw that on the website. Anything but Klingon!
SB: Yes, anything but Klingon or Elvish! It started kind of as a joke, but it’s definitely no longer a joke! If it were a talkie, there’d really be no interest to show it in Danish, because it’s just another American movie. But because it’s a silent film, we can show it with Danish subtitles so the Danes are reading it the same way the Americans are and suddenly it becomes, essentially, original Danish programming. Or Finnish, Icelandic, or Swedish, or Norwegian, or Welsh, or whatever. International television, then, has developed an interest. Again, there’s a real interest in Denmark for original Danish programming, because there’s so very little of it, and this is as Danish as it is American really because it’s music and written words.
MD: And culturally, it’s not a story of cowboys in the old west or anything else unique to the American experience.
Andrew Leman: The man in the story goes from America, to New Zealand, to Australia, to Sweden, so it’s an international story. It ends up in Scandanavia by way of the southern hemisphere…
SB: …it’s a very global, epic type thing. In terms of distribution, we’ve been contacted by film festivals from Croatia to Sweden and beyond, and now we’re talking about television because it’s relatively straightforward to do.
AL: Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think we’ve been told that this will be one of the first or the first DVD with Galician subtitles!
SB: Or Luxembourgish. First ever for Luxembourgish subtitles.
MD: I’ll go further, I didn’t know they were languages. Any other distribution plans?
SB: Well, we’ll of course be showing up at the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival in Oregon. As far as television distribution, if it happens, great, if not, that’s okay. With this film, we paid for it, we own it, actors are paid, and it’s our own thing. We don’t ask anybody’s permission, we don’t have to suck up to anybody that doesn’t understand what pseudopoidal means. We don’t have to try and explain anything. We just make the thing, and there’s an existing audience. We can make it, we can distribute it, we can do it all and it’s just so nice not to ask anyone’s permission.
MD: Is there another project ahead for you guys? Are you looking to make this a launching pad for more films?
SB: We’ve been making stuff, either games, or movies, or plays or whatever since high school. This is the biggest, baddest, toughest, longest thing we’ve tried to do yet. It’s certainly not a be all end all. I think it’s its own project, I don’t see it as a launching pad, I think it’s its own movie. Now, if Guillermo Del Toro wants to ask us to make At The Mountains Of Madness for him, great! But that’s not why we’re making it.
AL: We’re making this because we want to make it. When it’s done, we already have three projects waiting for our attention. They aren’t movie projects, but when this one is done we’ll move on with those.
MD: That’s where I was headed next. I know you said you had other Lovecraftian things planned out; can you talk about any of those?
SB: I think most of them have already been announced. One that we started last year is the “Necronomicontest”, via the HPLHS. Through most of last year we we’ve been accepting submissions for our own version of the Necronomicon that we’re going to publish. There are a lot of different versions out there, and they’re all wrong. (laughs) There are a couple of endearing traits, but they’re all wrong. I don’t think most of the guys who publish them understand what a renaissance grimoire would be like…what a book that’s so difficult it will drive you insane to try to read it is about. I don’t think they’ve read John Dee and a lot of the actual occult documents that are out there. We’re looking to make a Necronomicon worthy of being called a Necronomicon, so we accepted submissions from a lot of people. We don’t have time to write an 800-page document ourselves, so we’ve taken submissions for a lot of text and artwork. We will have that coming out in both an electronic format and a leather-bound, 800-page edition.
AL: Two years ago or more, we issued the first volume of our prop documents. They’re fun, they’ve been popular, and it’s always been our desire to do subsequent volumes. The stuff that’s in that volume is some fun stuff, but there are some serious omissions. The goal was to do subsequent volumes, and our Necronomicon is one of those subsequent volumes. It’s going to be a prop Necronomicon. Like our other prop collections, it’ll come on a CD-ROM for people to print themselves as PDF’s. You’ll be able to insert your own spells for your own game or whatever. It’ll come with all the fonts so that your page will match all the existing pages in the book. Then you can print out the whole thing or just the pages you need so you can make your own. We’re also going to do the bound, pre-printed version in a much more limited edition, the actual, finished replica Necronomicon. It’s part of the ongoing HPLHS prop line, of which there are two other volumes planned. One is another all-purpose volume, with more driver’s licenses, death certificates, and just tons of other stuff. Then the third volume planned is the Call of Cthulhu volume. In the process of making this movie, we’ve probably made a few hundred pages of prop documents. The entire Professor Angel Cthulhu Cult file with all the newspaper clippings and the occult magazines are there. We had to make them anyway, so we’re going to make them part of the Call of Cthulhu prop document set. Then Sean’s got the idols that we used in the movie.
