Delve Deeper

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

HPLFF Portland wrap...

"There were tears"


2010 marked a transition in the Lovecraft world. After fifteen years, Andrew Migliore, the founder of the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival®, decided to turn his attentions and hours elsewhere, and pulled away from hands-on management of the festival, based in Portland. This year marked the last time Andrew had to worry about everything.

2010 also marks the first H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival® to be held in Los Angeles (read the wrap-up here). Although only a short one-day event, there was enough interest to keep it going. Thus, 2011 will have one official HPLFF, and it will be at the Warner Grand Theater in San Pedro, California. I'm running it, but Andrew is still the Godfather of the HPLFF, and is still helming things strategically (the big picture), while I handle the tactics (the nitty gritty) of this version of the HPLFF. It's a good relationship. Andrew and I have known each other for more than fifteen years, ever since I emailed him asking to see John Strysik's The Music of Erich Zann and sending my own film, The Outsider, to him for inclusion on his Beyond Books mythos movie website. This transaction between Andrew, John, and me led to the first HPLFF in 1996. I see the Los Angeles festival as opening a franchise. It's not a business takeover, merger, or relocation. It's an expansion.

Yet I attended this 2010 Portland festival with some trepidation. I was coming up for the 13th time, after having successfully staged the L.A. fest. Many of the people I saw here also attended Portland: Stuart Gordon, Bryan Moore, John Strysik, SighCo, Sean Branney & Andrew Leman (the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society), David Prior (director of AM 1200) etc.

Prior to arrival, The Lurkers--as the informal moniker of indie Lovecraft filmmakers goes--chipped in to get Andrew M. a thank-you parting gift: a silver-plated bust of Lovecraft mounted with a plaque that reads "In the lobby he will lurk forever" in Latin. We came on stage and presented it to him during the traditional benediction by Robert M. Price. There were tears.

It has been a long and strange trip, and for me, the journey blends into one long party of movies, booze, and friends. There were many memorable moments, some I've already mentioned in my traditional HPLFF recap. Other stories I'll take to my grave. But behind it all were the tireless efforts of one Andrew Migliore. The HPLFF has grown from one feature and two shorts (my take on The Outsider, John's Music of Erich Zann, and the anthology film Necronomicon) to two days and three nights of the latest cinematic excursions to Lovecraft Country, plus a large gathering of authors, artists, creators and sellers of all things Mythos. Andrew, by virtue of persistence, has created a cottage industry. I think he deserves a break.

The programming of this year's festival featured some repeats from past years: The Unnameable I and II, Dagon, etc. With Pan's Labyrinth and the Robert E. Howard biopic Whole Wide World, all of which I have seen and could easily see again, I was free to enjoy most of the shorts blocks. These flicks are hard to see, and very hard to see on a big screen with a crowd. Following is a brief recap of the shorts I managed to catch.

40 Years – A well-made thriller about a man haunted by the murder of his brother four decades ago. Amazing, professional-level special effects, including an awesome payoff. No relation to anything Lovecraft, really.

A Pleasing TerrorCanon Alberic's Scrapbook – Based on Robert Lloyd Parry's stage show from an M.R. James story. Parry is phenomenal as a storyteller, but no matter how good the storyteller is, 40 minutes of him sitting in front of a fireplace and speaking rapidly with an accent is hard to stay focused on. If only there were an intermission. A weird tale, but not by Lovecraft.

AM 1200: Brilliant, one of the best of the new Lovecraftian-like (not a direct adaptation) films in many years. But I've seen it many times already.

At the Reefers of Madness: Three stoners at Miskatonic deal with Nyarlathotep to have an unlimited supply of killer weed. Hijinks ensue. If you only want serious Lovecraft movies, this is not for you.

Call of C'thulhu: This was one of four short (under 4 minutes) films from the Vancouver Film School. All the VFS shorts were really inspired, and some were fantastic. This one goes by so fast, it's hard to catch the elements of the original story. Still, the VFS should have enough material for a great compilation of Lovecraft movies.

Dagon: Another Vancouver Film School short, this one was animated, and although again too short (two minutes), it looked very promising. Adapted from Lovecraft's tale.

DemiUrge Emesis: A mummified cat is tormented by the skeletons of past meals. Stop motion animation, narrated by Danny Elfman. Looked great, I wish it were longer than three minutes. Not directly related to Lovecraft.

