Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Movie Review: Cthulu

This week, the Rose City is playing hostess to the annual HP Lovecraft Film Festival. HP Lovecraft was a pulp writer from the early 20th century who invented an eerie cosmic mythos, commonly known as the Cthulu Mythos. Lovecraft related this mythos via various short stories and novels. Succinctly put, the Cthulu mythos consists of a pantheon of insane, evil godlike creatures (chief among them, a squid-like being named Cthulu) that have been exiled to Earth, where secret cults arise to worship them. The protagonists of Lovecraft tales typically stumble onto these cults and, in the process of discovering the reality behind them, go insane. (It ain't Winnie the Pooh, people.)

Anyway, last weekend, my friend Dave Hauth and I went to view one of the festival's featured films: a film directed by Dan Gildark entitled Cthulu.

After viewing the film, Dave pointed out that the story is actually a conglomeration of two different Lovecraft stories: "The Festival" and "The Shadow over Innsmouth." It is the story of a Seattle history professor, Russell Marsh (played by Jason Cottle), who must return to his home in Rivermouth, Oregon (a fictional township) to oversee the sale and distribution of his recently-deceased mother's estate.

Upon arrival, Russell makes some unsettling discoveries around a strange religious cult that is headed by his father, the Reverend Marsh (Dennis Kleinsmith). His inquiries around town draw the attention of various twisted personages including his insane aunt, a mad and raving fisherman, a blind and near-catatonic boy, and Susan (Tori Spelling), a woman determined to conceive a child with him, even though Russell is homosexual. Unwelcome and unsettling memories of his childhood blend with eerie events in the present as Russell is drawn ever deeper into a web of insanity and horror. The story culminates in Russell discovering the secret of his own life and childhood and facing a terrible and momentous decision.

Well, this was definitely a low budget, B-movie. The acting was, in places, embarrassingly bad. The story had a lot of holes in it, and left a lot unexplained. The sound quality was generally poor. The film's greatest flaw is its lack of editing. Some of the sequences simply make no sense in terms of the story.

Having said that, I enjoyed the film. Tori Spelling's performance was quite good; and considering the burden placed on him, Jason Cottle did a respectable job. Gildark and crew obviously put a lot of love into their picture. Clever camera work and lighting kept the suspense and horror constant; the mood never lapsed. And writer Grant Cogswell deftly inserted larger world events (global warming, terrorism) into the story to give it a modern day relevance.

I imagine most Oregonians will enjoy recognizing landscapes and waterfronts from Astoria, Pacific City, and various stretches of beach all along our spectacular coastline. I know I did. But perhaps the singlemost important accolade I can give the film is that I'm still thinking it over, three days later.

I give this film a qualified recommendation.

Is he out there?

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