(Sean brings out a Cthulhu idol.)
SB: This is the idol that Legrasse recovers from the swamp, and we’ll be making these available in a limited edition. Two different Cthulhu idols will be available, including the one from the Alert.
AL: So there are these two major versions of the Cthulhu idol, then there’s the third version, which is the Eskimo shaman version that is carved out of a walrus tusk. We also have the bas-relief that Wilcox sculpts.
SB: Beyond that we’ve got something we tried to do last winter but were just too swamped with the movie, and that’s our next collection of Lovecraftian Solstice carols, Scary Solstice. We’ve got volume two of that, about another two-dozen of those. Those have been absurdly popular. We also have a bunch of gaming stuff that we can’t quite talk about yet. We’ve come up with a way to make the Cthulhu Lives type of live gaming more approachable and available. I think we’ve created a more modular type of gaming that someone could come along and buy and produce that’s better than your average “host your own murder mystery” game. It’s a real Cthulhu Lives game but it’s more do-able in your own hometown. I think there are more movie projects ahead, but we need a wild recovery time from this one!
AL: It has taken a lot to do this, however we’ve also produced three full-length stage plays while we have been working on the movie. It’s not like this is the only thing we’ve been doing. Had it been the only thing we were doing we probably would have finished on time. We’d hoped it’d be ready for release by April, but that turned out not to be the case.
MD: That was my next question, what’s the estimated release date for the DVD?
AL: I think now we’re looking at another month or two of work. (The interview was conducted in late April.)
SB: Yes, I think we’re looking at around the end of June. Right now the composer is working on the music, which is a significant task all by itself. The movie is 97% shot, but the remaining 3% is the hard 3%! There aren’t any easy shots left, Cthulhu getting run over by the Alert is not an easy shot. It’s been so nice to work with so many actors and to have the actor part done. One of the nice things about having the theater connections we have is being able to put together a cast of first rate actors. We’ve been to a lot of Lovecraft film festivals and acting is one way that a lot of those films suffer. A lot of hobbyists make those films and wind up asking a lot of their friends, the guy who lives across the hall, to be in it.
AL: We do the exact same thing, really, but we’re lucky enough that all of our friends happen to be professional actors!
SB: Our Inspector Legrasse, the last thing he did before Cthulhu was Michael Mann’s last film, with Tom Cruise. These guys play in the big leagues and on television, they’re real actors. The film really benefits from the fact that these guys are all professional level actors, they’re all good. It’s not cheesy, it’s not fakey. Some of the setups may have some of the size and histrionics of a period movie, but that’s intentional.
MD: You mentioned other Lovecraft films, and there have been a lot of Lovecraft films. What’s your opinion on those? Stuart Gordon came pretty close, I think, with Dagon, even if the Re-Animator wound up straying quite a bit from the original source material. What do you guys think?
SB: We’re very different on this one, with different opinions. We’re both very opinionated about it. Andrew, do you want to go first?
SB: Okay, well, I’m a little less forgiving about it than Andrew, I think. I like going to Lovecraft film festivals, but man, is it rare that I see something that I don’t hate. They fail on one level or another. I’m glad people are doing it and I like the genre, but as entertainment most of it either misses Lovecraft or it hits Lovecraft and misses entertainment. I tend to find them either irrelevant or boring, which is the frustration I have. Stuart’s films wind up feeling irrelevant, because they’re just not Lovecraft. Dagon had the crusty old guy, the town was pretty good, but the story wasn’t really Lovecraft. There was a film out of Canada called “Out Of Mind” that I thought was probably my favorite Lovecraft film of all time. Andrew Migliore and Lurker Films just released that on DVD. It’s terrific. It’s very well acted, it’s sincere, and it’s an original story that fits very nicely with the mythos. It isn’t making fun of the mythos, it isn’t cheesy at all. It’s pretty right. The preponderance of the films I find either very literal, very truthful, and boring, or something else…a horror film or whatever but not really in the Lovecraft spirit.
