Tag Archives: H. P. Lovecraft

Old Movie Review: Cool Air (2006) (H. P. Lovecraft)

Cool Air is a film based on the short story of the same name written by H.P. Lovecraft. I have never read the short story so I can’t say for sure what liberties were taken with the script; although it seems likely that it did take a number, if for no other reason than that the film is set in modern times.

 

The film tells the story of Charlie Baxter, a struggling screenwriter, who takes up residence in an apartment in a large townhouse near Malibu. From the outset, it is apparent that he is surrounded by strange characters. The quirky landlady and her autistic daughter run the house; the man across the hall from him is strangely reticent as a matter of course; and the mysterious doctor living upstairs remains sequestered in her room pretty much all the time. The combined cast give a strangely compelling aura of mystery to the setting. Struggling from writer’s block, Charlie seeks inspiration from the strangeness of his own surroundings. He begins a tale in which a “mad doctor” plays a prominent role. Then, he suffers a heart attack and, crawling upstairs, is saved by the doctor’s timely intervention. When he comes to, however, he must grapple with the unwitting truth of the mad doctor in real life as the inhabitants of the house begin to reveal their secrets one by one.

 

There is a lot of narration in this film. I found that a refreshing change from the usual cinematic experience. This was one-half movie, one-half Lovecraft reading. And the voice it was done in, a low, tired, and worn voice, fit the film perfectly.

 

Strengths: overall the movie was good. The narration, as noted above, added to the mystery and intrigue. There were no logical flaws, and no loose ends. The acting was decent, and the setting … strangely innocuous. It was a great juxtaposition for the macabre events it told. Weaknesses: well, it was a low-budget film, so the special effects were somewhat lacking. They were okay, just not up to the full-blown Hollywood standard. But special effects alone don’t make a movie. This one easily made up for it with a good tale to tell and a number of clever touches. I particularly liked the bit at the end where the movie claimed it was the work of Charlie Baxter and his return to screen writing. Anyway, other than being limited in special effects, I have no other serious complaints regarding the film.

 

Ultimately, I will give four stars out of five to Cool Air.

Short Story Review: Dreams in the Witch House (H.P. Lovecraft)

The short story Dreams in the Witch House by H.P. Lovecraft is a devilishly good horror tale coming in at thirty pages or so. A few months back I reviewed the movie The Dark Sleep based on this very short story. You can read that review here. Having now read the story, I can compare the two, and I can unequivocally state that they are really quite different. The movie is only loosely based on the story; it had about three or four shared elements, and that’s it. Plus, the movie had a reasonably happy ending. Not so Dreams in the Witch House.

 

Anyway, the short story begins with the main character, Walter Gilman, living in a run-down garret in “changeless, legend-haunted city of Arkham …” Gilman is a student at a nearby university, caught up in studying advanced mathematics and quantum physics, as well as folklore. What has brought him to this particular building and the apartment therein, is his knowledge of said folklore. Apparently, the infamous witch (again, this is a witch with a Lovecraftian spin, not a practitioner of modern Wicca), Keziah Mason, of the Salem witch-trial days who escaped from Salem, and fled here to Arkham, along with a strange rat-like familiar that was often seen haunting the house and local area these many years later. The crux of the story is very much the crux of much of Lovecraft’s writing. He operates under the premise that advanced science and mathematics can be used to “rediscover” occult secrets; in this case, the secrets of witchcraft. As a result of his studies, Walter Gilman, while exploring the occult side of mathematics, using it to inadvertently travel across dimensions, is drawn into a confrontation with the ghost of Keziah Mason, and her hideous rat-like familiar, as well, one of Lovecraft’s personal favorites, Nyarlathotep … the crawling chaos. I won’t dwell on the final result; I’ll let the intrepid reader find out for him/herself.

 

Strengths: there was enough depth to keep the reader interested; the writing was typical Lovecraft with a masterful use of mood and surreal atmosphere that gave the tale a very haunting aspect. Weaknesses: I’d say the length: it was too short to be a novella, and too long to really be a short story. I guess it might qualify as a novelette, but I think it should have been expanded more into a novella. He had a lot going that could have enriched the story even more.

 

Anyway, I’ll give H.P. Lovecraft’s Dreams in the Witch House four stars out of five.

Short Story Review: Polaris

I have a whole book of short stories by H.P. Lovecraft. One of the first ones in the book is a short piece entitled “Polaris.” It comes in at only 4 pages or so. But that is all it needs. Polaris is a clever little piece about the mystery of the North Star and dreams (the entire book is a collection of dream related stories, actually).

