Appellate Judge Rob Lineberger rates the job of being Pickman's model somewhere between "Star Trek ensign" and "James Bond's lovable sidekick."
Harrghhhh…uummmmph…grrurgle…SNORT! [A woman screams]
While driving down the highway the other day, I spied a novel twist on the Fish Decal Wars. You're probably familiar with the original fish emblem that proclaims the driver's Christian faith. Clever evolutionists introduced the Darwin fish with little amphibious feet. If you're in the Bible Belt, you might have even seen the big Christian fish next to a little school of baby Christian fish (these are typically found on large mini vans with a couple of car seats and various soccer mom accouterments). But the Cthulhu-Fish emblem affixed to a beat-up Datsun really stood out and made me laugh. When I went to the web to order one for my sister, I was surprised to learn that it is distributed by none other than Lurker Films.
I shouldn't have been; that's the kind of guys they are. The H.P. Lovecraft Collection DVDs (of which this is Volume Four) are collections of short films made by fans, for fans, and distributed by fans to other fans. H.P. Lovecraft is not exactly mainstream, nor is the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival. But fans of H.P. Lovecraft appreciate the festival and the short films shown there. Generally, if you are the kind of person who gets Lovecraft and gets what is so cool about the barrage of fan-created shorts based on his work, you're the target audience for Lurker's H.P. Lovecraft Collection DVDs.
In contrast to The H.P. Lovecraft Collection: Out Of Mind (Volume 3), Pickman's Model (Volume 4) is a hard sell for those outside Lovecraft's cult of personality. Out Of Mind was a nice bridge between the insiders and outsiders because it dealt primarily with H.P. Lovecraft himself. Christopher Heyerdahl actually portrayed Lovecraft in a story that referenced his key themes (and in-jokes) in an approachable way. The extras and other short films were either about him or stand alone features. The volume was a nice intro that also had a lot of meat for hardcore fans.
Pickman's Model is primarily concerned with the story of the same name. Like Volume Three, this one has two features that could easily have been the feature: Ricardo Harrington's Chilean Gothic and Giovanni Furore's Italian version of Pickman's Model. When you throw in an early '80s effort by Texan Cathy Welch, Volume Three could be considered an international summit on "Pickman's Model."
The main feature is interesting because it is set in modern-day Chile instead of old New England. In fact, none of the spins feature the brooding mists and harsh winds of the New England coastline. This goes to prove that the story is not rooted in trappings, but in a horrific confluence of supernatural monsters, a disturbed artist who sees them, and a key outsider granted a peek into the twisted horror of the artist's work. In Chilean Gothic the outsider is an investigative journalist named Gabriel Martìnez (Rodrigo Sepùlveda). By putting a gritty, modern, CSI-like veneer on the story, Harrington shows that the tale can transcend years and locales. Though admirable, Harrington's efforts to update the trappings muddy the waters somewhat and remove us from the central horror of the tale. It becomes a standard "investigator vs supernatural" plot instead of focusing on warped artwork that chills people to their cores.
In some ways, Furore's Pickman's Model is more pure. He relies on giallo conventions in his shot composition which subtly reinforces the unspoken horror lurking just offscreen. Giallo and Lovecraft are natural cohorts and the effect works well. Furore's effort suffers from too much walking—across hallways, down stairs, up stairs, through tunnels. On the plus side, Furore works in some impressive special effect montages of the outsider's reactions to Pickman's art. Between the unsettling camera work and these gruesome "psychic imprint" montages, you really get the horrified feeling that is evoked by Pickman's art.
Welch's effort is notable mostly for being an early adaptation, a pioneer of the "fan flick" movement to bring Lovecraft to the screen. Stiff acting and lots of ham mar the film's earnest attempt at psychological horror, though formal camera work helps create a jarring, off-kilter sensibility.
None of the three has stellar video quality, though the first two have plenty of artistic shots. Chilean Gothic is overly dark and overuses strong blue light, while digital stairsteps are evident in Pickman's Model. Nevertheless, both are shot competently enough to allow the stories to take precedence. Chilean Gothic has a stream of unsettling two-shots while Pickman's Model benefits from dank Italian architecture and fires in the background. There are also subtitle flubs in each movie that took me out of the narrative. Again, slight subtitle weirdness does not detract from the main story.
The two remaining short films couldn't differ more. Geoffrey Clark's animated version of "In the Vault" is a 3D, animated exercise in weird object theory, while Djie Han Thung's Between the Stars is a disturbing, non-linear black-and-white film with an intense introspective focus. Neither film is a "feature" like the main shorts in the set, though Between the Stars is a fitting fever dream that works with the set and "In the Vault" shows how any media can be made Lovecraftian. As with previous volumes, Volume Four contains a pair of academic, affirming interviews that will please Lovecraft fans. This set also has extensive liner notes with several essays and personal ruminations on Lovecraft.
As a non-believer, The H.P. Lovecraft Collection: Pickman's Model was not as easy for me to absorb. I became fatigued by three takes on the same story…did they all buy sound effects from Lovecraft's Botique of Grunts and Gurgles? And let's be honest, that story is not a cornerstone of the Lovecraft mythos. At least the general mood of this Volume reinforced the initial impression I picked up from Volume Three, which bodes well for fans of the author. It seems that the well has not run dry, and Lurker Films is still bringing these fan films to the general DVD public.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Lurker Films
• Liner notes
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