Call of Cthulhu, The (2005)

Starring Ramon Allen, Jr., Leslie Baldwin, Daryl Ball

Directed by Andrew Leman

Dialogue is a very over rated aspect of human existence. Even worse is cinema’s addiction to its overuse. It’s interesting that films such as Nosferatu, Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, and Phantom of the Opera have lasted as long as they have. Even with the advance of technology, the ever-growing savviness of the movie going public, and the constant barrage of re-invention of the older established cinematic stories, these originals hold up. They are constantly marked as key in the evolutionary development of today’s films and are often cited as the inspiration for numerous visual styles and artistic statements made in films today.

Yet they are silent. Excepting an added score, they feature not one sound. Never a word is spoken, leaving the performers to act out the story in a heightened manner that has to be conveyed through exaggerated movement and deliberate facial expressions. Too often these days, this simpler approach is forgotten. Instead writers and directors fill the soundtrack with expletives and dialogue that not only is needless but detracts from the film itself. How many times have you wanted to enjoy a film but one actor or actress that keeps opening his or her mouth, ruining the fun for everyone? Silent films need not worry about this. Possibly this is why they have weathered time as well as they have. They are timeless expressions of fear, universal in translation.

The H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society has just released their interpretation of Call of Cthulhu. “Interpretation” denotes their differing take on a meaty and difficult subject matter, for The H.P.L.H.S. has decided to do the entire story in the style of a silent film. Not settling for a lazy approach to this style, they made a film that looks, acts, and feels like it has been recently dusted off and pulled from the catacombs. The Call of Cthulhu is a return to a forgotten era of movie magic that allows the viewer to travel not only to lost worlds, but to a lost time as well.

The story is told in flashbacks from the point of view of a nephew who has been charged with seeing to the specific details of his ailing Uncle’s estate. The nephew becomes obsessed with the odd and compelling documents that are collected within this lot. He reads on, seeing and visiting through the written word of those who lived it a series of strange events. All of them seem connected, and all of them lead to an impossible place, in the middle of nowhere, inhabited by death and madness itself.

In today’s world, there is no subject matter so ripe for the barren vines of Hollywood imagination as the writings of H.P.Lovecraft. Yet, as studios keep ignoring the work, independent horror fans just will not let the poet from Providence lie. Maybe this is for the best. Big name directors and the studios behind them seem less interested in the story and more interested in money. The correlation that has been erroneously made between effects and monetary gain is the biggest and saddest falsehoods that have come out of all of this. In the post-Star Wars world, we get a lot of realistic imagery, but it is heartless and cold. There is no love in the scenes, excepting that which was given to it by the digital manipulators who made the scene out of 11001010101110001011100100111.

Call of Cthulhu does not have to worry about all of this. The sets are clearly constructs of simple devise. The effects are old and dated in appearance, but the film was made to look like this. In doing so, Call transports us away to its own universe, and we forgive this look. The effects, sets, makeup, music; all recall the same care and precision as the aforementioned speechless, ageless wonders of yesteryear. You have to study this film, and know what to look for to be able to see that it is new. Even fake aging has been effectively applied to the film itself. Little wears, lines and hairs flicker across the screen, fully fleshing out the illusion of chronological wear. The actors have gobs of white and black makeup on their faces; the sets are built out of wood and cardboard-like substances. Sure we can tell the ship is a model, but when the whole movie presupposes this, the model works!

And so does Call of Cthulhu. Tying all of this together is a “rich symphonic score”. The music of the feature is a nostalgic mix of familiar sounds and some creepy Lovecraftian goodness. Troy Sterling Nies, Ben Holbrook, Nicholas Pavkovic and Chad Fifer have pulled from the depths of antiquity a newfound, yet lost, sound. Impossible to imagine, but here for all to enjoy.

Best of all, the film doesn’t bog down in any sort of contrivance or deviation from the source material. At a lean, mean 47 minutes, the film does what it sets out to do: tell the story of the great sleeping Cthulhu and the foolish mortals who come into contact with him. Sean Branney’s script is as to the point as it needs to be. I can’t stand when stuff that was not in H.P.’s original works becomes the focal point of the film, and the real story is lost in the story mud. Branney, thankfully, avoids this common misstep, and the film is better for it in the end.

Ambitious in its own right, The Call of Cthulhu is indeed a step forward for the world of H. P. Lovecraft cinema. It is one of a handful of new films made by fans of the late great authors work, who not only see the prospect in the mines, but are able to understand the rock they are hidden within. The Call of Cthulhu is a very celebrated work, held holy by a lot of people who live, breathe, eat, and sleep Lovecraft.

Let me be the first to let them know their dreams are safe in this soundless realm.

4 out of 5

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