Derailed: Winner of the Brown Jenkin award for Best Weird Tale. A modern French film about a Good Samaritan alone at a spooky train station at night. A well-done creeper in the HPL spirit.

Doomsday Catch Phrase: A writer takes things too far in coming up with the unspeakable words for a horror story. So-so animation, and not a unique premise, but the main character's companion bird was cute, and it's less than three minutes long. Humorous with Lovecraft elements.

Dunwich: Another from the students at VFS, this may have been the weakest of their four entries, but worth seeing. It depicts the climax of The Dunwich Horror.

Effulgence: Winner of the 2009 Deep One Award for Best Screenplay. A story about an author who locks himself away in an old house to write his next book. This unique premise with intriguing hooks unfortunately fell flat on all the other aspects of filmmaking (acting, directing, editing, camerawork, production design, etc). Lovecraftian in spirit.

Eldritch Light and Shadow: The Lovecraftian works of artist Paul Carrick set to music. Available on YouTube, but better to see it on the big screen.

Frank DanCoolo: Paranormal Drug Dealer: This was a bizarre mix of manga, the Cthulhu Mythos, greenscreen-made cyberpunk sets, and girl-noir. Like surfing a monster rogue wave, it somehow works without crashing. Winner of the Brown Jenkin Award for Best Comedy.

Fyren: Keeper of the Light: A creepy Swedish tale of a gopher tasked to deliver supplies to an eccentric lighthouse keeper. Sublime in execution, but the ending is telegraphed very early on. Winner of the Brown Jenkin Award for Best Lovecraftian Film. Not an adaptation.

Rats in the Wall: The fourth Vancouver Film School short. Animated in stark black and white, this was my favorite from VFS, and one of my faves of the festival. Suffers only in its three-minute length. Based on the story of same name. All the VFS films were awarded a Special Jury Prize for Spirit of the Festival, and it was deserved. Kudos to the students.

Roe: A strange film about a vagrant fisherman in a small town. Bizarre, but a bit too much in the "Wait, why did you do that?" kind of way. Lovecraftian in nature.

Silas and the Tomb: Based on Lovecraft’s story "In the Vault", it has a very high production value and good acting in a vaudeville method with some slapstick (not out of place in this tale).

The Necronomicon: A PSA on how the dreaded book can help your life. This is viral on YouTube, so I recommend you watch it now. It humorously encapsulates the book's appeal in only two minutes.

The Picture in the House: A straight adaptation of the story, this Canadian flick was one of the best versions of the tale I've seen.

The Silver Key: Delightful to see an adaptation of one of Lovecraft's uncommon stories of Dreamlands, it has the opposite problem of the VFS films, which is that Key is too long, even at 10 minutes. I normally despise voiceovers, but this picture needs one.

The Statement of Randolph Carter: Very short animated version of the story.
The Tell-Tale Heart: There is at least one Poe short at each fest and while they are all at least competent, some being great, it's very hard to distinguish between this year's version of The Raven or this classic from last year's.

To My Mother and Father: Apparently, I dozed off at exactly the right moment in this movie to avoid making a Sanity check. A child puts on a mask and hides in the closet to scare his parents when they come home, but he's the one that gets the shock. Winner of the Brown Jenkin Award for Most Disturbing Film, I was spared the brain-scarification.

Other awards: the Deep One Best Screenplay Award went to Brian Hauser, and the Howie Award for Contributions to Lovecraftian Cinema went to the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society, who showed a new trailer and a scene from their forthcoming feature, The Whisperer in Darkness, and then did some Q&A.

On Saturday night at Tony Starlight's supper club, I ran a retrospective of the HPLFF, with photos and tales from the past years of the Festival. We raised a toast to Andrew and everyone who helped make it happen, and drank to the famous couplet "That is not dead which can eternal lie / and with strange aeons, even death may die."

The H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival® is not gone by any stretch of the imagination.

The 2011 HPLFF will be on September 16 and 17 at the Art Deco-styled Warner Grand Theater (built in 1931) in San Pedro, next to Los Angeles Harbor. We'll have a mix of vintage and new releases, vendors, an after party, prizes, surprises, and one of my favorite perks: the theater sells beer and wine, and you can drink it in the auditorium! (21 and over, naturally). Watch for more info. 

Aaron Vanek

(Thanks to Aaron Vanek)

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