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Saturday, 28 April 2012

THE LAST LOVECRAFT: RELIC OF CTHULHU (2009) ~ 'A sort of sushi Shaun of the Dead'

'Beware: plot spoilers may be regurgitated by Cthulhu below'

'A sort of sushi Shaun of the Dead'
Director: Henry Saine
Cast: Kyle Davis, Devin McGinn, Gregg Lawrence

The Last Lovecraft: Relic of Cthulhu (but forget the subtitle bit here, it's not really needed) is a sort of Sushi-Shaun of the Dead. Replace zombies with slimy tentacled beasts with razor-sharp teeth straight out of H.P Lovecraft's (that writer-of-the-weirdest of things) seriously unhinged but oddly believable imagination, add in a few reluctant heroes ready to give up all hope even before the monsters get here and leave them to battle the stuff of nightmares. Ladies and gentlemen (and those of you who have drifted in from the moons of Yuggoth) - this review must be read and remembered, as these monsters do exist.

Shaun of the Dead was set on an estate in North London, and was a comedy take on the classic zombie movies of George A. Romero; with the undead dregs of the neighbourhood facing normal (or perhaps slightly off-normal, but still brave): blokes and their neighbours; friends; pissed-off girlfriends - and playing it all for laughs. The Last Lovecraft is based on the work of gooeically mythical fantasy writer H.P.Lovecraft and riffs around how the monsters the man dreamed up decide to relocate to slacker-sunny Californ-i-ay to find the missing sacred stone and free the beast that will destroy our world - hooray! I mean, to all those not currently held in the slippery grip of the cult of Cthulhu (unlike half of the Hollywood A-list) - boo!

You don't really need to be a fan of the lusciously lurid Lovecraft to appreciate this movie though, because, helpfully, the story's background is drawn out for you in an on-screen, swift shuffle through the pages of a collectable Lovecraft comic, halfway through the movie - in an absolutely inspired sequence, with great visuals of Lovecraftian history luridly slap bang whacking their way across the screen.

If you do read graphic novels or comic books based on Lovecraft's writings, you may well orgasm internally at this point, I don't know. You may already have done so with the opening credits that feature Lovecraft's greatest hits swirling, Saul Bass-like, across the screen. Bass was a filmmaker who was better known as a graphic designer, coming up with the living, breathing style of title sequences often as enigmatic (sometimes more so) than the films themselves, including Vertigo, Psycho (even helping Hitchcock storyboard the famous shower sequence) and 1962's Walk on the Wild Side (1962) in which a black cat struts monstrously and deliciously across the opening credits.

Henry Saine, the director of The Last Lovecraft, infuses his own film with a playful cool in the opening montage of Lovecraftian comic book visuals and sequences that appear throughout this film and lift the lid on the mythology in bright primary colours (a trick that worked a treat on the opening titles of the 2012 Italian horror film Paura 3D - although the film itself couldn't match its opening montage of illustrated Grimm fairytale goodness).

The end credits of The Last Lovecraft are as equally cool as those at the start, with a kick-head rock loop providing one of those exit musics for a film that make you strut up towards the EXIT rather than stroll, as Lovecraftian images pattercake your brain. Or if you are at home; make you lean back in your chair and whisper; 'hey, that's cool man' before taking another swig of beer and a handful of cheesy tortillas before going out to kill human-octopuses from Yuggoth who have been hiding out in the house next door. It's that kind of a movie!

And so to the plot, and just in case you are a slathering soldier of Lovecraft (ie: a fan of his) and concerned that your favourite writer has been treated with the right kind of ungodly respect - and as an occasional reader and fan of Lovecraft myself - I promise to be honest. (Deep breath)..The movie begins with members of the cult of Cthulhu searching for an ancient relic that forms part of a key to open the undersea tomb of the great one himself. That's Cthulhu - the great one. He's also the one trapped under the water where not even Jacques Cousteau could find him, so maybe not that great.

The cult is led by a horrific red-skinless, unfortunately-named monster of a man called Starspawn (played by Ethan Wilde and looking rather like the seriously Hell-ravaged protagonist, bereft of skin and certain bits of muscle, in Clive Barker's original, unforgettable Hellraiser) who uses some reptilian minions to try to get the other half of the ancient relic back to where it belongs - with its other half. A bit like marriage counselling then, but with ancient relics and old slimy monsters. OK, exactly like marriage counselling (so I've heard).

