Judge Gordon Sullivan worships his own tentacled interdimensional beast.
Many authors are nothing like their books, but there are those select writers who look like they've just stepped out of one of their books. With the puckish gleam in his eye and unruly hair, Neil Gaiman looks like he just stepped out of a fairy realm, while it's easy to imagine Stephen King as one of the characters in Castle Rock sitting on a porch telling stories. Howard Philips Lovecraft fits on the list as well. As one of the primary forefathers of the horror story, Lovecraft's biography is filled with madness, scholarly hermitage, and financial ruin. Despite his increasing importance to scholars and fans of horror stories, Lovecraft has had a wildly uneven run in the land of movies. Although fan-favorites like Re-Animator succeeded in being fun movies, most didn't capture the gothic-tinged world of most of Lovecraft's stories. Those films (like Dagon) that captured more of Lovecraft's atmosphere missed the boat on compelling plots or characters. The Last Lovecraft: The Rise of Cthulhu sidesteps these problems by borrowing big heaping dollops of Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos and transplanting it into a modern horror/comedy. The film shows some obvious love for Lovecraft and the genre, but its uneven pace won't be for everyone.
Facts of the Case
Millennia ago a war erupted between a pair of alien races on the face of the earth. On one side was the Cthulhu, and on the other was the Old Ones. When the cataclysmic event that wiped out the dinosaurs arrived, the war was surpressed as both side retreated to the bowels of the earth (or under the sea in the case of Cthulhu). Using telepathy, Cthulhu's minions influenced early man, indoctrinating people into the cult of Cthulhu, whose goal is to reunite an ancient artifact that will act as the key to unlock Cthulhu from his watery prison. A group of men have been fighting against Cthulhu's minions, protecting a piece of the artifact so that the cult can't free their ancient master. But, in the present day, the artifact is almost reunited, with only a single piece missing. The counsel knows that only a descendant of H.P. Lovecraft can protect the artifact from the cult. Enter Jeff Phillips (Kyle Davis, Friday the 13th), a geeky young man with dreams of living a life outside his cubicle. With his best friends in tow (one of whom just happens to be an expert in Lovecraft's fiction, Jeff seeks Captain Olaf, who might know the secrets to stopping Cthulhu's minions from getting the artifact and freeing their master.
The first thirty minutes or so of The Last Lovecraft are near-perfect. We're introduced to Jeff and his friends, we get some fun killings, and a comic-book style montage does a deft job of giving the Cliff's Notes version of the Cthulhu legend. The film feels in the vein of something like Shaun of the Dead, showing obvious love for the genre while being humorous without sacrificing the gravity of the problem facing humanity. If all 79 minutes of The Last Lovecraft were as good as the first 30, it would be an instant classic with an unhesitating recommendation. Sadly, that's the not the case.
Second act problems are notorious in the writing world. Introducing characters is relatively easy, and wrapping things up can be fun and satisfying. Those bits in the middle are tough because the stakes have to be continually raised until the third act resolution. Like many an indie horror film, The Last Lovecraft doesn't quite know what to do in the middle. The trio go on a quest to find a sea captain (living, of course, in the desert in fear of Cthulhu's minions) while being beset by the bad guys. Because the film doesn't have the budget to go for crazy action set pieces the middle 30 minutes of the film really sag before the final battle and short epilogue.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The Last Lovecraft isn't a bad film at all, even if I stress the second-act failings. It's aimed squarely at the knowledgeable horror geek and in that demographic is sure to be a crowd pleaser (even if it isn't the classic it could be). Fans of Lovecraft's fiction will enjoy the constant in-jokes, and there are some definite nods to other horror films. More importantly, there's a love of the genre coming off of every frame in the film, and that makes it hard to hate the film even with its obvious shortcomings.
Despite the low budget, I have to give The Last Lovecraft props for effects. Certainly some of the more obvious digital effects look crappy (as they do in almost every horror context), but the makeup effects are top notch. Many of Cthulu's minions are half-human/fish hybrids, and they look sweet, while the more monstrous of his followers are full on creatures with sweet effects. There are enough moments of gore to keep genre fans satisfied, and even the animated comic-book sections look a cut above most attempts at those kinds of transitions.
The DVD itself is pretty solid too. The 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer looks pretty sweet. The picture is generally clear and bright, and even in darker scenes I didn't notice any particular problems with compression or artifacting. The audio is similarly strong, with a nice booming score and dialogue that is well balanced and clear. The main extra is a commentary featuring the writer (Devin McGinn), the director (Henry Saine), and the actor playing Jeff (Kyle Davis). They obviously get along and dish a lot about where the project started, how the film was produced, and what they were trying to achieve with the Cthulhu mythos. It gets a little quiet towards the end, but it's worth a listen after the feature. There's also an extended version of an early scene from the film, some tests from the animated foot with commentary, and a behind the scenes still gallery. Finally, the disc includes the film's trailer.
The Last Lovecraft: The Relic of Cthulhu throws enough bones to hard-core horror geeks in both references and gore, even if it sags a bit in the middle. It's certainly worth a rental to any fan of Lovecraft or horror comedies, but mileage may vary with other viewers.
We may need to keep the relic of Cthulhu hidden, but The Last Lovecraft is not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Dark Sky Films
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