AL: I agree that Sean’s less forgiving than I am, but I’m not all that forgiving either. (laughs) I also love going up to the Lovecraft Film Festival because it feels like a family get-together. I love all the folks who go and it’s always a fun time. A lot of the movies are…okay. Some of them are great and charming. There was an animated puppet show that was shown up there two or three years ago called “The Old Man And The Goblins” that was done by Seamus Walsh and Mark Caballero. It’s just a short black and white silent movie, done in the style of the 20’s and the classic Russian puppet animators and it was just fantastically good. To tell you the truth, it was one of the inspiring things for this project. Seeing that, thinking man, trying to capture that feeling of the period films would be so cool. Seeing that it can be done. That festival, there are the occasional gems, and…there’s the rest. As far as the big budget Hollywood adaptations of Lovecraft that there have been, I’ve never been particularly happy with any of them. From the Dunwich Horror to Die Monster Die…
SB: The Thing, I think, is worthy. It’s not overtly Lovecraft but thematically is very Lovecraftian and for that kind of movie, I think it’s very successful. I liked it.
AL: I think The Thing is the most Lovecraftian non-Lovecraft movie ever made. I really liked The Thing, and Alien, too. Of the ones that put Lovecraft’s name above the title…they generally suck. (laughs)
MD: So what is it about Lovecraft that attracts you? What is it about this strange little New England gentleman that compelled you to spend a big portion of your lives on his work? I mean, why not Edgar Allen Poe? (laughs)
SB: For me, I think a big part of it was the time in my life that I got into Lovecraft. I got into him around high school, and I think that’s a time that hooks get set in pretty deeply. I played Call of Cthulhu with my friends and read the stories back then the first time, and that’s when the hooks got set. It’s interesting that you mention Poe, I’m a big Poe fan, I like Poe a lot. I think the mythos separates Lovecraft from Poe and other people. Like Tolkein, he created a world that other people can contribute to and feed. It’s a sophisticated, complicated world where there’s the grimoires, the monsters, the spells, insanity, all these different colors that come out of this mythological world. Also, for me, the Lovecraftian worldview; the bleak, nihilistic view of specks of dust on a speck of dust floating out among other specks of dust. The whole insignificance of mankind is really relevant and in some ways the ultimate horror of humanity. The fact that it all doesn’t amount to anything. So on a thematic level I’ve always found Lovecraftian horror more resonant than a Stephen King or Poe whose horror is very personal. With Lovecraft it’s very universal in a way that’s always rung true with me.
AL: I can say there are three things about Lovecraft that keeps me hooked. One is period in which it’s set, the 1920’s and 30’s. I think that’s a fascinating period of history, full of amazing personalities and events. The last age of romance. It was an age where there was still mystery, there was still honesty, there was still adventure in the world. The second thing that keeps me hooked about Lovecraft is the concept of madness. I find the concept of insanity endlessly fascinating. The line between reality and perception, that things are as real as you think they are, that is a constantly fascinating place for me to be. The third thing about Lovecraft would be simply that it sets my imagination on fire. The world, the possibilities as Sean was saying. The mythos is so big and there are so many things you can do with it, that it just never ceases to spark fun and fascinating thoughts in me. Even though Lovecraft writings, as such, some of them I love and some of them I think are horribly verbose and dull. But the world he created is one that I think is a blast.
MD: It’s probably like asking to choose amongst your children, but what’s your favorite Lovecraft story? Do you have one or two favorites?
AL: This one, I think, Call of Cthulhu. Colour Out Of Space, and probably Whisper In The Darkness.
SB: The Rats In The Walls was the first Lovecraft story I read and it really made a huge impression on me. I’ve always found it to be a fascinating and interesting story. Call of Cthulhu has always been my favorite Lovecraft story. I also like Shadow Over Innsmouth, the whole thing of the evil and decaying culture and all that I think is very interesting. Not long ago I re-read At The Mountains Of Madness, which is an awfully good story.
MD: I’ve got my traditional last question: what’s your favorite horror movie?
AL: I’d say The Thing. The Carpenter version, of course.
SB: I’d be inclined to concur. I love the psychology of the paranoia of those guys, in a locked environment, where you don’t know who to trust and who’s a Thing. I also like that they actually have a real scary monster, you get the best of both worlds. The psychological horror where you don’t know who to trust and who’s a monster or am I a monster is good, also when the Thing eats the dogs…
AL: …and when the blood jumps out of the petrie dish. Any film where Wilford Brimley gets killed, you know it’s a good movie. (laughs)
Look for Call of Cthulhu to hit DVD very soon via the H.P Lovecraft Historical Society website and keep your eyes peeled (eww) for more news on the project right here on Dread Central.