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17th Mar 11
A gay professor returns to his home town and finds himself in the middle of a possibly apocalyptic nightmare.
What does your mind conjure when your thoughts wander into the realms of Cthulhu? While some may say dark tales of cosmic terror and tentacled beasts, and others might refer to multi-layered sci-fi literature or even mildly intense best-selling RPGs; director Daniel Gildark thinks of something else: homosexuality. Yes ladies and gentlemen, a 2007 horror film entitled Cthulhu was distributed by Regent Releasing, under their Gay & Lesbian department. I suppose Mr. Gildark took the idea of beleaguered men facing giant tentacled beasts and just sort of ran with it.
Most closely resembling the oft-adapted Lovecraft tale “The Shadow Over Innsmouth”, Cthulhu follows Russel Marsh (Jason Cottle), a gay history professor who has disassociated himself from his hometown of Rivermouth, Oregon, where his crazed cultist father (Dennis Kleinsmith) controls a town-consuming cult following the sea god Dagon. When his mother passes away, Russ is asked to return and upon doing so finds himself in the middle of a possibly apocalyptic nightmare. And gay sex.
Many Lovecraft fans have shot down this film as nothing more than a moronic gay horror film with some Cthulhu Mythos names slapped on for the sake of advertising. While I won’t deny that this film could have just as easily gone the same route with an original title, the criticism seems to be almost entirely based on the use of homosexuality in a Lovecraft film. Some more intelligent critics have pointed out that Lovecraft avoided sexuality in his writings, which isn’t a poor argument by any means, but I see no problem in expanding on the boundaries of Lovecraft-inspired fiction. If it goes through the motions with quality subtext and a haunting atmosphere, that alone should allow it access into the halls of quality horror film making. Calling the use of sexuality (which, by the way, was used to great extent in fan favorite Re-Animator) a detractor feels like a bit of a stretch, and indeed only comes out sounding like the usual fanboy bickering associated with any adapted material.
Unfortunately, while the intimately detailed atmosphere is realized beautifully and the storyline does evoke a somewhat modern take on Lovecraft’s work, certain elements do bring down the production a few notches. The most notable is the acting which, outside of Cottle’s engaging performance, ranges from average (Tori Spelling) to sub-community theater (Kleinsmith). Scott Patrick Green as Mike, Russ’ childhood friend and eventual butt buddy, fairs somewhat better, but is still not quite the caliber to elicit very much sympathy. It doesn’t help that his character is so ignorant that he’d have to have serious skills to enter Give-A-Shit status.
The other problem with the film is the low budget, and while I have yet to listen to the production commentary on the DVD, I’ve read enough to understand the production was plagued with problems, and that writer/producer Grant Cogswell had to sell his house and possessions to finance the movie. This is all very sad and it does give me admiration for the effort, but sometimes the budget just shines through, as with the weird spark entity that floats past Russ’ car at one point. It looks like something you’d find in iMovie and it doesn’t inspire much confidence in any possible future effects. Luckily, the production seems to be fully aware of this, so the effects are kept to a bare minimum. This leads to a strong positive for the movie, as some of the best moments involve 100% real time shots, such as the hallucination of a crate of waterlogged bodies clawing their way out from imprisonment, which is an especially memorable little scene.
If you have an open mind about how filmmakers mould classic literature to fit their preferred themes and enjoy slow burn thrillers like The Wicker Man and Rosemary’s Baby, this might be the flick for you. If you’re a homophobe with a disdain for change, an impertinent fanboy, or have a bad case of A.D.D., stay far away. This isn’t Providence, but it’s certainly a worthwhile rest stop on the way there.
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