Saturday, October 8, 2011

The 2011 Portland H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival Wrap-Up, Part Two


The second day of the H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival started the same way - a gathering at Magnolia's beforehand (this time for a scheduled reading with author Jenna M. Pitman that I missed out on as I ended up writing a bit myself while waiting outside the Hollywood - hey, when the muse calls, one must answer!), a long line forming in front of the Hollywood and another sold out night.

The Shorts Block began with a repeat showing of Edgar Allen Poe's "The Raven" before a recorded message from Roger Corman as he was presented with this year's Howie Award for his contribution to Lovecraft cinema. He told an abbreviated story of the events that led to his 1963 film The Haunted Palace being promoted as an Edgar Allen Poe film upon its initial release even though it's clearly derived from the original Lovecraft story "The Cast of Charles Dexter Ward." (A lot of this was also covered in the special feature A Change of Poe from the DVD release of The Haunted Palace.) The short films included:

The Window Into Time (dir. Thomas Nicol) - This was one of my personal favorites of the festival. William Kephart plays Dr. Schenker, a scientist working with an old classmate . . . in a lab . . . studying old formulas and old books . . . with conequences involving an encounter with things from another world. This is a period piece, set sometime within the past forty-or-so years (in the days of reel-to-reel personal tape recording), and handles this period setting gracefully. It's not over-the-top in design or performance. It easily could have been a film that's been locked away somewhere for the past forty years and just recently dusted off for the festival.

Haselwurm (dir. Eugenio Vallani) - This was interesting, had some good-looking monster effects, but ultimately I think will suffer with most American audiences. It's steeped deep with a "rural legend" story of Italy by way of Lovecraft, and while I don't have a problem with foreign films, I feel Haselwurm short 16-minute running time didn't give us enough time to bridge the culture gap.

Black Goat (dir. Joseph Nanni) - This short was slick, it looked good, it "felt" good . . . but it was a little empty. The HPLFF program included a synopsis for each of the shorts, and the blurb about Black Goat gave us more story than the film itself did. What ended up on screen felt like the opening of a longer film I'd LOVE to watch, but it ended just as it was getting good! The film's website - http://blackgoat.ca - tells us there's a feature on the way, and if it's as engaging as this taste was, it should be good! (I just wish there was something in this short proper to indicate that it actually was just a teaser!)

The Island (dir. Nathan Fisher) - Less Lovecraftian and more post-apocalyptic, The Island tells the story of a man who's managed to find a bomb shelter while the rest of the world struggles to survive in a world overrun by . . . something. It's never quite explained, and that's okay, because that's not what the story's about. The story is about how this man reacts when a woman comes banging on his door for help . . . and how she reacts when he doesn't turn out to be the hero she was expecting . . . and then how he deals with that!

Static Aeons (dir. Gib Patterson) - There didn't seem to be a lot of animation this year. There were the stop-motion pieces, Call of Nature and this one. With most animation, it's possible to put anything on screen ; there aren't any real-world budgetary restrictions. What's interesting here is that Patterson didn't let this "anything goes" approach creep into Static Aeons. The short is a series of images depicting an empty earth after the worst of Lovecraft's bestiary has had its way with humanity while a single narrator provides an epitaph for all mankind. It's a restrained bit of storytelling that left the audience with a sense of dread.

Shadow of the Unnamable (dir. Sascha Renninger) - I remember seeing a trailer for this years ago. It's a rather straight-forward telling of "The Unnamable" whose strength lies in the performance of Robert Lyons as Carter. As it's fairly accepted that Randolph Carter was Lovecraft's surrogate, Lyons brings a sense of odd to his portrayal that made this short enjoyable.

The Shorts Block ended with a recorded announcement from Guillermo Del Toro who chose Static Aeons and Edgar Allen Poe's "The Raven" as his favorites. After one final stroll by the vendors' tables, it was time for the final feature of the night.

"The Colour out of Space" is my favorite Lovecraft story (for now - ask me again in a month or so from now and I might have shuffled something else into the top spot!). It's creepy, it's evocative, it's distrubing, it's just GOOD . . . which, of course, means Hollywood can't get it right when it comes to trying to adapt the story as a film. (Not that Hollywood's had a stellar record when it comes to bringing Lovecraft to the screen, but that's besides the point!)

(I actually have a soft spot for Die, Monster, Die!, but I will be the first to loudly criticize it for botching the source material! The less said about The Curse, the better . . . )

Die Farbe (dir. Haun Vu) pulled it off. This German production follows American Jonathan Davis (Ingo Heise) as he searched for his missing father in the forests of Germany. His father served in World War II, and Davis' search has brought him to a small village where his father encountered . . . Lovecraftian.

The execution is smart and subtle. The choice to present the film in black-and-white was an inspired one. I overheard Festival Director Brian Callahan telling the director (who was at the festival for a question-and-answer session after the film) that Die Farbe wasn't just "good for an independent film," but that it was "good for any kind of film." I have to agree, and I immediately bought the movie from the H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society's table after the film.

The festival ended with another after-party at Tony Starlight's (and more of that "Midnight Special: The Legendary Performances" DVD in the background). Old friends ate and drank, and congratulated Brian and Gwen on a job well-done running the festival.

Sure, it's different. There's a different vibe, and I missed having more features, any panels and more vendors (I start saving around mid-summer because I know I'm always going to find something at the festival that needs to come home with me!), but it's still the H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival, and it was still a lot of fun. The Callahans have a passion for the festival, and it's in good hands.

I'm looking forward to the next go-'round. The Daily Lurker - the festival's newspaper-like program - announced that the next HPLFF will take place in May ("when the stars will be right . . . again!").

I know I'll be there.

2 comments:

quatermass said...

Sounds very cool. I wish I could attend something like that.

Sascha Renninger said...

Hello Derek!

Thank you for mentioning the good perforamnce of Robert Lyons in our film "shadow of the unnamable".

Can we post your quote on the film´s website? With a link to your blog?

Cheers

Sascha Renninger
director & producer