Lovecraft is not known for being laugh out loud funny, although if you read his work carefully you will find here and there some evidence of a sardonic wit. In his fiction at least, his humor is subtle and low key, easy to miss. Perhaps there was not much in his life or in his perception of the world that he found humorous or whimsical. There is a quality of heaviness in many of his stories, a grim, almost Calvinistic predestination that drives his characters to their certain doom.
Devoted readers of Lovecraft may find recent attempts to inject humor or irony into his stories heretical and blasphemous. Oh well. A perfect example of this trend is The Last Lovecraft: Relic of Cthulhu, a film that actually came out in 2009. I finally got around to seeing it recently. It’s a hoot.
This is a guy film, or more appropriately a ‘dude’ or a ‘bro’ film. The lead characters are three young men, barely out of high school. They are awkward and clueless with women, and filled with adolescent grandiosity about their ability to succeed on their own in the world. Jeff and Charlie are working at their first dead end job, (“Squirrel Gift Baskets”), and Paul, the nerdy one, lives with his grandmother. They need an adventure, and soon get one.
A professor from Miskatonic University, who is a member of the secret Council of Cthulhu, (good guys) arrives to warn the boys that the world is in great peril. Somewhere in Egypt, minions of the evil Cthulhu Cult (bad guys) have located one half of a powerful, ancient medallion. The good guys have the other half. The medallion was fashioned by the Elder Ones, who preceded Cthulhu’s early dominion of earth. It is a kind of key that will unlock the doors which keep Cthulhu imprisoned in his city of R’lyeh, beneath the sea.
If you do not know the history of Cthulhu or what became of the Elder Ones, a helpful animated retelling of this history in comic book graphics is provided at this point for your convenience. Priceless. It should be mentioned that Charlie is an aspiring comic book writer, and much of the film appears to resemble a comic book or graphic novel.
The back story is clever: before he died, H.P. Lovecraft created this secret Council of Cthulhu, a team of scholars charged with protecting the earth from the evil plans of the Cthulhu Cult. It turns out that Jeff is the last living descendent of Lovecraft, and gifted with special powers because of his literary ancestor. Jeff, Charlie and Paul all believe that the stories of Lovecraft are absolutely true.
This is not so preposterous. Back in the 70s, when I was still a teenager, I am embarassed to say that I looked in my local bookstore for a copy of the dreaded Necronomicon. They did not have it, even in paperback. But a little later in that decade, someone actually concocted one, and I received the paperback version of it as a birthday present. The book was filled with esoteric symbols and barely legible phrases in some archaic language. It was incomprehensible and so useless in my adolescent quest for power. This is probably just as well.
Soon the boys are pursued by the evil minions of Cthulhu, who are led by the red headed Starspawn, Cthulhu’s right hand—thing. The minions include the Deep Ones, nasty, toothy, snake headed things that resemble Alien in silhouetted profile. They account for much of the carnage in the film. There are also the humble half breeds, (a nod to the Shadow over Innsmouth), who actually garner some sympathy at one point in the film. There is a climactic showdown between the forces of good and evil at Captain Olaf’s trailer in the middle of the desert. Unlike an orthodox Lovecraft story, the descent is not into insanity but sheer silliness.
More refined viewers may blanch at the generous amount of profanity and awkward portrayal of sexual orientation. Overall, The Last Lovecraft: Relic of Cthulhu is a lot of fun, clever in some places, silly in others, but always respectful, if playful, with its source material.
In the epilogue of the movie, the boys are off to the Antarctic for a new adventure. The closing scene has them gazing off into the distance At the Mountains of Madness. I hope someone is encouraging Mr. Del Toro to proceed confidently with the making his new Lovecraft film. Millions of us want to go to Antarctica to see what lies beneath that mysterious, frozen land.
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Speaking of comics and graphic novels, Self Made Hero in the UK has published some wonderful books of short stories by H.P. Lovecraft in graphic format. Two volumes of The Lovecraft Anthology have come out in the USA fairly recently, and I recently obtained a copy of The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, which has received the same treatment. The anthologies are stylish, well made books featuring various graphic artists. Each contains about 7 to 9 different stories which follow the originals fairly closely. If you are familiar with the selected stories, the graphic renderings will enhance your enjoyment of them. If you are new to Lovecraft’s work, this is an entertaining way to introduce yourself to them.