Last week, a couple of friends and myself watched a DVD made by The H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society: an interpretation of one of Lovecraft’s ‘Cthulhu Mythos’ stories, The Call of Cthulhu.

The HPLHS* is basically a group of dedicated fans, who have, through an effort of sheer will and hard work (and not a little inspiration) done something which mainstream cinema has comprehensively failed to do – they have brought the peculiar storycraft and ambience of Lovecraft successfully to the screen.†

I have to say that I wasn’t expecting too much. I didn’t even know they were doing a film, and, well, let’s be honest – films that come out of fandom are rarely things you want to watch, let alone tell anyone you watched. But the fact is, these guys really pulled it off. And the main reason they pulled it off should be highly instructive for a lot of the people who make up the lumbering bloated juggernaut that is Hollywood.

That reason can be summed up in one succinct thought: they were clever. Instead of even attempting to compete with the high gloss, surround sound and expensive visual effects of mainstream movies, the HPLHS have elected to depict Lovecraft’s tale in the manner of the time in which it is set. The Call of Cthulhu is made as a silent movie.

It is a stroke of genius, and this simple, deft piece of insight has at once liberated the film-makers and illuminated the very essence of Lovecraft’s odd and unsettling writing.

It is easy to draw a direct line from The Call of Cthulhu to films such as Murnau’s Nosferatu, Wegener’s Vampyr and even Tod Browning’s Dracula, which is of course not a silent, but draws heavily from that tradition. The HPLHS film-makers have avoided the major pitfall of re-creating a silent film by taking the whole process very seriously and not camping it up (quite unlike the poorly executed Nicolas Cage-produced John Malkovitch vehicle Shadow of the Vampire ‡).

I don’t really want to make this post a review of the film. There are plenty of reviews already on the HPLHS site and elsewhere. I did like it, and if you are a Lovecraft aficionado I really recommend you buy the DVD, because it will be a valuable part of your collection.

What I really want to talk about though is why this inexpensive amateur film succeeds so well where mega-dollar Hollywood blockbusters fail. And that deserves a Part 2.

*Warning: highly geeky, obsessive and possibly sanity-sucking site.

†There will undoubtedly be those who would ask “Why would anyone want to do that?” but we shall accept that they will inevitably be the first of the Shoggoth fodder when the crunch comes.

‡ Which failed to realize that when Murnau created Nosferatu it was one of the scariest things to hit the Silver Screen; Murnau was not directing his actors in some kind of camp romp, as the SOV writer and director obviously saw it.