Column: Cthulhu Eats the Movies: The Yellow Sign

By Brian M. Sammons

yellow_signThe Yellow Sign. Director: Aaron Vanek. Cast: Shawna Waldron, Dale Snowberger, David Reynolds.

Today, we’re going to take a slight detour away from Lovecraft country, but rest assured, we won’t stray too far off the Cthulhu path. We’re going to talk about a movie based off the most famous book of one Robert W. Chambers: The King in Yellow and the short story found therein, “The Yellow Sign”. How does this relate to Lovecraft? Well, HPL was a big fan of Mr. Chambers’ work. Not enough for you? Then there’s the masked, yellow-robed, pipe-playing thing in Lovecraft’s The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, which many suggest is HPL’s tribute to Chambers’ yellow king (although, as far as I know, this can’t be confirmed or denied). Still want more? Well, besides both HPL’s Cthulhu Mythos and Chambers’ yellow king tales dealing with cosmic horror and dread, the two mythologies have been forever linked in the minds of many people, thanks to Hastur, the Yellow Sign, and the King in Yellow being incorporated into the Call of Cthulhu role playing game. Okay, do you still need more connections? Well, the writer of this film is John Tynes, a man very familiar with fans of the Cthulhu game, as he founded the justifiably-lauded small press house, Pagan Publishing, that became famous for producing top-quality books for the Call of Cthulhu game. The director is Aaron Vanek, and if that name sounds familiar to you, then you might be a true cinecephalophile, or you just remember my previous Cthulhu Eats the Movies article on the short film, Return to Innsmouth, as he directed that one, as well. These two combined their considerable talents to produce this mini-movie. So, without further ado, let’s stare at this Yellow Sign together and see if we don’t both go a little crazy.

The movie aptly has art in its soul, as it’s about a young woman named ‘Tess’, who owns a gallery, and the weird dreams she’s been having. In those nighttime musings, she sees a notoriously reclusive and odd painter of some note and an alien, alabaster city. Upon waking, she goes to find the artist to ask him to showcase his bizarre works in her struggling gallery. He agrees to do so, but only if the young woman poses for a new painting he’s working on. She also agrees to the deal and in doing so, she learns that she and the strange artists have more in common than she could have ever possibly imagined.

This short film is more of a riff on the works of Robert W. Chambers than a direct adaptation of his tale of the same name, but it is effective in translating Chambers unique vision of dread onto the screen. The acting is well-done for a cast of relative unknowns and Mr. Vanek’s directorial skills continue to improve with each new film I see by him. True, the story is pretty straightforward and there’s not much to it, but there is enough to last the 45-minute run time of this film. There are also heaps of effectively-used, creepy style to make shudder-lovers smile. In short, this is a film that should make both general fear fans and HPL-ophiles happy.

Unlike the last film by Aaron Vanek that I discussed, Return to Innsmouth, this one is a lot easier to acquire and view, as it has been collected with three other shorts on a DVD called The Weird Tale Collection Volume 1: The Yellow Sign and Others by Lurker Films. In addition to the Vanek film there are two very short movies on this disc. Tupilak is a highly effective French film about an angry Inuit spirit, while The King in Yellow is a short piece of Italian cinema that is long on visual style, if a bit short on actual story. To round things off, the DVD also has an informative, but rather dry, documentary on Robert W. Chambers and his time in France called, appropriately enough, ‘Chambers in Paris‘.

Final Verdict: Okay, so, it’s not really Lovecraftian, but it’s certainly Chambersian (yay for making up new words) and faithfully captures the mood and feel of King in Yellow mythos. If you’re a fan of Chamber’s work, then you’ll really dig this flick. If you’re not familiar with his weird, wonderful stories, then this movie is a good place to start.

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Brian Sammons is an author and critic of dark things and an all around trouble maker. Sadly you can’t follow him on Twitter because he abhors Twitter.