 

It tells the story of a man living in a house by a swamp who spends a great deal of time watching Polaris. Its position fixed in the sky gives him considerable pause to ruminate and wonder about hidden meanings. To him, it seems as if the star has a message, perhaps to him, but one that has been lost in time. So, he begins to dream. He dreams of an ancient civilization 26,000 years in the past; a civilization called Lomar that flourished at an earlier time at which Polaris held a similar position in the firmament (according to astronomers, the actual position of the North Star does change, but very slowly, as a result of a wobble of the Earth’s axis. This phenomenon is called precession (I think) and it causes the apparent motion of Polaris in the sky. It takes the star approximately 26,000 years to complete one cycle and return to the same position—it’s a clever little scientific insert into the story). After some time he assumes an identity in that civilization of a craven man who possessed incredibly keen eyes. As a result, he is tasked with watching for the advance of a hostile army of creatures called Inutos: “squat, hellish yellow fiends” that have been plaguing the ancient kingdom. Atop the watchtower, the accursed narrator is bewitched by Polaris and falls asleep. Instead of keeping faithful watch, he dreams of a future time in which he is a man grown accustomed to sitting by his window in a house by a swamp to stare at the North Star. He cannot wake from this dream, and no matter how he tries to explain his predicament to those around him, they do not believe him. There is no record of a long lost civilization called Lomar; the only beings to ever dwell in these frozen wastes before are the Esquimaux: “squat, yellow creatures.” (Another name for Eskimos is Inuit, a word deliberately close to Inuto) By the end of the story, the narrator’s descent into madness is all but assured as the division between dream and reality is so obscured. Which story is the dream? And which the truth? Is the narrator a dreaming watchman who has failed his countrymen in the lone task to which he was appointed? Or is he a modern day man who has lost his grip on reality? Or … is he a modern day man who is the reincarnation of a dreaming watchman who failed his countrymen? The story does not answer these questions; it simply asks them and leaves the reader wondering and with a profound distrust of the seemingly mundane North Star.

 

The only weakness in the story that I can think of is the possible accusation of racism against Eskimos. But that seems a trifle unfair and a bit too PC for my tastes. He described the Eskimos and imagined a conflict 26,000 years in the past with an imaginary ancient civilization. In the conflict, the Eskimos are the aggressors and every culture in history has been an aggressor at one point or another. If you seek to be offended by such, you can choose to be so; but for myself, I don’t think imagining conflicts between cultures or even using the terms “squat” or “yellow” to describe someone or a group of people is necessarily racist. I can see how it can be interpreted that way, but I choose not to (then again, I’m not an Eskimo). Putting all that aside, I thought this was a great story.

 

Overall, I’ll give this short story four and a half stars out of five. Most excellent!

Old Movie Review: The Dark Sleep (2012)

“The Dark Sleep” is a short film based on an H.P. Lovecraft story “The Dreams in the Witch House.” I have only read a couple Lovecraft stories and “The Dreams in the Witch House” is not one of them. So I cannot comment on the accuracy of this particular portrayal or even the quality of the original tale. Still, I have always loved the macabre feel and the notions of alien deities that mention of Lovecraft conjures up. I even played the RPG game “The Call of Cthulu” a couple times back in the day, so I went into this movie with reasonably high expectations. Now, on to the review.

 

The main character of the film is Nancy Peterson, played by Ashley Galloway. She is a recently divorced writer who purchases a house from her ex-husband, Pete, for zero dollars. There is but one stipulation: she cannot paint over the bizarre painting found in the basement. However, once she sets up shop in the house, she is soon beset with strange nightmares and encounters with extra-dimensional creatures. Her concentration goes to pot: she can’t write; she can’t sleep; and she grows more irritable with every passing day. Her sister, Kelley, comes to visit and to lend a hand, but soon she is drawn into the surreal web of macabre construction herself. Can Nancy solve the mystery of the house for the sake of her own sanity and her and her sister’s safety? Watch the movie and find out.

 

Strengths: overall, I thought the story held together fairly well. There weren’t any gaping logical flaws (assuming you can accept the premise of extra-dimensional travel through dreams), and most of the acting, although not stellar, was fine. There were some weak parts, though: most notably a brief scene in the very beginning and the climax at the end, both of which featured the ex-husband. Weaknesses: special effects do not make a movie, but they can add to one. And in this case, I think the effects subtracted. It was a low budget movie and it really did show. That said, the scenery and surreal atmosphere of the dream sequences was handled well; it would have been nice if the effects were up to snuff to complement such, but alas, they weren’t. Another weakness was how the house appeared … well, maybe not. But both my friends and I were expecting an old beat up thing from the nineteen-twenties, or something like that, but it looked like a reasonably modern house. And that just did not fit the tone of the movie.

 

Anyway, I’ll give this film three and half out of five stars.