This other half of the ancient relic/ key is passed on to an actual decendant of Lovecraft called Jeff, who - thanks to a rare genetic disorder (not available on the NHS) - is one of the few people in the world who doesn't end up going stark raving mad upon sighting the awful beasts that Lovecraft once told the world about in his stories. But they weren't 'stories' of course, they were, oh you know - 'real' and he just wrote them down as a warning, or because, although real, they were a great ready-made monster idea to steal and claim as your own, and come on, who hasn't done that (even Mary Shelley cribbed from her own dream when she wrote Frankenstein)? Trouble is, the chap who now has hold of the other half of the ancient relic - the key to Cthulhu - doesn't believe in monsters and doesn't want to be a hero. But luckily, he has a best friend - Charlie, who does.

Jeff, our anti-hero, goes on the run from Cthulhu's henchthings with Charlie - remember, this is
a guy who has gone from initially thinking Lovecraft is pretty stupid, to finding out that he is, in fact, Lovecraft's only living descendant, to finding himself on the run with Lovecraft's biggest fan chased by real-life Lovecraftian monsters. All on the same day. Nice one Jeff!
The real H.P!

Finding out he is the only red apple on the last branch of the Lovecraftian family tree hasn't filled Jeff with any blood thicker than water kind of love for the man - Jeff still doesn't care for H.P. Or rather, doesn't care for the kind of fans who collect the man's work like a park cleaner picks up stray leaves on a pointy stick. This includes his best friend Charlie. Who is the geekiest of all the fans that ever lived. So geeky in fact that, on one rare one night stand, mid-copulation with the prettiest girl in the office, Charlie-boy stops to pick up one of his precious Lovecraftian character figures kicked off a shelf by the aforementioned girl in the midst of some wildening passion, examines it (the toy, not the other thing men like) to make sure it's not broken (again, the toy...). The girl leaves. It's obvious that while best friend Charlie is a cool guy, who gets the girls, he still goes to the geek when the time is right.
Sceptical, Lovecraft-abusing Jeff is played, brilliantly wide-eyed and bemused all the way through, by Kyle Davis, who plays the kind of character that laughs in the face of madness, before running away from it quick. You can't blame him, he's just a normal lad finding loopiness in sudden mountains-of-madness-loads while working in a mind-numbing day job gift-wrapping and shipping out parcels, stuck in a white-walled, neon-lit warehouse that looks a bit like you'd imagine the Amazon packing warehouse to feel like, although to be fair - I've actually always wanted to work in the Amazon film and DVD department's packing warehouse and slobber over brand new DVDs all day long, before wiping them down and shipping them off to Surrey and beyond, so if they want me - I'm available!

Jeff ends up putting his trust in two comic book geeks. Not just his best friend but also an old school friend of sorts (actually, he hated the guy at school, but in times of trouble ..) called Paul. This strange man (played in wonderfully manic-Monday/ Tuesday/ Wednesday/ Thursday/ Friday/ Saturday/ Sunday mode by Barak Hardley) is ubergeek - a beardy chap five steps up into la-la land from halfway up there Charlie, although when the two geeks get together, something clicks or snaps or goes all bendy wendy and they.. just.. can't.. WAIT, to start comparing Lovecraftian trivia and fighting pretend battles of ancient alien races on our poor planet Earth on Paul's foul-mouthed granny's front lawn. And the things Paul does to his poor granny are far worse than the things sweet Norman Bates once said and probably did to his mother. Things that would have made even the kinder-hearted Ladykillers (those most famous sentimental lovers of loaded elderly ladies) -weep.

The kids are helped, briefly, by
a mysterious, white-bearded (but a little bit bland to be honest) college lecturer Professor Lake (Edmund Lupinski) who comes across a little (make that a lot) like Denholm Elliott's Marcus in the Indiana Jones movies. Starspawn shows a predictable lack of care for the elderly and goes after the wise old man too. In other words: Professor Lake's luck is up. There is one last hope though: and the three young pals go off into the desert to find the only person who can help them - Captain Olaf, played by Gregg Lawrence who is terrific as the salty sea captain suffering mermaid withdrawal (oh, but if only they had withdrawn, things would have been so much less traumatic, ahem!) symptoms.

In a movie literally littered with classic film references, I absolutely loved Olaf's turn to hog the hogwash, especially when he gets to go all 'Quint' (from Jaws) on us, and launch into a long monologue from his trailer in the desert that comes across as a more turgid version of Quint's salty sea tale about the crew of the USS Indianapolis. This time around it's about encountering sex-mad mermaids and being 'fish-raped' - which doesn't sound as funny me saying it as the moment when Olaf does, or when backed up by the three young keepers of Cthulhu's key, listening in awe to what sounds like a dark tale of high seas dread, suddenly finding their jaws dropping as one when we find out what the mermaids did to poor Olaf on the ocean waves. Wait until you find out what the salty seadog is keeping in a paddling pool out back as well - not, probably, what you may be expecting.

