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AFS Presents H.P. Lovecraft Double-Bill

The Old Ones return, potentiality for sudden audience insanity high

By Marc Savlov, 10:01AM, Mon. Aug. 13, 2012

AFS Presents H.P. Lovecraft Double-Bill

We're as much a fan of the myriad attempts to capture the eerie essence of dark fabulist H.P. Lovecraft's atmospheric oeuvre of cosmic horror onscreen as anyone alive, but let's face it: only 2005's The Call of Cthulhu and 2011's The Whisperer in Darkness manage to evoke the purplish pulp power of Providence's favorite scribbler.

Now the Austin Film Society's Avant Cinema presents both of these micro-budgeted masterpieces on the big screen in all their cacodaemoniacal, black-and-white glory.

Produced under the ichorous auspices of The H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society, directors Andrew Lehman (Cthulhu) and Sean Branney (Whisperer) embrace the source material in grand, occasionally experimental, but undeniably effective fashion. You want the squamous, batrachian horrors of the author's dense, addictive, but heretofore seemingly irreproducible writing? These two adaptations have them by the spadeful.

The Call of Cthulhu (which we first caught at the late, lamented, and now mouldering original Alamo Drafthouse's 409 Colorado address) has been crafted to resemble a period silent film, replete with the skewed, cattywompus cinematography of the great German expressionists and equally oblique intertitles. Part Guy Maddin fever dream, part avant-garde showstopper heartstopper, it remains, to our mind, the single best filmic depiction of Lovecraft's amorphous, lurking fear yet made.

Like the 1928 novella it's based on, the film is an exercise in immersive disorientation. Simple and seminal silent film trickery works horrific wonders in this fragmented tale of tentacular terror and decidedly doomy lucid dreaming. It's noisome, squidface, in all the right ways.

The Whisperer in Darkness takes a similar period tack, setting its nightmare storyline sometime in the 1930s and adding both a dead-on depiction of that decade's stylized moviemaking and adding an appropriately crackling, hissing soundtrack to the miasmal mix. Plotwise, it's all about weird doings in the rural hills around Lovecraft's fictional Miskatonic University and the impressively oppressive countryside surrounding the author's equally fictional town of Arkham, Massachusetts.

Yeah, we know: there've been plenty of entertaining Lovecraft adaptations, homages, and outright steals -- we're talking to you, Roger "The Haunted Palace" Corman -- to date, but the HPLHS gets everything exactly right, tonally, while cleaving as close as possible to HPL's original Weird Tales. We still love Stuart Gordon's Re-Animator and Daniel Haller's Die, Monster, Die!, but if we're honest with ourselves, the fact is they're about as genuinely Lovecraftian as a pre-schooler's Crayola-and-drool rendering of Shub Niggurath might be.

AFS's double-freaker is slated for 7 pm, Wed., Aug. 29, at the AFS Screening Room (1901 E. 51st St.). Ticket prices and all other info are available here.

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