Appellate Judge Rob Lineberger just got a little bit freaked out.
"Is that my image on your shirt?"
If you are a fan of H.P. Lovecraft, stop reading this review, click that yellow button up there to buy this from Amazon, watch it as soon as it arrives, and then thank me later for shutting up now. Seriously. I'd hate to spoil even the smallest aspect of this precious DVD for any Lovecraft fan who hasn't seen Out of Mind or The Music of Erich Zann.
If you're neutral on the Lovecraft thing, as I was, The H.P. Lovecraft Collection Volume 3: Out of Mind is probably the perfect visual introduction to his work. Don't let that "Volume 3" scare you off. It means nothing in this case; implies no sequentiality. It just so happens that Volume Three contains the best film translation of an author that is inherently untranslatable to film.
Facts of the Case
H.P. Lovecraft (Christopher Heyerdahl, Catwoman) muses on man's relationship to ancient, unknowable beings. His dark ruminations swirl around the edges of a story of a modern-day man who inherits a grungy book from an uncle he never knew. When he utters some of the strange words in the book, Randolph (Art Kitching) begins to have strange dreams and waking hallucinations of dead people and fantastic beasts. Could the book be the long-lost Necronomicon, the book of Evil? Are his visions real? Randolph will take a long, strange trip before it is all over.
[Trailer Guy voice]Christopher Heyerdahl is H.P. Lovecraft in this dark fantasy of twisted supernatural themes.[ End Trailer Guy voice] Sorry, I just got caught up in the moment there. You will too. No one knows what H.P. sounded like or how he moved. But once you've seen Heyerdahl's take, you'll be ready to crown this the definitive portrayal of Lovecraft on film. He is so absorbed into the character that he could be channeling Lovecraft.
This is no small feat, and Heyerdahl makes the film (technically, a TV movie) a must see for any Lovecraft fan. He brings H.P.'s words to life—literally; at one point he stands solemnly in the woods and sounds out the uncomfortable word "Cthulhu." By excerpting Lovecraft's equally prodigious and famous volume of letters, the script does a great job of selling the man and not just his work.
His work is represented obliquely in a modern tale of horror steeped firmly in Lovecraft's universe. Flashbacks (or concurrencies, perhaps?) to Randolph's uncle help anchor the disturbing events to an even more disturbing past. This is not a direct tale from Lovecraft, but rather a masterful homage to his written universe. It is hard to describe without removing the mystery of the tale itself. Suffice to say it is effective.
Christopher Heyerdahl is not the only effective actor on display. Peter Farbridge (Dancing on the Moon) and to a lesser extent Art Kitching capably carry the "story" part of the story. Farbridge is intense and darkly charismatic while Kitching is believably noncommittal towards his freakish inheritance.
Raymond Saint-Jean deserves a lot of credit for his roundabout, almost documentary take on the Lovecraftian world. Indeed, he was nominated for a Gemini award for his work on Out of Mind, so that's something. The general consensus is that Lovecraft doesn't translate well to film. But in Saint-Jean's hands, and with actors like Heyerdahl in the cast, it might yet be possible.
Two commentary tracks grace the movie. The one with Saint-Jean, Heyerdahl, and cinematographer Serge Ladouceur is livelier, but both reveal hearts of true H.P. fans. There is dead space in each track, and I didn't really get all of the in jokes. But the camaraderie and obvious enthusiasm in the tracks is infectious.
But wait, there's more. A fantastic short film, The Music of Erich Zann, anchors the extras. The music is unearthly and fell. It perks you up and threatens to dash you on the rocks. The cinematography keeps pace, creating a cloistered, pregnant feel. A purer take on horror than Out of Mind, The Music of Erich Zann evokes the deadly ballroom dance scene from The Devil and Daniel Webster. A highly entertaining commentary/interview featurette shows us the paradoxically jaded and enthusiastic crew.
Two less polished shorts with commentary round out the content, while sometimes hilarious teasers and trailers round out the features. Finally, a rich interview with scholar S.T. Joshi gives a historical perspective on Lovecraft. All told, this is an extremely impressive array of supplementary material, making it a true collection rather than a flick with some extra stuff.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The sound effects in Out of Mind are phenomenal for a small budget TV mockumentary on a niche author. Raymond Saint-Jean pours considerable time and thought into getting the sounds of Lovecraft right. Ancient, unspeakable creatures don't just breathe; they huff, wheeze, and chortle. Tentacles don't slide across the floor, they slither wetly and thickly.
Too bad, then, that this illusion is ruined by a contraption of gaudy rubber and hair with red lightbulbs for eyes. You can shoot it in blurry slo-mo all you want, we still know we're looking at a pile of blinking latex.
While we're on the subject, Out of Mind doesn't look as good as it sounds because the DVD is non-anamorphic. This kills the detail level, introduces some twitter, and generally gives this DVD bad visual karma. Perhaps an anamorphic transfer is out of budget for a niche work like this, but it must be considered.
I wasn't expecting much from a small studio pushing the third volume of a hodgepodge of paraphernalia related to a singularly odd author. I couldn't have been more wrong. I'm not even a Lovecraft fan and I have the urge to go read everything I can find by the man (an urge curbed only by the loquacious somnolence hinted at in some of the prose.) This DVD is a rare treat, rarer still if you are a fan. It's what DVD is all about.
Not guilty; now put those tentacles away!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Lurker Films
• Short films The Music of Erich Zann, The Outsider, and My Necronomicon
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