You can get a long way with a low budget and a lot of love – the example of The Call of Cthulhu
That’s the most beautiful, haunting and captivating line of horror writing I know of.
It’s quoted in the film The Call of Cthulhu, which I’m soon going to talk about, but first there’s a thing I need to sort out: How are you supposed to pronounce “Cthulhu” ? It’s not as if it’s obvious and we don’t get any help about the movie in question, since it’s a silent film.
Well, the most reliable source of knowledge has to be H.P. Lovecraft, since he was the one who came up with the name in his short story from 1928. And he has actually given some direction in the matter. In one letter he writes:
The actual sound—as nearly as human organs could imitate it or human letters record it—may be taken as something like Khlûl’-hloo, with the first syllable pronounced gutturally and very thickly. The u is about like that in full; and the first syllable is not unlike klul in sound, since the h represents the guttural thickness. The second syllable is not very well rendered—the l sound being unrepresented.”
In another letter he states:
The best approximation one can make is to grunt, bark, or cough the imperfectly formed syllables Cluh-Luh with the tip of the tongue firmly affixed to the roof of the mouth. That is, if one is a human being. Directions for other entities are naturally different.”
I think you should have a picture of the name by now. Say it aloud a couple of times and before we move on.
Low budget project
The Call of Cthulhu is a movie that was made in 2005 with a lot of heart but very little money (50 000 dollars, according to IMDb). Initiated by dedicated members with “some film experience” of the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society, this is more or less to be regarded as an amateur project.
It’s made as a silent film, shot in black and white, more or less imitating the films from the era when it was written and partly is supposed to take place, and I think this is what makes it work so remarkably well. It makes it easier to overlook the somewhat lacking special effects department and it gives the perfect tone and atmosphere for the story.
I wouldn’t say that this is a film for everyone. It does require a talent for suspension of disbelief to accept that the pieces of cloth that people are waving in the background represent the “ocean” and I would have to stretch it long to say that the puppet “Cthulhu” is scary for real. As in the case of many other horror films, it works best as long as you don’t get to see the monster, but focus on people’s reaction to it. To fully appreciate it, it probably helps to have a geeky mindset and to be familiar with Lovecraft’s writings.
As I saw this film I got to think of the John Carter movie earlier this year. There was heart in that movie too, or at least the director Andrew Stanton had it. But it was buried under a 250 million dollar budget and the following expectations of becoming a box office success. Could the party who did The Call of Chtulhu have made a better John Carter? I think so. It seems to me as if this is a good way to deal with source material from that era, which runs under the risk to appear dated if you try to pour it into the standard Hollywood formula.
The Call of Cthulhu is just 47 minutes long, which meant that we had room to show the 25 minute long about-the-making-of documentary as we screened it at my local film club. It was a funny little film that gave a lot of giggles, but also insight into what a low budget production is like from the inside. If you didn’t fall in love by the film as such, you’ll be charmed when you meet the people who made it.
The Call of Cthulhu (Andrew Lewman, US 2005) My rating: 4/5