The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

You can get a long way with a low budget and a lot of love – the example of The Call of Cthulhu

with 13 comments

“In his house at R’lyeh, dead Cthulhu waits dreaming.”

 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

Written by Jessica

October 21, 2012 at 1:55 pm

13 Responses

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  1. This is a true gem, and I was also thinking a _lot_ about it while watching John Carter after our pulp-discussion on that particular movie. Did you manage to take a peek at the bonus? The “documentary” on the production was just as enjoyable as the movie itself to my mind.

    Still, I’m not a 100 percent fan of mr Lovecraft himself. But the man knew atmosphere, Iäll give him that!


    October 22, 2012 at 12:18 pm

    • Yay! I’m so glad to see our shared love for it! Since the film was so short, we had room to screen the 25 minute about-the-making documentary. I don’t know if there was even more bonus material, in that case I didn’t see it. And I agree, the documentary was lovely, it put a huge smile on my face, even made me laugh out loud at some points, and made me fall in love with the film even more.

      I’ve heard that this party has made another film recently, this time with sound. Sounds like something I should seek out.


      October 22, 2012 at 10:46 pm

      • Yup, The Whisperer in the Darkness. I think they took the chronology one decade further into the 1930’s, but have still worked with the Mythoscope-concept.


        October 23, 2012 at 6:14 am

  2. You sold me. I gotta see this.

    Dave Enkosky

    October 23, 2012 at 2:47 am

    • Yay! I’ve heard it’s available on Netflix in US, if you have that. They also sell it at the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society website.


      October 23, 2012 at 7:32 am

  3. I haven’t seen this particular film but I think there’s a LOT to be said for having a small budget, especially when it comes to horror. I think small budgets force filmmakers to be more creative to find ways to reach their audiences.


    October 23, 2012 at 7:49 am

    • Indeed. They need to be more creative and they’re not under the same pressure to make compromises in order to please the crowd. Also the expectations will be different, at a sounder level, which opens for happy surprises. Many of my best movie experiences over the last year have been films with abysmal budgets.


      October 23, 2012 at 7:52 am

  4. Fascinating post, Jess 😀


    October 23, 2012 at 8:56 am

  5. interesting post Jessica. Unsurprisingly, I’d never heard of this but I enjoy Lovecraft or anything associated. I’ll keep my eyes peeled.

    Mark Walker

    October 23, 2012 at 9:21 am

    • It’s not exactly what I’d call a blockbuster. 🙂 But try to see it if you get the chance. I don’t think you’re prone to shy away from low budget films.


      October 23, 2012 at 7:27 pm

      • Yeah I enjoy low budget stuff very much. In fact, I’ve seen very few blockbusters recently. I’ve been going back into films i’ve missed over the past few years. Recent releases have taken a back seat.

        Mark Walker

        October 23, 2012 at 8:03 pm

  6. […] cool to make a black and white silent film based on John Carter, a piece of fan love, similar to the one that the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society has made of Call of Cthulhu. If the Edgar Rice Burroughs fans ever run out of steam trying to convince Disney to make another […]

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