Cthulhu Movie Night!

In Culture, Movies on August 5, 2011 at 12:30 pm

"Let the madness wash over you...adorably!"

Tomorrow, the chosen ones will gather in a secret location to practice the dark arts of the occult. We will gather sacrifices and worship the ones who have seen the stars change over the course of uncounted aeons. And we will go mad, and sing the songs that bring the world to an end.

(In other words, we’re going to BBQ and watch horror movies about Cthulhu.)

Cthulu Night is the second of our themed movie marathons (which Melanie helpfully terms “Nerdathons”). We held the first one in February, themed around vampires. We made sure we covered our bases, getting a few modern classics, as well as a few fringe favourites. I was pretty happy with our list: Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Near Dark, Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter (for real), and Fright Night. We did have to make some sacrifices – no Nosferatu, no foreign-language vampires like Cronos or Let the Right One In – but we hit a lot of solid notes.

It was a great time. So with one successful Nerdathon under our belts, we thought we’d tackle a more challenging theme: films about (or themed as closely as possible around) H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu-figure.

Whether you’re familiar or not with the “Cthulhu Mythos” – which is less of a designed arc as it is a series of loosely-associated short stories and novels – you will probably figure out that there isn’t much available in movie form that directly relates to Cthulhu. The Old Ones – the names of the cosmic entities for whom Cthulhu is a physical representative or herald – never really cracked the “big time” in terms of popular horror. But they’ve always held a position of privilege amongst fans (and authors) of “genre” horror literature and amongst certain film directors who take inspiration from the mysticism and madness of Lovecraft’s (and, to a lesser extent, August Derleth’s) original stories. Nowadays, you can detect traces of Cthulhu in everything from metal music to tabletop gaming.

But actually finding movies about Cthulhu is another matter entirely. The problem with “representing” Cthulhu is that he, as well as the Old Ones, is, in most ways, supposed to be “unrepresentable.” The very sight of an Old One evokes the timeless depths of the cosmos; they are meant to be, in every possible way, alien (in the broadest sense of the word).

What is not alien is a follower of the Old Ones. This means that most films about Cthulhu (or Cthulhu-inspired God) are actually about Cthulhu-worship. These films typically involve unknowing outsiders stumbling into dens of sacrifice and mutation – sometimes, as in Cthulhu, involving a “return” to a hometown known to practice worship, and others, such as Dagon, showing how ancient traditions (usually maritime) are rooted in even older and more disturbing practices.

Even these films are hard to track down. Many are foreign-language or are just rare: I’ll be relying on Queen Video and Suspect Video to back me up here. But the reality is, there just aren’t a lot of movies about Cthulhu. Most popular films end up being more about monster-hunting than the true horror of being exposed to a cosmic entity. The number of Cthulhu-inspired films is pretty large: Guillermo del Toro clearly appreciates the link between the occult and Cthulhu, as we see in Hellboy; many of John Carpenter’s films evince a strong Cthulhu-like influence, particularly in his monster design and in the link between small towns and “madness” (as in In the Mouth of Madness); Sam Raimi had clearly read a lot of Lovecraft before he made his Evil Dead films.

We have, after some deliberation, managed to narrow down four candidates for Nerdathon 2.0: Cthulhu. And they are: Cthulu (2007 version), Dagon (2001), Mortuary (2005), and The Last Lovecraft (2010). Mortuary is the “long shot” of the bunch: it’s closer to “Rats in the Walls”-Lovecraft than Cthulhu-Lovecraft. Still, these Nerdathons are about exploring all the options related to a completely embarrassing pop culture phenomenon – no stone unturned!

The real challenge is to come up with theme-appropriate foods. Squid is an obvious choice, as are other seafood-related snacks. But what kinds of foods evoke the kinds of culinary experience necessary for a cinematic plunge into madness? This link suggests “Pudding. Nothing says, ‘formless spawn from the dawn of time’ like pudding.” Maybe squid pudding? Suggestions?

  1. I realize that this edition of the movie night has long been put to bed (and lies dead and safely dreaming in its house at Rl’yeh until its time comes once more), but a friend has also relatively recently discussed the question of Lovecraftian film on his blog, and I thought I’d post the link: In particular, he recommends the 2005 indie version of Cthulhu ( Personally, I have seen neither it nor the 2007 version (and thus remain sane), but if you do get a chance to see it, I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on the different versions.

    • Thanks Stephen. I have actually seen the 2005 version, and it’s certainly unique. In some senses, it’s a very accurate retelling of some of Lovecraft’s stories. But I felt, while watching it, that I was seeing something that was trying too hard to fit into an “era-paradigm.” That left much of it stilted, and preoccupied with looking like it was made 70 years ago, rather than the true sense of horror that accompanies a sighting of the Ones Who Will Consume Our Minds. I guess I liked 2007’s Cthulu for its bravery: it asked what a modern Cthulu cult would look like, and went on to illustrate that using some fairly taboo subjects, like gay love and Tori Spelling.

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