Column: Cthulhu Eats the Movies: The Call of Cthulhu (2005)

By Brian M. Sammons

call_cthulhuThe Call of Cthulhu. (2005) Director: Andrew Leman. Cast: John Bolen, Ralph Lucas, David Mersault, Patrick O’Day.

Yes, dear friends, you read the title right: today, we’re talking about a movie adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s best-known story, The Call of Cthulhu. Now, if you’re a serious Cthulhu cultist, then you already know about this movie, but since it was a very independent film that had a smallish DVD run, it might have slipped under your radar. But no worries, that’s why I’m here.

From start to finish, this film was a labour of love from the rabid Cthulhu-heads over at the H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society. Who is the HPLHS? Well, they are uber-Lovecraft fans that started off LARP-ing (that’s Live Action Role Playing), a variant of the venerable Call of Cthulhu pen-and-paper role playing game. They first gained some fame for their truly amazing and authentic-looking 1920s and ’30s-era replicas and props that they would use in their games. From simple things like a 1925 postcard from Cairo and Miskatonic University library cards, to Mi-Go brain cases, eldritch idols, and fully-detailed “Big Books of Abominable Evil”™ such as the De Vermiis Mysteriis, the Cthaat Aquadingen, and of course, the Necronomicon.

Not content to make cool things to put over your fireplace to freak your friends out, the HPLHS started making music for the Mythos they loved so much. Not to mention, T-shirts, posters, underwear (yes, really), and even a musical called A Shoggoth on the Roof. So, with all that under their belt, it was only a matter of time before these plucky pagans made a feature film. True to their can-do attitude, they didn’t just choose any old Lovecraft story to make a movie out of. No, they went right for the gold and did Call of Cthulhu, an epic, globe-spanning adventure with lots of characters and a huge alien monster at the end. Yeah, that sounds like just the thing a bunch of fans with almost zero budget could pull off. So, I give these filmmakers high marks for being gutsy, but the question must be asked: is the movie any good?

The answer is a surprising ‘yes’. Now, this film is not without a few missteps, but even those have a naive charm to them. Besides, good intentions go a long way with me. When this movie makes a booboo, it is because of limitations of a sort, such as budget, the talent of a brand-new actor, or effects that do leave a little something to be desired. When a Hollywood movie makes a booboo, I usually get the feeling it’s because they just didn’t give a damn enough about the material or the audience/fans to fix it. To the suits in Tinsel Town, movies have become a product, nothing more. They’re something to be mass-produced and sold for as much as they can get away with. See the recent price hike in 3D movie ticket sales for a glaring example. The people who made this movie did it because they are true fans. That world of difference in motivation will always garner good will from me.

That being said, the above paragraph should not be taken as any sort of excuse about or for this movie. The Call of Cthulhu is a well-made, fun film that I enjoyed thoroughly. This was more of an off-topic rambling rant on why I think the vast majority of Hollywood movies so completely suck these days. As such, it really has nothing to do with this movie, so I apologize for the interruption. Let’s move on.

Oh, by the way, I am NOT going to tell you what this movie is about. Come on, you’re reading this in an article called “Cthulhu Eats the Movies” on a website named The Innsmouth Free Press. I’m going to take a leap of faith and assume that you’ve read the story this movie is based on. If for some reason you haven’t then you just shouldn’t be here. No really, go away, read “The Call of Cthulhu”, hell, read any and all Lovecraft that you can get your mitts on, and then come back.

I will tell you about some specifics of this movie. Perhaps the biggest shock is not only is this film shot in black-and-white, but it is also a silent movie. Yes, you read that right: a silent film that was made in 2005. So, how does that turn out? Very well, actually. The B&W images, combined with digitally-added film grain, scratches and other blemishes, add to the illusion that this was a classic film made in the same era that the story is set in. It also helps hide the fact that this movie was shot on digital media as opposed to actual film stock. Since most shot-on-digital movies look like hell, this was a nice touch. The fact that it is a silent movie adds to the deception that it’s an old-timey flicker picture. Being silent also might have hidden some rookie actors delivering the occasional awful line read. All no-budget movies should take note of this. Then there’s the accompanying music, which I liked a lot. It always sounds period-perfect and compliments the images appearing on the screen well.

The last thing that I must talk about is Big Daddy Cthulhu. Yes, he makes an appearance here – this is his movie, after all – and how you react to him will depend on two words: King Kong. If you are expecting a realistic-looking big monster like we got in the new King Kong remake (also made in 2005) from Peter Jackson, then yes, you may be disappointed here. However, if you are a fan of the original (1933) Kong, or if you love the Ray Harryhausen stop-motion masterpieces like the Sinbad films and the original Clash of the Titans, then you’ll get a kick out of watching an old-school, stop-motion, animated Cthulhu squishing sailors. I am so thankful that I fall into that latter category, because seeing Mighty Cthulhu run amok at the end of this film certainly put a smile on my face.

In closing, this is a great little gem of a movie. It is perhaps the most faithfully-adapted movie from a Lovecraft story ever. If you’ve already seen this film, then you know this, but if you have yet to catch this flick and you are any sort of HPL fan at all, you simply must do so at once.

Verdict: this movie is so Lovecraftian, it’s scary. While it doesn’t hit all of HPL’s classic themes, it is a highly-faithful adaption of his signature story. This is mandatory viewing for all Cthulhu-heads.

Find The Call of Cthulhu at Amazon.com