Another fine film reference, this time to Hitchcock's Psycho, has Jeff visit a motel in the middle of nowhere to find some late night snack vending machine, while his friends wait in the car. A very hefty, sweaty motel owner, indulging in a spot of roadkill taxidermy, greets him, and shows him where the machine is - 'bend right over to use it', he tells him. What follows is something of a shock for both Jeff and us. Needless to say, when the same motel owner greets our threesome later (the intrepid heroes all armed with all kinds of Cthulhu-esque plastic replicas of Lovecraftian weapons and relics that you could also, should you wish, most likely purchase from your local Forbidden Planet store and be as one with the geeks, just in case Cthulhu comes calling for you!) and makes some reference about doing something to all "their balls" if they try and escape, super-geek Paul looks puzzled. His friends explain it's a reference to grabbing their privates to stop them escaping, to which Paul replies that he knows what the guy's saying but: 'I just didn't get the context'. It's a laugh out loud moment, but you really do have to be there with them to laugh along.
The script of The Last Lovecraft is lovingly, snappily written and razor blade-sharp from the clearly twisted, certainly warped mind of Devin McGinn, who also plays the role here of best friend Charlie. McGinn is very funny when he needs to be, but there's no gurning around in an attempt to be so - instead, he easily smoulders with a hip, casual kind of comedy cool. In a way, he plays the role as straight as he possibly can in the mouth of all this madness. He also has (by some strange twist of fate!) all the best one-liners in Lovecraft Country and, with his writer's hat (or Cthulhu helmet) on, has injected the already directorially inventive and sharp-witted film with a fun, spunky script - as funny and as scary as anything that Shaun of the Dead ever had.

At times I even thought that this film was a little bit laugh-out-loud-funnier than Shaun, despite moments where the humour stales slightly; mainly in the finale where, to be honest, a tentacled shoot out, or even a quick sucker slap fest in the desert isn't enough of a setpiece to end a film this cheekily inventive on. The last stand in the desert overstays its welcome, swimming in sand slightly too long - it's more likely the budget ran out (or was getting low), not the imagination.
But don't be put off by any nitpicking criticism - the stream of inventiveness is only chained up for the shortest of funny fag breaks, and the moment where the skies darken and Cthulhu finally comes out of his cage is suitably apocalyptic (if annoyingly brief) and more accurate in mythology than many a po-faced film version of all the Lovecraftian legends out there - and there are many, Old Ones, to choose from.

The suitably revolting effects of red-headed baddie Starspawn going to pieces - slippery slithery pieces - are great, as is the (cheap but cheerful) underwater footage of Cthulhu's lair glimpsed at from time to time. One other minor niggle - the 'thing' found in the paddling pool in the caravan in the desert, just isn't as funny as it should be (or thinks it is), instead it reminds me of a chap I stood next to at a punk revival gig in London's 100 Club last year, just a little bit more rat-arsed. Old punks never die, they just go and live in paddling pools, the spawn of a mermaind and a dirty old man. Again such criticism is only minor - please Cthulhi, forgive me (or I will spend the rest of my days living in fear of being dragged down to the bottom of the sea by a big fat tentacled thing).

Talking of mermaids (which I think I was) and I'm reminded of a film I caught up with the other day in which a woman with a tail (not seen though, thanks to budgetary issues) sucks sushi with the entire salty cast in the legendary 'Gums' (1976) that starred Brother Theodore in the Quint role in a parody of Jaws (the character of Quint also fully parodied in The Last Lovecraft as are the idea of randy mermaids) now available in a funny-captioned but fully-censored version on DVD. 'Gums' is a film with a similar quick, lovingly gormless wit as The Last Lovecraft and just as worth finding your sealegs for.

e Last Lovecraft: Relic of Cthulhu, when all the slime has settled, is a fun, charming, reverential, pretty wicked little film that oozes cool with a big heart and seduces with its charm. Direction is playful and the cast endearingly doofus. As the on-screen quote from Lovecraft himself states boldly at the start of the film - 'The world is indeed comic, but the joke is on mankind'. I got the joke - but in Lovecraft's world; God help those of you who don't.

Words: Mark Gordon Palmer

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