Lovecraft’s Pillow (Short Film)

The painting that inspired the storyReviewed by D.W. Bostaph, Jr.

Starring Shannon Solo, Christine Mangone, Greg Ropp

Directed by Mark Steensland

I’m not a fan of Stephen King. I used to be, but after years of disappointment, weirdness, and unrequited hope I have all but written the man off. I could launch a thousand fan based arguments with my conjecture as to why his work and I have parted ways , but lets just suffice it to say that he and I do not see eye to eye anymore.

So when I hear that there is a short film based on an “idea” by Stephen King, I allow myself to entertain a bit of optimism. King is, if nothing else, a well of ideas. He comes up with some awe inspiring twists and turns on the established story paradigms, but therein lies a bit of my frustration with the man; He gets such great ideas and then has proceeded to present them and their conclusions in some of the most maddening and frustrating manners known to readers. In my humble opinion, he never takes them to the next level. He just lets them coast downhill till they go off the road, hit a tree, and then get signed for a movie deal. See books such as Dreamcatcher and Needful Things for good examples of this.

But if someone else was to take an idea by King and use it for their own devices, not falling into his ever so problematic narrative shortcomings, then we may actually be in for a real terror treat.

But this idea has to do with the works and life of one Howard Phillips Lovecraft.

There are two groups of writers out there: Those who get Lovecraftian overtones and themes (Robert E. Howard, Ramsey Campbell, Brian Lumley), and those who show up for the big game wearing only a tutu (August Derleth). As far as I am concerned, King shows up time and time again with his pirouette in rock steady form. It really is not his fault, but I think he just gets bogged down with his own extemporaneous ideas so much that they just overwhelm the core themes at play in a Lovecraftian story. He has all the trappings set, and the designs should work, but usually he just plies right through all of them, leaving a train wreck of story telling in his midst. Please see Tommyknockers for the penultimate example of this.

Lovecraft’s Pillow owes its existence to a French book about Lovecraft, the preface of which was penned by the American Horror writer of our time, S. King. In the preface King apparently goes to give the readers carte blanche with an idea he has concerning the great weird fiction scribe. King poses a simple idea to the readers: What if, while walking past a pawn shop window, you saw Lovecraft’s Pillow for sale? The ideas contained within this simple equation were so bothersome to King that he passed it off to his readers telling them that they were more than welcome to do with the idea what they wanted to do.

The idea is rich in possibilities, and apparently numerous people have picked up the ball and ran with it. Thus we come full circle to Lovecraft’s Pillow, a short independent film sired in the mind of a lackluster legend contemplating the madness of a oft misused mythos.

Directed by Mark Steensland (read my interview with him here) and written by Steensland and horror scribe Rick Hautala, the story takes a quick glance at King’s idea, and the possible repercussions of such an opportunity. But in its attempt to keep the story terse and sweet, the film misses out on doing justice to the much larger story hidden within the down of the pillow. The premise is cute, and it plays out well, but I watched it repeatedly wanting to know more. Eventually, when I got to talk to Mark Steensland about the film, I was able to get a better grip on what he was trying to convey in the film, as there is a instance that may create a possible Lovecraftian gaffe. If you are up to shoggoth with your mythos lore, this moment presents numerous possibilities, and I would hope the viewer of the film would take the time to either figure out what is at hand or come to their own conclusions.

Steensland’s direction is simple, a method that allows the story to keep the focus on its narrative. Steensland goes for wider shots, and immobile cameras. It looks clean, but there is not a lot of energy. The story quickly builds to the climactic payoff and then a brief coda. There is not a lot of room for flash in this pan, but one does wish we had seen a bit more.

Possibly this is my main problem with Lovecraft’s Pillow, that we just do not get enough. H.P. Lovecraft was a short story writer. He never wrote anything nearly as long as the bloated, waterlogged tree decimating tomes cranked out by Stephen King, so it does make complete sense that the story would be brief. Here I feel like I am not seeing the tip of the iceberg, but a hint at its existence. A blip on the radar and it is gone. I am all for not putting needless fluff into a story, especially those within the Lovecraftian vein, but here I feel it is needed.

Shannon Solo plays the main character in the film, Martin, an aspiring writer who is constantly belittled by an overpowering wife. Solo plays the part in earnest, never falling outside of his quiet shell. In a longer version of the story, we may have been able to get a bit more under his skin. Maybe he could have developed the performance a bit if he had been given the time to do so. The work Solo does is serviceable, but wooden and reactionary against the hyperbole of a wife he is given to sound against.

Christine Mangone is effective as Solo’s wife. She does the grating and nagging well, but, again, there is so little time for development in the film, we never get a feeling for her. Maybe in a longer context we could have come to see why Solo’s character has stayed with her as long as he has. They must have loved each other at some point, as they are married, but here there is nothing to add any level of depth to these characters. They are pawns in play, moving the game along to a predestined finish.

Lovecraft’s work was seriously devoid of characterization. He was infamous for little or no character development, and a lot of times the reasons for a character’s actions would be firmly based in heavy atavistic guilt. Sometimes to the degree where we feel they have little or no free will at all. Pillow does not have to fall under such constraints, and in not doing so it needed a stronger foundation from which to build its characters off of. We needed to see something within the husband’s soul that defined who he was, and why he was still there. There needed to be a layer of love or affection to deepen the harsh reality of his wife. If these simple keys had been in play, I think the actor’s performances would have seemed less wooden, and the story itself would have had more of an impact.

Like the titular item, Lovecraft’s Pillow is a curio designed by a fallen god, forged by mortal hands, and now vying to gain acceptance by a very discerning and caustic cult. Those of us who guard the hallowed halls of Lovecraft are very fastidious about those things that vie for a place within the mythos realms. Lovecraft’s Pillow, with its curious pedigree, should be readily accepted. It presents the question and answer in a matter of fact manner that most will find inoffensive. It’s a great story, but here I have to wonder if the story needed to be more. Possibly King’s own curse follows this production, where a quick peek is not what we need, and it is that long unblinking stare into the abyss that would have yielded true mythic madness.

3 out of 5

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DW Bostaph Jr