Thursday, July 30, 2009

FOOL'S VIEWS: Lovin' that Lovecraft

Dr. AC spends a little time with HPL, or at least the screen adaptations of several of his stories from a variety of different quarters. Stuart Gordon's Re-Animator (1985) and From Beyond (1986) are probably common knowledge to most card-carrying genre fans, so we'll skip past those for a triple feature of lesser-known fare:

Curse of the Crimson Altar (aka The Crimson Cult) (1968)

One of Boris Karloff’s final films, this is a (very) loose adaptation of one of Lovecraft’s lesser tales, “The Dreams in the Witch House.” Mark Eden stars as an antique dealer who ventures to the rustic town of Greymarsh in search of his disappeared brother, encountering cool and charming Christopher Lee as his host, as well as a green body-painted Barbara Steele within his nightmares. As a learned expert in witchcraft, Karloff lends admirable support alongside Michael Gough as a mumbling servant, but the muddled plot (something about a witch’s descendant who has formed a new cult, which also requires new blood sacrifices) and bungled climax leave much to be desired. Exec-produced by Tony Tenser.

Dagon (2001)

Re-Animator director Stuart Gordon takes on Lovecraft again with mixed results. Based on "The Shadow over Innsmouth," two couples are shipwrecked off the coast of Spain, and discover the locals are amphibian mutants with a dark secret. Though imaginatively directed with loads of dark and stormy atmosphere, the biggest problem lies in lead actor Ezra Godden’s performance, who plays his character as an annoying nerd never fully invested in the increasingly bizarre situation at hand. While the rest of the cast (which includes stunning beauties Raquel Merono and Macarena Gomez) plays it straight, Godden’s frantic joking approach (presumedly at the behest of Gordon) robs the movie of any real suspense or fear. Thankfully, veteran Spanish actor Francisco Rabal grounds his scenes with the necessary gravitas to carry the film to its final act, where everyone stops messing around and the movie takes off. There is a shocking torture sequence that will please any gore hound (though one could argue its gratuitous nature), and the frenzied special-effects climax pays off surprisingly well. If only it wasn’t such a slog getting there, though Gomez’s frequent topless appearances make the trip easier going.
Haunted Palace, The (1963)

Solid diversion from producer/director Roger Corman and star Vincent Price in the midst of their AIPoe glory. Despite being renamed with an Edgar Allan Poe poem title, the plot is actually derived from Lovecraft’s novella, “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward,” with the end results certainly satisfying enough to keep grumbling over false advertising to a minimum. Charles Beaumont’s script describes a warlock (Price) who possesses a descendant to wreak revenge against the townspeople who burned him at the stake. Debra Paget is lovely in support as Price’s spouse, confused by her husband’s violent personality shifts, and Lon Chaney, Jr. (deep in the bottle at this point) acquits himself ably as the warlock’s ancient servant.

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